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What Do You Look For In Screenshots? 105

_iris asks: "Most software creators offer screenshots of their software in action. Screenshots are also included in most 3rd party software reviews and previews. The screenshots are usually focused on the unique features of the program. When I am evaluating software, I am usually interested in how the software differs in the more mundane ways. I'm more interested in differences in the file open/save dialogs, what program presents to me when I first open it, how the help system is integrated into the system, etc. My reasoning is that if there is only one or two programs that accomplish my needs, it doesn't matter much how it works or what it looks like because I am stuck either using it or writing my own. Do you care about the unique features or do you care about the slight differences in the common features or do you focus on something else entirely?"
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What Do You Look For In Screenshots?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 01, 2006 @10:51PM (#15043986)
    I thought the April Fools Day stories were done.
  • by Andrew Tanenbaum ( 896883 ) on Saturday April 01, 2006 @10:52PM (#15043987)
    1) Music player with your favorite album
    2) Anime background picture
    3) Transparency
  • If I'm taking a quick first glance,the screenshot better show me something I can't get somewhere else for half the time or money. Or nice breasts.
    • I second the breasts, as long as they are not man breasts or if they are and they do not show the bottom half they can be man breasts on what appears to be a female or mermaid or mole person. If mole person do not show the face either.
    • something I can't get somewhere else for half the time or money. Or nice breasts.

      don't you mean:

      something I can't get somewhere else for half the time or money, i.e. nice breasts.
  • Easy. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Saturday April 01, 2006 @10:54PM (#15043993) Homepage Journal
    It should concisely show me what interface the application uses to let me most easily use all the cool features the application provides.

    Not an easy target, but a good one to aim for.

    • Same goes for me.
      I tend judge the software (in most cases, like on tucows and the like) on the screenshot, if the interface looks like it's accompanied by "cool" sounds or has lots of "pretty" colours, it will probably be a pain in the butt to use and I don't even bother to download it.
  • Save Me! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday April 01, 2006 @10:56PM (#15044002) Homepage Journal
    I'm more interested in differences in the file open/save dialogs, what program presents to me when I first open it, how the help system is integrated into the system, etc.
    Which should all be as boring and predictable as possible, so that users can leverage their experience with other applications. Unfortunately, everybody seems to use these features to exercise their creativity, especially in multimedia apps.
    • So true. UI "innovations" in apps that greatly diverge from the system default are almost always more hassle than help. Even Final Cut and old versions of Logic were annoying, especially at first. This is using Mac OS X as a frame of reference, though. I think that OS X open/save dialog boxes are quite well designed. I would prefer that they were slightly smaller, with the ability to create favorites in the dialog box, but other than that they perform admirably.
      • You're right about "innovations", but that's actually the least problematic aspect. What really drives me up the wall is apps that put looking kewl ahead of being usable. Media apps are consisently bad that way. I guess Winamp set the precedent, and every single media app since has felt compelled to copy it.
  • Honestly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Saturday April 01, 2006 @11:00PM (#15044010) Homepage Journal
    And I won't lie, I usually look for a functional and mature application. Maybe that means I'm ignoring potential applications. But I guess when I go to a website to see a screenshot, I want to know if its something that is mature enough that I can use. This is bad sometimes because you can't always tell the quality of an application from a screenshot.
    • So what you're trying to say is that you'd look for mature and functional applications, but this usually has nothing to do with the screenshot... so you're saying you don't know what you're looking for in a screenshot?

      I'm lost.
  • Lots (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mboverload ( 657893 ) on Saturday April 01, 2006 @11:02PM (#15044015) Journal
    When it comes to software, screenshots are one of the best tools to get an idea of the software's quality before you even download it.

    Poor interfaces (esp if they do not follow the windows theme or use stupid eye candy) are a complete turn off to me and usually a GOOD indicator of the program's end value. I want LOTS of screenshots showing me each of the features. Perhaps a few screenshots in the actual review, and a link to a gallery with thumbnails of each of the shots and a link to a full resolution version.

