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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.
Major Goodwill score: on a recent trip, Jon Ryan found a clever 1985 pop-up book explaining how a personal computer works. I’m hereby challenging the pop-up tycoons out there to publish an updated laptop version.
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?
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.
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.
*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).