Over the past year or so I have been doing a lot of work with video. Most of that has been for instructional content delivered via downloads and streaming media. In all of those cases I have used video editing tools that provide a timeline and a robust set of controls for enhancing the quality of the final production. I wouldn’t do it any other way. Or so I thought.

I recently conducted user research that included video recording of interviews with customers of certain product. The video capture consisted of a stationary, locked web cam with a simple on/off at the beginning and end of each interview. The purpose was to create an audio/visual record and not to create art. All told there were about forty interviews and forty total hours of video. That part was easy.

More difficult was to make a “highlight” video that summarized for the client the type of feedback we received from their customers. For this executive-level video we wanted to keep it short – fifteen to twenty minutes, feature a variety of clips, and include some call-outs to identify topics and interviewees. The kicker was that this video wasn’t something that justified the effort that would go into a professional production. And it needed to be put together in just a few hours.

My experience with tools like Camtasia, Captivate, Final Cut, Avid Pro, etc. were that they were overkill for this task. Normally I want the power to do sophisticated marking of in and out points on source files. In this case I really just needed to cut, cut, cut and move on. Working on a PC, I’ve always had Windows Live MovieMaker available. It comes installed with Windows for free. But I never even launched it. So I did and was impressed at what quick work it made of this task.

Starting a new project shell is a two-click process. MovieMaker uses the Office ribbon format for controls. If you are an Office user, that makes your work even more streamlined. Another two-clicks inserts a video clip into your workspace. A clip is represented is a thumbnail. Selecting a click displays it in a video viewer.

To edit the clip you start by searching for the frame that you would like to begin a scene. You can search either by playing the video in real-time or using a slider to move from frame to frame. When you find the start of your scene, click the Edit tab, then Set start point. Now move to the final frame of the scene. Click Edit, then Set end point.

Now when you play the clip you only see the frames that make up your scene. If you have more clips you insert them and follow the same procedure. Using this approach I was able to pull together 20 short scenes in just over an hour. Most of that time was spent deciding on the best video action to select.

Adding captions is quick as well. Just click the Caption button in the ribbon and type your text. It is automatically overlaid on the currently selected clip. Standard Office text editing is used for colors, fonts, etc.

Titles are handled in a similar way. A click to insert a title slide, then just type and format the text.

Transitions are handled in a speedy way too. Click on the thumbnail where you want to add a transition. Then from the Animations gallery, click on a transition style. It is automatically applied to the current frame, along with an instant preview of the effect.

Finally, there is support for publishing your video to a variety of services and with any screen resolution or audio specification. There are a lot of other functions buried in the ribbon if you need to go to that level. But for most down and dirty video editing, the basics are right in front of you.

The bottom line in this approach and the use of MovieMaker is to offer your client an attractive video summary of your usability video while minimizing the resources applied to its creation. On the Mac side, the equivalent would be iMovie. I’ll be giving that a try on a future project.