    At least for me, I like to see the whole screen in at least one of the shots. I'm not sure why, but it seems to convey some kind of honesty to me.

    See the MythTV site to see a good idea of how screenshots can help someone evaluate a product

    • See the MythTV site to see a good idea of how screenshots can help someone evaluate a product
      Yeesh. All that talk and nary a link. Here ya go [mythtv.org].
    • You could be missing out on a lot of good programs that way.
      If it doesn't follow the windows theme might because it wasn't a windows application. It could have been made for an other OS. OS 9, OS X, DOS, Linux, Unix, VMS. The application could have been made many years ago but it worked so well the developer didn't want to mess things up by putting a OS friendly Interface on it.

      Eye Candy isn't always as wasteful as many people expect, if done properly. Animations can help ease the eye and help you find you
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is true, but it's also a sad reflection on the state of apps these days.

      On Mac software websites, I tend to see a few (less than 7) screenshots, of various sections of the app. That's enough to give me a good overview of what it does, how it's laid out, and so forth. If it looks interesting, I download it, and run it. (Proprietary apps often have free demos, that don't let you save your work, for example.)

      On Windows and (especially) Linux software websites, I tend to see a lot (often 25 or more) scr
    • I tend to care about screenshots mainly with graphical programs. Therefore, I look at the rendering capabilities (is it nicely shaded, or banded?), the layout (clean and unobtrusive, or a thousand cryptograms spread over the screen), and the quality of the icons (minimal care in drawing, or third-grade art project). I have to really need the functionality the app is offering if the interface looks like the controls of a 747 as reinterpreted by Sumerians.

      This won't tell you how well the app really works

  • As a long-time AutoCAD user, the first thing I do when presented with a new GUI release is to jump in and modify the acad.pgp file (or whatever it's called now) so I can do things without having to re-learn what the icons do.

    Looking at preview screenshots of a program don't really tell you much about how it operates or what the hierarchical structure of the commands are.
  • I look for (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dilvie ( 713915 ) on Saturday April 01, 2006 @11:09PM (#15044037) Homepage Journal
    * Clean design * Clear workflow * Easy access to common features * Wow factor (note that it's last on the list) More screenshots is better, particularly if we're talking about a large download, or a big application. A walk-thru tutorial of a typical use-case is even better.
  • Or Ponies!!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The screenshots for an application should be self describing. If the screenshots can clearly show what features an application has then it is a good indication that the user interface is well designed, and that the focus of the program was usability and not 'cool looking widgets'. If you find that you have to describe what a screenshot is showing, then something is wrong.

    On another note, did anyone else spend 5 minutes trying to find out where the 'file open' dialog was in WMP (our office is XP only, and
  • Umm (Score:5, Funny)

    by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Saturday April 01, 2006 @11:28PM (#15044078) Homepage Journal
    What Do You Look For In Screenshots?

    Bank account numbers and cleartext passwords. Sadly I am often disappointed, so maybe you could include more of those?

  • When I look at screenshots I like for the user to open every available program they have and try to fit it all on a 800x600 shot. Also, the more icons on the desktop the better. 100+ Please!

    No really, since no one has a sense of humor, I'm joking.
  • by Anubis333 ( 103791 ) on Saturday April 01, 2006 @11:35PM (#15044102) Homepage
    Good, consistent lighting - does everything cast a shadow? do characters have self shadowing? Does everything have a stupid lens bloom (the new lens flare), Any SH or PRT support? Realtime SSS?

    Good view - Good framing, something interesting going on.

    Next gen tech - do objects have motion blur? skinned characters/objects too? Does the engine support soft particles? Does it look like things clip through one another? What is the view distance like? How does the engine appear to handle fog/distance fog? Refraction?

    Characters - How is the weighting? How do the faces look? Are the poses/animation realistic? Are the feet oriented to the ground normal?

