The Common Craft Blog

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

Thing Explainer: A New Book By Randall Munroe of xkcd

Posted by: leelefever on May 13, 2015- 11:40am


Topic: Book Review

Categories: book, constraints, language, rockets, science, up-goer, xkcd

What if you had to explain something very complex, like a rocket, and only use drawings and the 1000 most-used words in the English language?  

That's the constraint that Randall Munroe made famous a while back when he explained a Saturn V rocket. For example, because the word "rocket" is not in the 1000 words, he called it an "up-goer" and that became the informal name for this kind of communication. You might remember a guest post by Sally James on this blog about the idea.

Mr. Munroe, whose work you may have seen on the web comic xkcd, is set to publish an entire book called Thing Explainer that explains "Complicated Stuff Using Simple Words". In fact, it's only drawings and the 1000 most-used words. I think this kind of constraint is a brilliant idea. It simply eliminates jargon and provides a new (and often hilarious) way to think about complex ideas.

Explore computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the things you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you're made of (cells).

Here's an example of the Mars Rover:

Mars Rover Randall Munroe - Thing Explainer

Want to test your skills in using the 1000 words? Try it here.

Here's the cover:

Thing Explainer Book


Find out more about the book.

Thanks to Kottke.

With our latest video, we’re geeking out a bit and explaining a popular way that software is developed. 

Our focus here is a process called Agile Methodology that has changed how many software projects (and a lot of other things) are structured. 

Here are the highlights:

Common Craft Agile Gif


About This Video:

Using an analogy of two road-tripping teams, this video highlights how Agile Methodology offers the chance to reach better than expected outcomes.  It teaches:

  • The two basic approaches to software projects: Agile and Waterfall
  • The role of continuous iteration and cycles of development
  • Why the final destination is not always known in Agile projects
  • How Agile projects can produce unexpected results

Watch it now

How to Use This Video

This video is designed to introduce and explain the basics of agile methodology in about three minutes. Whether you need to educate students, customers or prospects this video can help you set the stage.

Make it Your Own

If you would like a version of this video with your organization’s branding, we can help. Just contact us.

Recently Published Videos:

We’ve released a new video and it’s not an explanation of hot new technology. In fact, it’s easy to assume that this subject hasn't changed in 100 years.

Our new video is about libraries, and specifically, how they have evolved in the Internet Age.
Here are the highlights as an ExplainerGIF:
Common Craft Library

About This Video:

Many of our wonderful supporters are libraries and librarians. In talking with them, we discovered that one of the biggest challenges they face is one of perception. 
To many, libraries are relics. In the age of Google, Amazon and Wikipedia it’s easy to think that libraries haven’t changed; that they are from a by-gone era. But the truth is, they have evolved and this video explains how and why. It teaches:
  • Why information is the real focus of every library
  • How the Internet has impacted libraries
  • Why more information isn’t always better
  • How libraries and librarians help us navigate information
  • What you are likely to find in libraries today

How to Use This Video

This video is designed for use by libraries, librarians and anyone who has a stake in their success. Our hope is that it can be used to introduce patrons and the public to why libraries matter more today than ever before.

Free, Shareable Version: 

We've created a free version of this video that ANYONE can use. This version of the video is Creative Commons licensed and available for embedding or downloading. 

New Video: Encryption on the Web

Posted by: leelefever on March 3, 2015- 10:36am


Topic: Common Craft Video

Categories: encryption, Explanation, internet, privacy, security, video

For our latest video, we’re going behind the scenes of the Internet and taking a look at encryption and how “keys” help keep our sensitive information secure as it travels from computer to computer. 
Here are the highlights as an ExplainerGIF:
Encryption GIF
Do you want to learn to make animated GIFs like the one above? We'll teach you.  

About This Video:

Encryption is a fundamental part of using the Internet securely, but it is mostly invisible to the user. This video explains the basic idea of encryption and specifically the two types of keys that are used online: symmetric and public. It teaches:
  • Why encryption matters on the Web
  • An example of encryption used in history
  • The basics of private key encryption
  • The basics of public key encryption
  • How public key encryption works when using a bank website

How to Use This Video

This video is designed to serve as an introduction -- it creates a solid foundation for deeper learning. Use it to kick-off a class or session on the Internet, technology, e-commerce, communications, etc.  

Recently Published Videos: