She looked confused. Staring at her Southwest Airlines boarding pass with two kids patiently hanging onto her, the young mother couldn’t figure it out. “That number,” I said, pointing to B32 in big black letters, “matches these,” pointing to the labelled marker poles, “which show you where to line up for the plane.” She smiled, confusion resolved.
Compelled to clarify complexities, I often find myself explaining things whenever I see people struggling to understand something.
The Art of Explanation finally offered, well, an explanation of what I was doing: how explanations work and how to use explanations to help people understand what they want to know. The author, Lee Lefever, and his wife Sachi, working as Common Craft, create short, animated video explanations covering topics from computer networks to blogs to credit card responsibility. Their explainer videos are breathtaking in simplicity and incredibly effective in explaining each topic.
An explanation describes facts in a way that makes them understandable.
“The Art of Explanation,” Lee Lefever
That’s remarkably similar to how I describe my work: I help people learn and understand what they want or need to know. So I added a hyphen and another word to my business card to list myself as a “Trainer-Explainer” (as well as Writer-Storyteller and Instructional Designer).
“Explainers,” in print and video, have begun to appear everywhere as a way to cope with our information glut. People hunger for a quick, simple explanation of issues rather than superficial news coverage or longer background pieces.
Infographics seek to encapsulate a lot of information and present it quickly and succinctly (and visually). Youtube now hosts swarms of explainer videos, from groups such as RSA Animate and ASAPScience, covering everything topical news to science to mindfulness and creativity.
More recently, the trend of explainer videos has also resulted in a lot of product-based “explainer” videos. These, to me, are more marketing videos than true “explainers.” Enough companies use these product-explainer videos to spur this great tech start-up “explainer” spoof. But even the mockery and spoofing serve to indicate how explanations fire the imagination and can help satisfy our curiosity.
Let me explain how explanations can help you…oh, I guess I just did.