    Art - Do the assets share the same basic (consistent) texel resolution? Are the proportions right? Is everything normal mapped? Are the models as high resolution as they can be for the given platform? (Was this a game ported from a weaker primary platform, or was it built top down and rez'd to match secs)

    There's a lot more, but I am tired. What do you look for in game screens?
    • I dont give a damn about any of that in games. I want to see the GUI. The GUI neatly sums up what options the player has, and something about how the game is actually PLAYED. The rest is just eye candy. if I want eye candy, Ill watch LOTR on DVD.
      Worst of all, many games these days release screenshots with the GUI artifically removed. Ive even been asked to remove the GUI just so *triple A* games screenshots werent 'polluted' by people seeing the GUI.
      Thats insane. Without a GUI, a game is just a substandard
      • I want to see the GUI. The GUI neatly sums up what options the player has, and something about how the game is actually PLAYED.

        I'm confused. What are you talking about? There are games where the virtual environment is the GUI. For example, what options does a player have to open a locked door? Well, find the key, use magic, pick the lock, bash it in, talk some character into opening it, or sneak in behind someone else using the door. Now, if you want an immersive, believable experience, filling the screen

        • There are games where the virtual environment is the GUI. For example, what options does a player have to open a locked door? For example, what options does a player have to open a locked door? Well, find the key, use magic, pick the lock, bash it in, talk some character into opening it, or sneak in behind someone else using the door.

          Spot on, good games don't have lots of obvious GUI options to do specific tasks, they let you apply existing items/monsters/etc generically and combine them or use them creativ
    • And find out that it was a screenshot of the FMV cutscene...

      (this isn't so much a joke either, it's sadly quite common)
    • Does everything have a stupid lens bloom (the new lens flare)

      You, my friend, are my new hero. While I'm not astute on the correct 3D lingo, I can instantly recognize poorly used light bloom. Namely, I think EA has used it in every single Xbox 360 title they publish. Must be a clause in the contract. While I think HDR rendering is nice and it does add to the realism, light bloom has definitely become the new lens flare.

      If I had a dollar for every [wikimedia.org] time [ign.com] excessive [gamespot.com] light [gamespot.com] bloom [gamespot.com]
      appeared [gamespot.com] in a game... I would have,

  • ... especially in game screen shots. I hate it when game companies use cutscene shots and doctorings (e.g., enhancements) to mislead buyers.
  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Saturday April 01, 2006 @11:48PM (#15044144) Homepage
    Screenshots should clearly demonstrate crucial features of the software, as I often jump to the gallery when I want to quickly find out if a prospective app does what I need (since textual documentation is either inexistent or written by a bullshitting yes-man). If the sole purpose of the screenshot is to demonstrate the developer's funky desktop or some dumb hobag of a model, it's a waste of bandwidth. Screenshots are kind of like an auto showroom.. I don't go to car dealers for "entertainment", I go there to buy a car and see it up close before I make my choice.

    It's also quite nice to have a video or slideshow demonstrating the actual behavior of the software. You could look at thousands of Mac OSX screenshots, ok it's pretty but nothing special. Then you look at a full-motion video that shows how everything zooms, stretches and morphs with perfectly fluid movement, and you're wowed.

    In any case, nothing compares to actually trying out the software and seeing how easy it is to operate.
  • I think all that pink made us inhale too much hairspray. I think the question was meant to be:

    'when purchasing something, how heavily do you weight your decision on the user interface pictured with the product packaging ' - being a 3'rd party review or the back of the box itself.

    If I'm going to spend a considerable amount of time installing something (~ 3 minutes or more) or God forbid actually buy it, the UI is important to me. If its , say ... a network monitor I want lots of pretty graphs and colors, but
  • hot girls (Score:3, Funny)

    by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Sunday April 02, 2006 @12:05AM (#15044175) Homepage Journal
    I look for pics of hot girls. I find it funny that most desktop screenshots have some semi-nude girl as the wallpaper. Obviously good software should come pre-installed with nudie pics.
  • If this is tagged gay ponies, where are the screenshots of that?
  • I prefer to see screenshots in motion, like Ruby on Rails for example.
  • by ruhk ( 70494 ) on Sunday April 02, 2006 @12:43AM (#15044237)
    ...a clean default interface. If its Windows or Mac software, it
    should use the current default for that system. One of the things
    I've always hated about WinAMP, Quicktime, etc, is all the flash
    and eyecandy they wrap their stuff in.

