The Common Craft Blog

This blog is where we announce new videos & talk about the power of explanation & the change it can create. 

It's Not Sexy - And That's OK

Posted by: leelefever on April 8, 2014- 10:15am


Categories: advice, Art of Explanation, Explanation, explanation specialist, party, substance

Explanation PartyMany professionals work toward the moment their project, presentation, or work blows someone’s socks off.  It’s easy to imagine a dream-like vignette where, once your peers and managers see your work, they form a conga line to celebrate the amazing things you’ve done. It’s sexy, they say. It’s slick. It’s mind-blowing.


It’s a seductive way to think about work. We want to make big impressions and get noticed. We love the attention that may lead to promotions and accolades.  It’s not that different from what we see every day in the media. Glamour sells. Sex sells. Do I even have to mention Paris Hilton?

But here’s the thing. Sex may sell, but substance delivers. The slick presentations and marketing speak are often only a veneer that’s designed to make an impression. It’s a short-term step in a much longer game that involves much more than simply making impressions.  

Explanation JumpOnce the lights dim and dance floor clears, there must be more to the story. For anyone to care the next day, substance must be part of the mix and that substance often comes from a specific skill: explanation.  By making sure people actually understand what we’re doing and why it matters, we can offer them a cure for the hangover they may feel once the excitement fades. 

Of course, this may not be sexy. It may not be glamorous. An amazing explanation does not typically instigate a conga line. I doubt your CEO will stand on her desk and exclaim “We need MORE UNDERSTANDING.” And that’s OK. Explanation is not about sexy - it’s about effective.

So, don’t be seduced.  Instead, become an advocate for substance. Work to make sure the bright lights and loud music don’t obscure the one thing that may actually help people engage with you: a basic understanding of WHY your message matters. 

Learn How BBC Makes 3 Minute Explainer Videos

Posted by: leelefever on April 2, 2014- 10:34am


Categories: bbc, Explainer Tip, explainer video, Explanation

I'm so impressed. The BBC is now producing Explainer videos and one of the producers they've used, After the Floodtook the time to explain their process in video form:

The video above is from a blog post with much more information about scripting, storyboarding and production

The BBC and After The Flood obviously have high standards, but don't let their technical focus discourage you. You can make an explainer videos for your team, product, students or classroom without having to worry about an audience of millions. 

Many of the points in the video are true in any context. A couple of strong points:

With a running time of just three minutes, an Explainer video needs to get its point across very efficiently. It’s impossible to cover all the ground in a particular area, so you need to focus on a story ‘hook’ that is fundamental, understandable and repeatable. Examples from previous Explainer videos include: ‘The stars are us and we are the stars’ and ‘The Titanic was unlucky, not doomed’. This message should be carried throughout the script and throughout the choice of visual elements.

On three big elements of explainers:
Your story idea will have to accommodate three distinct layers of information, and it’s worth identifying these at an early stage:
  • Primary info: the core material in question (e.g. the human circulatory system)
  • Secondary info: required for explanation (e.g. the role of oxygen in the blood)
  • Tertiary info: signposts that lead to related topics (e.g. exercise and cardiovascular health)

 Read the whole article.

The Art of Explanation has been out for about 1.5 years now and it's been exciting to see how it has made it's way around the world. The book has now been translated into 6 languages (including 2 versions of Chinese).  A Russian version is forthcoming. 

Top row:  Korean, Hungarian, Simplified Chinese Bottom Row: Japanese, Spanish, Traditional Chinese.

Art of Explanation Translations

It's fascinating to see the book in other languages and consider what goes into the design. For example, the western translations in Hungarian and Spanish are similar in design to the actual book, with Common Craft Style artwork and colors. The design of the Asian versions vary wildly from the original. The Japanese and Traditional Chinese versions read with pages turning to the right (opposite of western books) with vertical rows of text.

Art of Explanation Japanese Version

If you've read one of the translated versions, I'd love to know what you think!

Our new video was the most requested by members and explains Primary and Secondary Sources in research (2.5 minutes).


About this video:

When researching, there are two main types of information sources: primary and secondary sources. Understanding the difference between them and how to use them can help make your projects more thorough and accurate.
What it Teaches:
This video looks back at a big event in history: The Great Storm (England, 1703). It asks the question - how do we know what we know about this storm? This question is answered by explaining primary and secondary sources. It teaches:
  • Why sources matter in establishing facts and information
  • What represents a primary source and how to use them
  • Why primary sources may present an incomplete picture
  • What represents a secondary source
  • How primary and secondary sources may contribute to the best understanding

The Cut-out Library Now Contains over 1500 Cut-outs!

Our library of "Common Craft Style" Cut-outs continues to grow and search is the best way to find what you need. Give it a try.
Add Cut-outs to presentations, documents, videos and more. They are designed to make your media more visually compelling.
Here's a hint - you can search by color to find characters that match. For example, here are all the "blue" Cut-outs.