How to create a retro operating system for your upcoming remote talk

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Moment of truth at UX Bristol 2020

At 10.45am on Friday July 17th, my pre-recorded talk was streamed on UX Bristol’s Youtube for around 140 people (see screenshot above). Other speakers had just given their talk live before me, so when my video started playing, it wasn’t clear what was going on. Was I sharing my screen? Was I there? What was happening?

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My confused friends reaching out on Whatsapp as the talk played
The talk


  • 🎁 Download these files
  • 🤦🏽‍♀️ Clear your schedule from non-essential activities for the next 2–3 weeks
  • 🛠️ Advanced-ish After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop skills


Seems silly but the colours you pick will take over the main image people will remember after watching. I love browsing palettes at colour lovers, give it a go. Once you’ve picked a palette, either screenshoot the palette or save the HEX codes.

Open the file: 🎁 Fake from the pack. When I say UI I mean user interface by the way. The illustrator file should look something like the image below. Change the pink and blue to your chosen colours and voila! UI set up.

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Edit to match your chosen colours

I prepared the script and got feedback on it using google docs. I then used Photo Booth to record the talk — twice because I noticed I was doing Blue Steels a lot on the first version.

When recording, make sure you have natural light. Also, if you can, I suggest getting this £12 microphone to ensure quality audio. One last thing to note is that Photo Booth records video at a weird frame rate. To fix this, you will have to download the epic Handbreak. Use it to convert your video to 30fps as shown below. It’s a super lightweight .dmg file so this should take you under10min.

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Before opening the AE file, make sure you install the 🎁 2 fonts in the pack (GenericMobileSystem.ttf and Pixelbit.ttf). Also, make sure you’ve exported your fake UI elements in your chosen colour palette. Drop them in the 🎁 PNG folder of the pack. If you want absolute seamlessness, replace the original PNGs in the folder with your PNG’s instead. Make sure they have the exact same name as the originals. This will trick AE into pulling your PNG’s instead of mine when booting up the file.

Once the above is done, you’re ready to open the After Effects file called 🎁Video_HD_20min.aep

As the name suggests, you’ll find a master composition that is 20min long and has HD dimensions. All the sections of the video are ready on the master composition. Take a look:

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The layers in yellow are there for you to edit
  • Header layer: Edit the conference title name here. I wrote ‘UX Bristol’ on the left and the date of the talk on the right.
  • Slides layer: This big box is where you can drop your slides. If you want widescreen slides, open the illustrator file and change the size of the box. Export it and it should update automatically in After Effects. As your video moves on, just time your slides to match what you’re “saying”, so it feels like it is a slideshow…rather than a sequence of pictures…on a fake UI.
  • Video layer: Drop your video in the grey area I’ve left for you, delete the grey box. It’s 4:3 ratio at the moment, to match the bar over the video. If you want widescreen edit the bar in illustrator and re-export.
  • Desktop icons: I’ve written “Icon 1”…etc on them. Edit them to include relevant/interesting things connected to your talk.
  • Background layer: This is just a big block for the background. You could edit it in illustrator or photoshop to create a more bespoke background like poolside FM maybe.

Having made a couple of tests and failed tremendously, I settled for the following settings after selecting Add to Render Queue in After Effects. The screenshots look like a lot, but actually you just need to edit the bits in red

  • Quicktime
  • Format option: H.264
  • Dial the quality down to anything between 30 and 60
  • No one needs audio quality above 33.000kHz …

My computer took around 4 hours to export the video. I had plenty of effects going on and animations that I don’t recommend going for. Exporting time will depend, as you probably know, on the amount of effects, size of elements moving and your computer’s hardware.

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Settings I used to export from After Effects in the Render Queue

Unnecessary steps

I only took these extra steps because I was so far into the commitment of making this look real. I couldn’t not do the final touches. It was exhausting. Definitely could have done with an extra week or two.

I thought why not complicate matters further by creating “retro video game slides” using existing video game stills, and adding titles over them with a pixel font. When my slides were not text but photos, I gave them a vintage feel with photoshop. To go faster, I copied an online tutorial, recorded the steps as a “photoshop action” which then meant I could just press “play action” to treat a new photo in a second.

📹 How to use actions
🌐 Actions to download

This tutorial video was super interesting! However, I found it when I was already two weeks deep into my editing obsession, so I only learnt how to make glitches and how to do the “offsetting channel” trick. Watch from minute 4:26 to see what you need to do to offset channels. Its a quick but impactful trick to imitate VHS.

I really liked how the above video has the pause/play effect. The letter font and placement really make it feel like an old video… well for those of us who remember seeing actual VHS. #eldermillenial

Truth is, I didn’t have time to learn how to do the proper effect so I took a shortcut. I found these two images and overlaid them over my video, to give the impression that the video was pausing or playing. You can use a multiply blend or overlay blend so the black key disappears.

Overlaying video or images over moving video is a useful trick to create interesting visual effects with minimal effort. I recommend! If I had had time to source moving footage of a VHS actually playing or pausing I would’ve totally used it. After effects has some neat chroma (or “keying”) presets that help you remove unwanted colours so your layer merge beautifully.

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Stills will do the trick

🤞 If all goes well and you’re very good at managing stress, you should have exported your talk successfully and still have contact with your loved ones. 😂

The last steps I took after exporting where:

  • Use Handbreak to make my video lighter
  • Send final video via WeTransfer to the conference’s technical crew

🍾 Done.


All in all this experience was as exhausting as it was exciting. It’s made me reconsider the level of complexity I choose for upcoming talks and how I want to split my time between preparing the content and the format of any experience.

It’s also made me cherish the skills a previous life in digital advertising left in me. That said — it’s great not to have to do it for a living and instead use those skills to complement my life as a Service Designer with projects like this.

Huge thanks to UX Bristol organiser, Stuart Church, who was there to bounce ideas with and give me feedback as the process unfolded. It was awesome to work with you and feel supported every step of the way. Thank you so much to the whole UX Bristol crew and volunteers for being amazing and letting me play.

What’s next

Well, it’s time to prep for UCD Gathering in October! I’ll be giving a workshop with the epic theo ploeg on Speculative Design. We’ll be bringing Theo’s fantastic knowledge and my ever changing facilitation skills to the remote workshop world. I’m sure a blog about all the things we learned will come straight after it.

Finally, please reach out about video editing, working in tech, getting into Service Design and all things in between. See you in October.

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Written by

Service Designer. Likes spicy food and nice people.

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