comics presentations Scott McCloud video

Scott McCloud TED Talk

Wow, turns out Scott McCloud is an explainist renaissance man. I’m a huge fan of his three explanatory comic books about comics, and now I see he delivers a heck of a presentation too.

This 17-minute talk is mostly a summary of key thoughts on comics, especially their future on the Web. I was already familiar with these ideas from McCloud’s books, but his presentation delivery style got me excited about them all over again. I really like the way he synchs his words with changes in his slides. The effect is similar to the continual seamless hand-off between words and pictures in comics. Very engaging.

animation diagrams history icons video

History of the Internet

The animated icon style of this history of Internet technology is effective, and oh so crisp.

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.
The movie is a showcase for Pictorial Communication Language (PICOL), German designer Melih Bilgil’s “project to find a standard and reduced sign system for electronic communication.” The idea is to come up with an extensive icon set open to anyone communicating through diagrams. The Picol site is partially under construction, but includes a blog with more information.

[via ReadWriteWeb]

Common Craft good explanations how-to Paperworks video

Common Craft Explains How Common Craft Explains

And speaking of Common Craft, here’s a new post explaining how they put together Paperworks pieces. Very cool.

Common Craft good explanations Paperworks video

Why Common Craft Doesn’t Custom-Explain Anymore

ReadWriteWeb recently talked to Lee LeFever — one half of Common Craft, the black belt explainers behind the Paperworks format — about why he and his wife Sachi gave up the custom Web brand work that brought them wide acclaim. LeFever explains that while the custom client work was rewarding, they decided to focus on creating explanations for general educational use, because:

1. Custom videos do not scale. We would have to hire people to grow the company and we don’t want to hire. We are a two person company.

2. Custom videos are usually promotional. We are more comfortable with education than promotion. Another realization is that promotion is fad-driven and education isn’t as much. We see a longer lifespan for our videos in education.

3. Our goal is independence – we want to work for our own goals on our own schedule and maintain a lifestyle that supports us.

I’ve mixed promotion with explaining before and also ran into these issues. While product promotion invariably benefits from clear explanation, the drive to promote something can handicap good explaining.


[via Extraface]

how-to video

“Howcast” Steps Up to the How-To Challenge

Making good how-to content is incredibly difficult, and I hate it.

If you’re crafting a pure explanation — say, explaining what makes a car go — your job is not to make sure your audience groks every little detail of what all the thousands of individual pieces do. Your job is to illuminate some basic principles to form a complete thought. You go only as deep as you need to, and you can use all the metaphors and generalizations you like. It’s a delight.

If your subject is “How to fix your car,” on the other hand, you’ve set out to cover every step involved in fixing every possible problem (at least if you’re being thorough). Skip a crucial step, and your guide is potentially useless to your audience. When you’re teaching something in person, your audience will let you know when you missed something. When you’re making how-to content — articles, video, comics — it’s on you to cover just about everything somebody might need.

So, I hate making how-to stuff, and I respect people who take on such a daring mission with good intentions. Which is all a long preamble to congratulating Howcast on their launch today.

Howcast How to Trim Your Mustache

The new site, run by ex-Googlers, is basically a warehouse of short how-to videos. As the site’s “What is Howcast” video explains, anybody can start a “Wiki guide,” which “members of the Howcast network” may turn into short video pieces. Techcrunch’s post sheds a little more light:

Audience members can also look at upcoming scripts and improve them or write their own in a guided wiki portion of the site that follows the Howcast script template (introduction, instructions, tips, end with a fact). The script is then approved by Howcast, a voiceover is recorded, and Howcast farms out the production to young film school students and graduates. They get $50 for each video plus a 50/50 rev-share from any advertising. Anyone can also upload their own instructional videos to the site without going through this process.

I’ve only sampled a few videos so far, but I see some features I like. Online video is a logical choice for how-to because it lends itself to thorough demonstrations, but it’s also frustratingly linear. When you need to backtrack for a second to check something, it’s much more of a pain to rewind than to scan up a page of text and diagrams. Howcast has done a good job addressing this. Every video comes with a text-and-picture summary, a transcript, a list of tools and supplies you’ll need, and marker points for where each step appears in the video. Not bad.

Nice Web-1.0 name too. Here’s what the page looked like way back in 1999.

[Via Techcrunch]

good explanations science video

How The Ear Works

An animation by Devin Flynn that excellently explains what happens inside your ear when sounds come rolling through, in the style of little kid filmstrips and Sesame Street:

[Found via the Super Deluxe blog]

animation art cartoons cutaway diagrams exploded infographics isometric machines video

Great Explainy Music Video

And now, a musical interlude. This video from Norwegian band Röyksopp doesn’t exactly explain anything, but it uses the tools of good explanation to thrilling effect. And it illustrates nicely how much data, complexity and remarkable thinking flows through daily life.

The artistry is clearly awesome, but the delicious topping for me is that they bothered to make so much of this stuff accurate (or at least accuratish). For example, the escalator cutaway is highly detailed and right on the money, and it’s only onscreen for four seconds. There’s a good bit of playful exaggeration too — the parts of the ear are drawn correctly, but sound waves trigger a bouncier cartoon chain reaction than you would actually see.I’ve had a hand in building animated cutaway diagrams before — the type of thing that makes up only a few frames in this video — and fitting the details together is no small chore. Kudos to those responsible, the French production company H5, according to Wikipedia and others. (My kudos are way late, apparently. The video already won best video at the MTV Europe Music Awards, way back in 2002).

I found a bit of interesting chatter in the YouTube comments on the video. Several posters took it for granted that this was a depressing view of mundane modern life. I really don’t see it that way. Normally, I do get discouraged by musical montages of workers filing into offices or even families chaotically taking off in the morning (a staple of supposedly cheery breakfast treat ads). The notion that life is hectically repetitive for no discernible reason makes me queasy. But this video was actually uplifting to me.

For one thing, I love to be reminded that there is so much to learn about even incredibly ordinary stuff. After all, there aren’t really many boring things, just boring people. It’s good to turn on the awestruck wonder whenever you can. Also, I’m comforted by the idea that even though there’s a lot of complexity under the surface of everything, I could actually figure out what was going on if I took the time to sort through the detailed, readily available information. It’s the same comfort I get walking through the library or bookstore. I may not want to learn all about building construction at a particular moment, but it’s good to know I could pick up several books on the subject (and understand them) if I were so inclined. Nice to have signs that the roads are open.

PS: I intended this post to be pure praise, since 100% of our posts to date have had a bit of finger wagging in them, but I can’t ignore the bad splainin’ on both Röyksopp and H5’s Web sites.

Röyksopp greeted me only with this and an album promotion pop-up:

Which details did you need? Shoe size? Favorite Pop Tart flavor?

H5 gave me little more:

Very strange to have such dead-end home pages in this day and age.