One of the things that makes us happy is knowing that teachers and students have been inspired by our work. A couple of years ago we started to notice videos appearing on YouTube that students produced in class and called "Common Craft Style" videos. There are now over 2000 on YouTube.
Yesterday I was browsing the videos and saw this one, which totally made our day:
Since our first video, Common Craft style has been defined by a specific set of materials and processes. You could say we work within a set of constraints. While the word “constraints” sounds limiting, we’ve always found them useful and, paradoxically, liberating. According to the article linked below, there’s now a scientific explanation.
Johan Lehrer recently wrote an article called Need to Create? Get a Constraint wherein he looks at the results of psychological experiments that show how constraints or obstacles change the way we look at the world. The basic idea is that being limited or constrained in our approach to solving a problem opens our minds to a more global perspective and helps us see connections we would not have seen otherwise.
According to the scientists...
Consistently, these studies show that encountering an obstacle in one task can elicit a more global, Gestalt-like processing style that automatically carries over to unrelated tasks, leading people to broaden their perception, open up mental categories, and improve at integrating seemingly unrelated concepts.
This seems to explain why I find constraints to be liberating. In approaching a new video, we do not have every option on the table. Common Craft Style is, in some ways, a system of constraints. For example, we only use a few items in Common Craft videos - a whiteboard, paper cut-outs, human hands, markers, etc. These are material constraints. We don’t use music - feature constraint. Our videos are never over four minutes long - a time constraint. Our characters don’t have faces - an emotional constraint.
These are all examples of obstacles. Constraining our work in this way means that we can remove a lot decision making and administration and replace it with other kinds of creativity. Our videos may work better because we don’t have to find the right music, the right animation style, the right facial expressions or models. We can stop worrying about a big chunk of the creative process through constraints and focus on what matters most to us: the explanation.
If you're working on a creative project, consider how constraints may change your perspective. It may be that limiting yourself to black and white photos or only one kind of brush may highlight an aspect of the project you would not have seen otherwise.
They have their niche and nobody good would ever copy their style. Common Craft should be the only people that make a cut-out-videos-that-explain software or web services. Anything else is an echo.
If a client asked, we’d say no. It’d be an admission of creative bankruptcy to try to mimic the very clear, original style that CommonCraft uses.
First, I want to thank Chris for standing up for our work so publicly. I like that Chris’ perspective is not about legal ramifications so much as recognizing another company’s work and making a conscious choice to take a different creative direction. In some ways, it’s how the world should work.
The fact is, there are many videos out there that could be called “Common Craft Style” - we see them all the time. Like Chris, people sometimes expect us to be up-in-arms about other producers who take inspiration from, or even directly copy our work. While plagiarism and trademark infringement is unacceptable, we recognize that there is a gray area and always appreciate attribution if our work is indeed an inspiration. It's this gray area that makes our position on Common Craft Style a bit complicated.
Example: Educational Use
Teachers and students are currently working on what they call “Common Craft Style” videos in classrooms. These are often middle and high school students making videos that help them learn about history, for example. While we are not involved in any way, we have always encouraged teachers to take inspiration from our work in school projects.
Here's an example created by Wendy Drexler:
Here's another made by 8th graders that makes me LOL:
As we mentioned, the existence of these projects makes having an absolute position on Common Craft Style difficult, as we are very supportive of these educational, classroom-oriented videos.
Years ago, we decided that the best thing we can do is focus our attention on building our brand and making the best possible videos. Our goal has always been to create a brand of videos that speaks for itself and I think we’re getting close.
There will always be the company, producer or agency who chooses to make a video in “Common Craft Style”. Sure, you could say they’re copying us. You could say that we need to stop them. But as Chris’ blog post shows, the market has a way of recognizing and even protecting unique and valuable creations. Here's what I mean...
Rock and Roll
Chris quotes Scott Ginsberg in his post, “There are no cover-bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” While this may be true, that building is filled with individuals who were inspired-by and copied the techniques of others. Even though Chuck Berry inspired Elvis Presley, there will only ever be one Chuck Berry. And maybe that’s the lesson here.
More than anything, we want to see video explanations become the next rock-and-roll. We want our little industry to grow and for talented producers to build careers on using videos to explain and educate. And for that to happen, the environment needs to encourage producers who take inspiration, but also find responsible ways to make their own creative contribution.
We’ll always protect our brand and appreciate attribution where it's appropriate. But at the end of the day, we want to be the people who help inspire the next Hall of Fame inductee, not stand in their way.
If you’re considering a Common Craft video, please contact us.