The Common Craft Blog

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

ExplainerGIFs: What They Are, Why They Matter

Posted by: leelefever on September 8, 2014- 9:56pm


Topic: ExplainerGIFs

Categories: animation, explainergifs, Explanation, GIFs, powerpoint, screencasting

This post is based on a more comprehensive article I wrote called Welcome to the Next Golden Age of Animated GIFs.

Animated GIFs are fascinating. These silent, looping, video-like experiences are popping up all over the web, much like they did in the 90s. But this time, it's different. Animated GIFs can now be created by anyone and we're seeing them used in new and interesting ways. 

You've probably seen animated GIFs used for entertainment or highlights: 


But have you considered how animated GIFs can be used for communication and explanation?  Consider the example below by John Reid which explains pi:


Or this one by NickolayS that explains how a sewing machine works:

The examples above illustrate that the animated GIF format has real power when it comes to communication. Part of the reason is the GIF format is just as shareable as any digital image. Unlike online video, they work almost anywhere an image can be displayed. No plug-ins, no device restrictions, no worries.


I've been experimenting with creating my own animated GIFs using PowerPoint and screencasting software.  You might have seen them at work in the Common Craft Soccer GuideI call them ExplainerGIFs. Like an explainer video, it's an animated GIF that is designed to make an idea understandable. Below is a simple example that explains the water cycle:

You Can Make Animated GIFs

What I've learned is that these animated GIFs are quite easy to create - and I want to show you how. This fall I will be sharing everything I've learned about creating ExplainerGIFs using simple and affordable tools. If you'd like to be notified when it's ready, sign up for a notification at

Here are some examples of what's possible:

Animated Venn Diagrams:

Animated Charts and Graphs

Animated Processes and Flows

Animated Conversations and People

Learn more and sign up for notifications at  

To learn more about the evolution of animated GIFs, read The Next Golden Age of Animated GIFs.

Our new video explains blended learning in under 2.5 minutes. See the highlights below:

Watch it now

About this video:

This video follows the story of a teacher who discovers blended learning and incorporates it into his teaching. It teaches:

  • A basic definition of blended learning
  • How the Internet has impacted teaching options
  • The role of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) in blended learning
  • How blended learning can change how classroom time is used
  • What factors can ensure success
  • Why blended learning matters
This video was suggested by Common Craft members and is designed with teachers and faculty in mind. 

Common Craft Cut-outs: Now Available Individually

Posted by: leelefever on August 12, 2014- 4:36pm


Topic: visuals, Cut-Outs, shopping, ecommerce

Categories: cut-outs

Visuals play an important role in how we communicate, but nice looking digital images can be a pain to find or create. That's a big reason we offer Common Craft Cut-outs - to provide a library of over 1,600 downloadable images that can be used in projects like presentations, blog posts and videos.

Until recently, our Cut-outs were only available through Common Craft membership (starting at $49 per year). Today, all Cut-outs are also available individually.

Common Craft Cut-outs

High resolution PNG images are $0.99 and EPS vectors graphics are $1.49.  

Just click on Cut-outs in the library, add them to the shopping cart and they'll be available for download immediately after purchase. And, as a bonus, this type of license never expires. Please note that this option is only for use by individuals - organizational use requires membership (contact us)

Want to see Cut-outs in action?

The video below by the City of Carlsbad, CA does a great job of using Cut-outs along with live-action footage to explain the process of starting a home-based businesses.

Viewing in email? Watch it here.

The video above by Kurzgesagt is rather long and packed with information, but presented in a manner that makes it easy to understand thanks to good writing and really compelling visuals. I love that it has little humorous bits, like the Secret Dinosaur Society (05:31). Notice the subtle use of comparative visuals, like the deepest hole humans have ever drilled (03:25) when discussing the earth's crust. Overall I think it's great work.

I do have one quibble

In the past I've written about the Intellectual Leap. This is when an explanation suddenly goes over the audience's head and causes them to lose confidence. Here's how I described it previously:

Imagine a well designed explanation as a series of steps. The audience is guided along with understandable examples and points that build on one another.  The steps are small and consumable.
Common Craft Leaps 1
An intellectual leap happens when a step is too big. The audience is suddenly confronted with an idea, word or example that is unfamiliar or not understandable. They get stuck.
This is a common problem with explanations and it’s important because it impacts one of the most important elements of successful explanations: the audience’s confidence.  When confidence is shaken, explanations fail.

When watching a video like the one above, I look for intellectual leaps. Like all explanations, this video can only be judged by its intentions and potential audience. For the most part, the video uses technical but understandable langauge.

But at the 00:52 mark it discussed how earth was formed. It says "The gas cloud became denser in its center and formed an accretion disk". From my perspective, that's an intellectual leap that could impact confidence. What is an accretion disk? Do I need to understand that too? By not answering these questions, the audience could feel lost and that feeling can erode overall effectiveness. 

The question is: Did that specific idea need to be included? Could the leap have been avoided by leaving it out? Would that have compromised the bigger idea?

Answering these questions is the challenge of every explainer - and it's not easy. But looking for leaps in your communications is one way to approach being more understandable.