Connect the Dots, La La La

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:



I like this hook, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the series. Also, bravo to Monday for explaining how he produces his videos using only Apple’s Keynote and iMovie:



[via Presentation Zen]

Prezi’s Explanations with a View

Prezi, “the zooming editor for stunning presentations,” came out of private beta this week. The tool lets you lay out an entire presentation as one giant graphic and zoom into the details as you go. The general idea is to illustrate the relationships among different points based on their positions relative to each other. This video paints the picture pretty clearly:



The editor tools are a little hard to handle at first, but the site includes decent tutorials. With the free version of the editor, you get access to the Web application version of the editor, you can save 100MB worth of presentations on Prezi’s servers, and you can download anything you make. All presentations are branded with the Prezi logo. For €39 a year, you can scrap the Prezi logo and stretch out with 500 MB of space. The €119-a-year Pro license gives you an editor you can use offline and 2GB of space.

This presentation approach could spark some excellent explanations. It would be ideal for walking through a complex process that includes repeated steps, for example. Meanwhile, Scott McCloud and others are eyeing it for its Web comics potential.

[via Scott McCloud]

Scott McCloud TED Talk

Wow, turns out Scott McCloud is an explainist renaissance man. I’m a huge fan of his three explanatory comic books about comics, and now I see he delivers a heck of a presentation too.



This 17-minute talk is mostly a summary of key thoughts on comics, especially their future on the Web. I was already familiar with these ideas from McCloud’s books, but his presentation delivery style got me excited about them all over again. I really like the way he synchs his words with changes in his slides. The effect is similar to the continual seamless hand-off between words and pictures in comics. Very engaging.

Scott McCloud Explains Google Chrome

I was very happy to see that Google hired Scott McCloud to help explain Chrome, their new Web browser, in comic form. McCloud’s Understanding Comics and two follow-up books are explaining and comics masterpieces. If you want something explained right, he is a very fine choice indeed.


However, the new comic ends up being uneven, in an interesting way. There are brilliant moments, but other sections are confusing and flat. The problems stem from the choice to have Google engineers, product managers, et al talk about how the product works and what their thinking has been as they developed it. According to McCloud the script actually came from the engineers:

I helped conduct interviews with about 20 engineers who worked on the project, then adapted what they said into comics form. Some paraphrasing, lots of condensation, and one or two late drop ins, but basically it was a very organic adaptation and I had a lot of latitude.

This approach seems to have led to a few problems:

1. There are too many speakers. I lost count of total talking heads, but McCloud says 20, and I see seven in the first seven panels alone. Each is introduced only with small text by their picture, listing name and occupation (e.g. “Been Goodger, Software Engineer”). Many are indistinguishable from each other, which largely defeats the purpose of having real people walk you through the product at all. If this were a documentary, you would expect to hear from a small number of key people, and you would expect to get a sense of how they related to the product. If this were an essay or press release, you would expect a small number of quotes and you would expect the writer to explain who each person is before quoting them. A nonfiction comic should go about this its own way, of course, but it’s still important to establish identity when you quote somebody.

2. Many of the speakers end up being poor explainers, at least to a general audience. For example, this panel is unnecessarily jargon-heavy, and there are no definitions provided:

Google Chrome comic panel

I wonder if McCloud considered putting himself in the comic, as in Understanding Comics and it’s follow-up books. He could be a non-techy advocate for the reader, helping the experts explain themselves by rephrasing their points and asking follow-up questions.

3. Pulling from the transcript makes the comic text-heavy and comics-light. McCloud’s books make full use of the comic form, keeping things lean and clear by hitting every concept with a perfectly balanced combination of essential words and pictures. Some sections of the Chrome comic do this very well, but others feel like an illustrated transcript. The art doesn’t have a chance to carry its share of the load.

All that being said, it’s fantastic that Google chose to explain Chrome this way. To me, the shortcomings are fascinating, because they show just how original an approach this is. There aren’t any tried-and-true standards on how to do such a thing, and I applaud McCloud and Google for charging ahead. I hope they do it again and push the form further.

[Link]

[via Extraface]