Book Review: The Art of Explanation

I recently finished reading the book The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever. Lee is famous his “paper cutouts on a whiteboard” explanation videos. The first one I encountered was called RSS in Plain English, showing how this new technology helps you save time reading items on the web. His straightforward explanation has helped over 2,000,000 people better understand WHY they should care about this technology.

Lee started his company Common Craft specializing in “helping the world become a more understandable place to live and work.” One of the premises Lee has, is that there is a worldwide explanation problem and that the adoption of an idea is often limited by how the idea is being explained.

Lee does a great job of explaining “explanations” and gives some very practical ideas on how to make your ideas, products and services easier to understand. He identified “the curse of knowledge”as being one of the key problems that leads to confusion. I highly recommend this book.

After reading it, I thought it would be fun to do a short book review in “Common Craft Style.” Making one of theses video seemed fairly straight forward. You have cut-out paper puppets, hand motions with a simple voice over. How hard could it be? Here is the final result:

Five lessons I learned making a “Common Craft” style video…

  1. Common Craft Video SetupIt’s harder than it looks – I have 8 hours invested in the above 2 minute video. While it’s not terrible, there are so many things that I would have done differently. And I didn’t even draw any of the paper puppets! I’m sure it would get easier over time, but you need to know there is going to be a significant investment of time before you embark on a project like this.
  2. It’s all about the script – Lee makes this point in his book…while he is know for the look of his videos, it is the script (ie. the explanation) that takes the most time to perfect. The animations, hand motions and script should all work together help move the explanation forward.
  3. Time yourself first – It seems obvious, but if it takes 10 seconds to read your lines, you should have 10 seconds of video to go along with it. Otherwise you have to re-shoot or you have to cut your script. Neither of these are ideal.
  4. Get a bigger white board – The white board I used was relatively small and had a boarder. This lip made it difficult to move objects off and on the white board…they kept getting stuck.
  5. It was fun – I have to admit, I had fun with this project. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll use this style of video in the future, but it was a fun exercise to try. Making this video helped me wrestle though much of what I learned in the book and that helped cement it in my mind.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Art of Explanation

  1. Bruce, Fun, nicely done video.

    Years ago I commented the following about slide shows; “they are never done, they are only abandoned!” Somehow, they always changed – changed until they were completely outdated.

    Video is somewhat like that too, only it is much easier to simply change slides than redo an edit of a video; so don’t beat yourself up, you did a good job with this little SHORT 1:57 piece. Makes me want to try one myself.

    David Marshall Kealy

    1. Thank you Lee…glad you liked it! I think my favorite part of making the video was humming at the beginning and doing the yeas and boos. Cutting the out the characters brought me back to my grade school days and those cheap, rounded “safety” scissors that hurt your hand every time you used them. : )

  2. I hate you!

    Your review video is SO good – it makes me nauseous.

    Because — after reading the same book — the VERY best I could create was a bland blog post (and I’m meant to be creative!).

    I think you missed your true calling Bruce.

    PS video-review my first book — PLEASE!

  3. It is so important someone trying make a vídeo driving by The art of explanation. I had the same experience here in BRAZIL. It isn’t easy but results are great.

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