    I also want to know things like what's the memory footprint of the
    program (approximately), how it deals with SMP and dual core systems
    and what bizarre external dependencies it has. Of course, those
    aren't really screenshot items. :D

  • by j1mmy ( 43634 )
    come on, you have to ask?
  • What I look for in a screenshot is the conecptual model of the program and what metaphors it uses. Lets say I see a tree of objects taking up the left hand side. That means that that hierarchy is quite important and is probably the "framework" that the program runs around.

    If I see a "toolbox" (e.g., photoshop, Visual Basic) then I know it uses that metaphor. If I see a million and one different confusing buttons arranged all over the show, I know this is going to be a confusing program to understand.

    If I
  • If a screenshot is meant to show a specific window's layout or functionality, I want to see it with the rest of the application behind it. It's part of giving me a feel for how it works. I am not interested in seeing closeups of a specific part, but rather a full, high resolution screen shot of the desktop with whatever part of the application is being shown running in the foreground.
  • For a desktop app, I look for what items are in menus. It tells me which
    functionality is available and whether it is easily accessible. I also
    look for whether dialog boxes are decent and easy to use.
    There are also apps like Firefox where GUI can be adjusted. In those
    cases I also look for a few example of extremes to which I can push
    the GUI.
    In the case of desktop environments, it is much the same but I look for
    the most and the least cluttered layouts and whether transparency is
    available. For instance, if all
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Sunday April 02, 2006 @02:31AM (#15044475) Homepage
    Ponies. Lots and lots of ponies. Preferrably pink. If I can't say, "OMG! Ponies!" it doesn't matter what else the screenshot shows, it's lost me.
  • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday April 02, 2006 @02:48AM (#15044515) Homepage Journal
    Submitter says:

    I'm more interested in differences in the file open/save dialogs, what program presents to me when I first open it, how the help system is integrated into the system, etc. My reasoning is that if there is only one or two programs that accomplish my needs, it doesn't matter much how it works or what it looks like because I am stuck either using it or writing my own.

    So, if how a program works is not what you look for in a review, what are you looking for? Is it still April Fools in here? Now for a straight answer, because the subject is actually worth talking about.

    Divide and conquer. Everything has it's place and it's better to reference non core items. Know your focus and stick to it and you won't waste the reader's time.

    The submitter throws out a number of examples. Open/save dialogs are unique features of meta projects like Gnome and KDE. I'm very interested in how those work when I'm looking at a new window or file manager. KDE sockets have support for samba, sftp, ftp, http, audiocd and more, how cool is that? Screen shots of those are impressive and can be found at KDE's site. When reviewing a media player, lyric fetching, cover management or list generation are how the program works and what's important. It's nice to know that the media player works with the system's underlying file manager and you can get your files by sftp, but you can just say so and link back to the KDE screenshots. The same can be said about skins, which may add character or distract depending on what program you are talking about.

    I teach a Linux Class to newbies, so this is something I have to consider often. I only want to teach the important parts of each program and have to be careful about the screenshots used for step by step instruction. Attention spans are limited, so I have to be picky and well organized while I try to cram as much as I can into each class. When teaching, I have to ask myself how I use the program and what I like about it. I'll often show only a region of a program so that it stands out. The result is a very select series of images which show off the strengths of the program. People are not interested in weaknesses. If a program has a weakness in a peripheral function, no one cares. If the weakness is in core function, I won't be teaching with it.

  • Except for one or two major features, or of course in the case of the manual. If your app has feature X, it should be sufficient to just say so in a feature list on your website.

