RSA Animate Helps Explain

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.

It Takes a Village of 100

Over the past few years, I’ve run into several articles and email forwards presenting a hypothetical village of 100 as a stand-in for the entire world population. For example, “if the world population were a village of 100 people, 61 people would be Asian, 15 would be malnourished, 20 would be overweight, etc.” Apparently this idea dates back to a 1990 piece by Dartmouth professor Donella Meadows. Snopes cautions that some versions in circulation are inaccurate.

Miniature-Earth.com features this short movie version:



This is a neat trick, as it accomplishes a few impressive explainist feats instantly:

  • It makes very big numbers comprehensible.
  • It lifts you out of your local/religious/ethnic perspective to consider the composition of human race as a whole.
  • It makes you imagine other people in the abstract as actual people that you live with (which they are).

We’re just not wired to imagine 6.7 billion people, but 100 is well within our grasp.

Illustrator/designer/photographer Toby Ng ran with the idea and created a series of village-of-100 posters.



The posters are sharp, but the metaphors within a metaphor are a little mind-bending (“if the human population were a village of 100 people, which comprised slices of a pizza…”). Is it too obvious of me to picture posters showing the hypothetical villagers themselves?

[via FlowingData]

Animated Biology

As part of their Revolutionary Minds series, Seed Magazine has profiled five people breaking new ground in science education. The stand-out is Drew Berry, a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. That’s a fantastic job title; as you might guess, Berry uses 3-D animation to depict various biological processes accurately and clearly.



Seedmagazine.com Revolutionary Minds

This type of animation is a welcome bridge between scientists and the rest of us. From the article:

An unexpected side effect of Berry’s work has been that when laypeople view the animations, they intuitively grasp the cutting-edge science. Berry says, with some amazement, “The more hard-core it is, and the more complicated visually it is, the more people respond.” Seeing the cell’s activities conveys something fundamental to viewers, something that Berry sees in his mind as he digests the journal articles that contribute to each animation.

What I’d love to see now is a biological video game series.

[via Workplace Learning Today]

Cutaways Gone Wild

Illustrator Scott Campbell’s cutaways aren’t exactly real explanations, but they appeal to the same part of the brain. This is also the brain section responsible for drawing elaborate space bases, I believe.


Scott Campbell's Lincoln House

Campbell’s “Home Slice” show is on display through March 23rd at the Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra, California. Several great ones are still for sale on the Nucleus site. Plenty more awesomeness on his blog.

Another taste:


Scott Campbell's Wild West House

Roll Your Own Technical Illustrations

If you’re so inclined (and own Adobe Illustrator), VECTORTUTS will show you how to make professional-grade exploded isometric technical illustrations* to explain whatever machine you like.


Isometric Exploded Guitar

*These are the types of diagrams used in patents and other technical illustrations. Isometric, in this case, means a representation of a three-dimensional object in which lines that are parallel in the three-dimensional world are represented as parallel lines in a two-dimensional drawing. In other words, the style ignores the law of perspective that says parallel lines will appear to converge at the horizon line (as seen in Q-Bert and the Sims). Exploded means the individual pieces of an object are separated, so you can see how they all fit together (as seen in product assembly manuals).

[via Drawn]