Kahn, a former gynecologist, ran with the man-as-machine analogy like nobody else. That analogy has some problems, of course, but it makes a good foundation for beginners learning about human anatomy (you know, for kids).
Learn more about Kahn here and more about Lederer’s piece here.
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Best of all, they’re doing it through cartoons, at least in part. RSA Animate is a video series that couples RSA public lectures with wonderful illustrations that follow along with what the speaker is saying.
I found these via a Flowing Data post, which describes the videos a “a different take on the infographic.” That description and the name RSA Animate don’t quite hit the mark for me. The cartoons don’t really represent data or processes visually, and they’re not animated, for the most part. The studio that makes them, Cognitive Media, uses the term “Scribing,” which works well. The form is more like visual note-taking –the cartoons don’t explain things by themselves, but underscore particular points, helping those points to stick the landing in your brain.
I did something similar in school. In my margins, I’d make cartoons of pieces of art, historical North Carolinians, frogs, etc. to keep my mind from wandering*. I picked up the habit from Larry Gonick’s books, like The Cartoon History of the Universe, which have a lot in common with the RSA Animate series. In both, the cartoons are continually responding to the main narrative. It’s a highly effective mnemonic device, which makes it a great explaining tool– by pairing auditory or textual points with a related visual, you form more neural connections, which makes the ideas much stickier.
* I still do this in meeting sometimes, but more often, my doodling doesn’t relate to the subject matter. Brilliant scientists agree with me that this helps you concentrate.
(Incidentally, Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin is a great guide to explaining and problem-solving through simple sketches.)
If you liked that, you might want to fund Health Reform: A Visual Explanation. Chicago artist Ray Noland is seeking investors for a series of animated infographic movies to explain the issues:
We are asking to raise 5k to get started on this project by the time Congress is back in session in September. Ultimately, we will need a bit more to complete the series. As we produce more we are hoping to garner additional support to continue. Our goal is to explain the minutiae of the forth-coming Health Care Reform bill for ourselves and for YOU.
MondayDots is a new blog with a promising focus: explanatory videos built around simple dots. Creator Jeff Monday’s inaugural video explains why General Petraeus was uniquely suited to effect change in the Iraq War.
Monday credits cartoonist explainer extraordinaire Scott McCloud with inspiring the people-as-dots approach. One of McCloud’s key notions in Understanding Comics is that making a character more “cartoony” can make the character more accessible. Essentially, the less specific a character image is, the easier it is to project yourself into that character.
Monday is sprinting with this idea, making his character images as open ended as possible. He explains the approach in this video:
I like this hook, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the series. Also, bravo to Monday for explaining how he produces his videos using only Apple’s Keynote and iMovie:
… for bike riders in Oregon, that is. I really like this simple animated video by Spencer Boomhower that explains the rationale behind a proposed law to allow bike riders to execute a “rolling stop” in certain situations.
Wouldn’t it be great to have this sort of elegant explanation for all the propositions that end up on ballots every November? In my explainist utopia, they would be playing in a continuous loop at polling places.
I’m not sure how else to describe these animated videos on tumor angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels leading to a tumor. The biotechnology company Amgen put the stunning mini-site together to explain new approaches to Cancer treatment.
While the animation and interface are wonderful, the site doesn’t do a great job explaining what’s actually going on, at least not for a general audience. In fact, the caliber of the animation actually makes it harder to absorb any details. Show me beautiful imagery set to soothing space music, and it’s nearly impossible not to tune out a British narrator spouting 10-syllable terminology.
The secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic ever-changing geometries . All action takes place around NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries . Actual VLF [very low frequency] audio recordings control the evolution of the fields as they delve into our inaudible surroundings, revealing recurrent ‘whistlers’ produced by fleeting electrons .
This type of animation is a welcome bridge between scientists and the rest of us. From the article:
An unexpected side effect of Berry’s work has been that when laypeople view the animations, they intuitively grasp the cutting-edge science. Berry says, with some amazement, “The more hard-core it is, and the more complicated visually it is, the more people respond.” Seeing the cell’s activities conveys something fundamental to viewers, something that Berry sees in his mind as he digests the journal articles that contribute to each animation.
What I’d love to see now is a biological video game series.
In a post on Open Forum, Guy Kawasaki sings the praises of Atelier Transfert’s stop-motion-loaded product videos. As Kawasaki points out, many Web companies fail abysmally at explaining what exactly they do. The Canadian studio’s masterful pieces quickly and clearly define the problems to be solved and the way the products solve them.