    Otherwise, when I'm looking at a screenshot of an app, I use it to get an overall sense of quality. I want to see that the interface is nicely and consistently put together. If your primary interface is nice looking, and intuitive to use, I can generally infer that you put the same quality into the UI for each individual feature.

  • by jgrahn ( 181062 )
    If my task can be accomplished without a full-screen interface, then I look for plain command-line software first.

    If that doesn't help, I look at the full-screen terminal applications (which can and should have screenshots), and as a last resort, the GUI applications.

    For non-visual software, the man page is a good indication of quality. A sensible set of command-line options, correct grammar, formatting et cetera probably means the program doesn't suck.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Personally, I look for nekkid wimmin in screenshots
  • I mostly look to see whether an application has an attractive interface. If it looks well put together I figure it's more likely to actually be well put together. I also like to see them so that when I actually run the program I'm not seeing it for the first time. I like to get its layout in my head before I even begin to download it so I don't have to stare at it for a moment when I first start it up. I can just go right to work (in most cases).
  • Correct resolution (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Sunday April 02, 2006 @05:11AM (#15044800) Journal
    I've seen screenshots that are a smaller resolution than the screen capture they represent! Some eejit has scaled the screenshot before uploading it. If a screenshot isnt 1:1 pixels on your screen as on the author's screen then you are going to lose something somewhere.

    I once put up a screenshot of an app I wrote and told my colleague where to find it. He said the text wasn't readable. Huh? I re-uploaded it again. Still not readable. Eventually I taught him how to do a screen capture in Windows and mail me that so I could see what was going on. That was when I discovered Internet Explorer shrunk images to fit the browser window. At the time Mozilla didn't do that (you got scroll bars). Now I try to remember to wrap screenshots in a little HTML so that they show at the right size.
    • That was when I discovered Internet Explorer shrunk images to fit the browser window.

      If the image is a photography, people do want it fit to the size of the window most of the time. OTOH with a screenshot it is plain annoying. So the best the browser could do is to offer an easy way to switch between the two ways of handling images.

      Sometimes on webpages I do see screenshots, which have already been downscaled. Such screenshots are mostly useless. If anybody want to put some smaller screenshots in a rev
  • The screenshots I see are mostly for linux/unix desktops. Now, I'm minimalistic in my own system, black screen with an xterm or two is adequate to get started. But when I look at screenshots, I want to see features that would appeal to a 13 year old. I see the screenshot as tool to get young people to try out the software. Linux power users may like the command line, but it looks scary and painful to the uninitiated. Rightly or not, they equate the eye candy with a more advanced system. Fvwm may be suffici
  • Cheeeeeese (Score:4, Funny)

    by srobert ( 4099 ) on Sunday April 02, 2006 @10:18PM (#15047764)
    I look for an open IRC window in which the person recording the snapshot tells all the channel participants to "Say Cheese". :)
  • One thing for sure, I don't want to wade through a zillion thumbnails of screenshots like some people upload to demonstrate what a new OS looks like.

    I often make demonstration screenshots for presentation of what my software looks like, or will look like if the client chooses to pay me to build it. The Gimp is very useful here.

    Since the eyes glaze over very quickly, and it takes effort to make a good sample screen, I usually make a bare minimum necessary to give the user an idea of how it works / why it is
  • Normally I look for the ability to make my enemies into as many small, bloody chunks as possible.

    Now what I specifically don't want to see is the word "Microsoft".
  • "I'm more interested in differences in the file open/save dialogs"

    Really... REALLY?? I remember back in the dying days of Win 3.1 when it seemed like programmers finally started using common dialogs - it was like a freakin' revelation. Unless the program does something seriously innovative (ie, standard opening/closing just won't work for it) they really should be left alone.

  • http://www.panoramafactory.com/screens.html [panoramafactory.com]

    can't be beat it just explains the process of using the software well.
  • I try to see if the program seems to be written or actually used. Very often programs seem to have all the greatest features, but they are not written by someone who actually uses them. It is easy to take an authentic screenshot when actually using a program, but quite hard to fake (sometimes).

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982