Cash in a spare minute (or minute-and-a-half) for some good learnin’. Minute Physics is a growing YouTube channel of speedy marker doodle explanations:
I like the nice, simple style, an unembellished cousin to previously-discussed RSA Animate.
Das ist gut. In this video from an interactive art installation, Henning M. Lederer animates Fritz Kahn’s 1927 poster “Der Mensch als Industriepalast” (Man as an Industrial Palace).
Kahn, a former gynecologist, ran with the man-as-machine analogy like nobody else. That analogy has some problems, of course, but it makes a good foundation for beginners learning about human anatomy (you know, for kids).
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is a 250-year-old English institution with high-minded ideals:
Our vision is to be a powerful and innovative force. Bringing together different disciplines and perspectives, we will bring new ideas and urgent and provocative debates to a mass audience. We will work with partners to generate real progress in our chosen project areas, and through our Fellowship we will be seen as a source of capacity, commitment and innovation in communities from the global to the local.
Best of all, they’re doing it through cartoons, at least in part. RSA Animate is a video series that couples RSA public lectures with wonderful illustrations that follow along with what the speaker is saying.
I found these via a Flowing Data post, which describes the videos a “a different take on the infographic.” That description and the name RSA Animate don’t quite hit the mark for me. The cartoons don’t really represent data or processes visually, and they’re not animated, for the most part. The studio that makes them, Cognitive Media, uses the term “Scribing,” which works well. The form is more like visual note-taking –the cartoons don’t explain things by themselves, but underscore particular points, helping those points to stick the landing in your brain.
I did something similar in school. In my margins, I’d make cartoons of pieces of art, historical North Carolinians, frogs, etc. to keep my mind from wandering*. I picked up the habit from Larry Gonick’s books, like The Cartoon History of the Universe, which have a lot in common with the RSA Animate series. In both, the cartoons are continually responding to the main narrative. It’s a highly effective mnemonic device, which makes it a great explaining tool– by pairing auditory or textual points with a related visual, you form more neural connections, which makes the ideas much stickier.
* I still do this in meeting sometimes, but more often, my doodling doesn’t relate to the subject matter. Brilliant scientists agree with me that this helps you concentrate.
Here’s a snappy doodle-based explanatory editorial on America’s favorite fightin’ words, from Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin Blog:
(Incidentally, Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin is a great guide to explaining and problem-solving through simple sketches.)
If you liked that, you might want to fund Health Reform: A Visual Explanation. Chicago artist Ray Noland is seeking investors for a series of animated infographic movies to explain the issues:
We are asking to raise 5k to get started on this project by the time Congress is back in session in September. Ultimately, we will need a bit more to complete the series. As we produce more we are hoping to garner additional support to continue. Our goal is to explain the minutiae of the forth-coming Health Care Reform bill for ourselves and for YOU.
MondayDots is a new blog with a promising focus: explanatory videos built around simple dots. Creator Jeff Monday’s inaugural video explains why General Petraeus was uniquely suited to effect change in the Iraq War.
Monday credits cartoonist explainer extraordinaire Scott McCloud with inspiring the people-as-dots approach. One of McCloud’s key notions in Understanding Comics is that making a character more “cartoony” can make the character more accessible. Essentially, the less specific a character image is, the easier it is to project yourself into that character.
Monday is sprinting with this idea, making his character images as open ended as possible. He explains the approach in this video:
xkcd is here to clear things up:
Need to hone your flow-chart reading skills?
Xkcd tells you all you need to know, right here.
And now, a musical interlude. This video from Norwegian band Röyksopp doesn’t exactly explain anything, but it uses the tools of good explanation to thrilling effect. And it illustrates nicely how much data, complexity and remarkable thinking flows through daily life.
The artistry is clearly awesome, but the delicious topping for me is that they bothered to make so much of this stuff accurate (or at least accuratish). For example, the escalator cutaway is highly detailed and right on the money, and it’s only onscreen for four seconds. There’s a good bit of playful exaggeration too — the parts of the ear are drawn correctly, but sound waves trigger a bouncier cartoon chain reaction than you would actually see.I’ve had a hand in building animated cutaway diagrams before — the type of thing that makes up only a few frames in this video — and fitting the details together is no small chore. Kudos to those responsible, the French production company H5, according to Wikipedia and others. (My kudos are way late, apparently. The video already won best video at the MTV Europe Music Awards, way back in 2002).
I found a bit of interesting chatter in the YouTube comments on the video. Several posters took it for granted that this was a depressing view of mundane modern life. I really don’t see it that way. Normally, I do get discouraged by musical montages of workers filing into offices or even families chaotically taking off in the morning (a staple of supposedly cheery breakfast treat ads). The notion that life is hectically repetitive for no discernible reason makes me queasy. But this video was actually uplifting to me.
For one thing, I love to be reminded that there is so much to learn about even incredibly ordinary stuff. After all, there aren’t really many boring things, just boring people. It’s good to turn on the awestruck wonder whenever you can. Also, I’m comforted by the idea that even though there’s a lot of complexity under the surface of everything, I could actually figure out what was going on if I took the time to sort through the detailed, readily available information. It’s the same comfort I get walking through the library or bookstore. I may not want to learn all about building construction at a particular moment, but it’s good to know I could pick up several books on the subject (and understand them) if I were so inclined. Nice to have signs that the roads are open.
PS: I intended this post to be pure praise, since 100% of our posts to date have had a bit of finger wagging in them, but I can’t ignore the bad splainin’ on both Röyksopp and H5’s Web sites.
Röyksopp greeted me only with this and an album promotion pop-up:
Which details did you need? Shoe size? Favorite Pop Tart flavor?
H5 gave me little more:
Very strange to have such dead-end home pages in this day and age.