There’s almost certainly no better way to deliver a wow factor online than by using video well. On the other hand, there’s almost certainly no better way to turn any site into a usability nightmare than by using video badly.

I hope it goes without saying that we want the former, not the latter. With that noble ambition in mind, this short piece shares some of the lessons we’ve learned over the years, and still apply today, in the Kooba studio. Hopefully following it will mean your visitors are impressed rather than distressed by your on-site video.

Using video responsibly

It is important - extremely important - to understand just how powerful video can be. The human mind is programmed to notice movement and respond to movement. That shouldn’t come as any sort of a surprise. After all, early man probably wouldn’t have lasted long if she didn’t figure out that as a general rule stationary rocks are less dangerous than moving tigers.

In other words, if you put something that moves (like video) on your website, you can be pretty certain it will be the first thing anybody notices when they arrive. That remains the case for video that you or your digital agency might call ‘background’. It is anything but.

Given this is the case, the single most important piece of advice I can give you is use video wisely and sparingly. Remember the old usability adage: “to highlight everything is to highlight nothing” and think carefully before using video at all.

This can be difficult to do. After all, video is (usually) impressive. It looks exciting. It will probably wow senior management in your organisation. But unless it is delivering a ‘message’, unless is has a point - video may be a mistake.

That leads me onto our second rule. Make sure whatever video you use is communicating something to the user.

To illustrate that point take a look at the new site for The Curragh racecourse, designed and built by ourselves at Kooba over the last couple of months.

A key objective of this project was to clearly communicate the Curragh’s status as one of the world’s leading horse racing venues, and showcase the spectacular course and new grandstand. Video can do that in a way that words will struggle to match, which is why at the top of the homepage a video clip brings together iconic images of ‘a day at the races’.

Similar logic can be seen at the site for Aviva Stadium (also built by ourselves at Kooba). Again, video delivers that sense of occasion and place that words and images alone will struggle to do.

If, on the other hand, you are not clear what you are communicating to the user with video - don’t use it. A couple of years ago it felt like every software company on the planet had a video strip at the top of their homepage. Today very few still do. I suspect the A/B test results were disappointing.

If you do use video, follow these rules

If you’ve made it this far, considered the various warnings above and decided to go ahead and put some video on your website, congratulations! Now we just have to make sure you do things right.

Just to be clear, throughout this article we’re not talking about what I would call ‘embedded’ video - in which a youtube or vimeo window is displayed within the site. There’s a whole different set of rules for that situation that we might talk about in another blog post. I’m talking about the type of video used in the banners of sites mentioned above.

So if that kind of video is your bag, here’s how to get it right:

  • No sound. I don’t particularly like the modern habit of declaring certain opinions off limits or refusing to see both sides of an argument. But in this case I will make an exception. No sound. Other than in very, very limited circumstances it is terrible UX design.
  • Keep the file size under control. This is so important. You may want to show everything, in crystal clear definition - but if the result is a site that is slow to load, or looks terrible while it is doing so, then you will only succeed in shooting yourself in the foot. At the time of writing (July 2019) about 10MB or 20 seconds of decent quality video is the maximum we would recommend.
  • Get the experts in. If it’s important enough to sit at the top of your site, it’s important enough to spend time and money on doing it right. But whilst your digital agency may not be the right organisation to create the movie, they should certainly have input. Ideally, the final product should be created with a clear understanding of how it will be used and what will be shown above or around it. On that note, don’t use text within video - it competes with what is on the page (which will almost certainly change in the medium term).
  • Know what happens next. You may want your video to play once. If so, ensure it finishes on a frame that will make sense, and communicate, whilst the user continues to browse. Alternatively, if you want video to continue to play, make sure deliver a seamless loop (or at least use a well positioned edit to disguise the restart of the video)
  • Have a fallback position. There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and your video not playing on every device and browser combination. Make sure when that happens you display a relevant image. On mobile, you may want to deliberately show an image only, either for space or speed reasons.
  • Be aware of accessibility implications. If you want a AAA accessibility rating, video is going to be problematic. You’ll need to have subtitles and sign-language for any video you use (not necessarily an issue if you have no audio, however). All the same, using video may mean sacrificing that rating - or vice versa.

That may sound like a lot to consider, but it really isn’t too much. Great video can be a powerful asset online. It’s worth taking the time to do it right. Good luck!

Journal full list