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You Got Some Splainin To See

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Since about 2006, the motion graphics scene has seen an anachronism in emperor’s clothes: The Explainer Video.

What began as rock drawing pictographs on paleo cave walls has become the bread and butter of any young motion designer. It seems everyone has been trying to corral the genre giving names such as:

Animated Business Card
Infographic Storytelling
Sales Video (ha!)
Visual Essay

But 2013 settled the vernacular war: call it ‘Explainer.’ A balanced composite of see-say and distillation, the ‘Explainer’ video is what most of us are really doing for a living but we can’t really explain it to our friends that well. The ghost of Albert Einstein still speaks: “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Well, maybe we can pop on a Sendgine or a RANDA or a Bitcoin in Grandma’s inbox, but she still may not get it.

While most of what you see out there falls in this category, there are some standouts to help you understand the genre.

Jonathan Jarvis

Jonathan is a great example of someone who has worked toward clarity and communication – the DNA of design – and his aesthetic is beginning to complement his brain (a well-oiled metaphor factory). He unveils to us this truth: we’re really just foreign language translators. We’re like a journalist, in that we attempt to get smart on a subject a day, but we’re also analysts who have to filter and distill the excess waste into something palpable. His thoughts on what it means to be such a 3-headed media hybrid ring true. You also really ought to read his 8-paragraph explanation of the craft.

Patrick Clair / Antibody

Man, this guy has found a niche. It’s curious: both ignorance and knowledge each cause their own controversies. When a subject is perceived too complex, a developing apathy stifles argumentation. So, an explanation can bring the boxing gloves back! Perfect. Conversely, sometimes we argue about something we think we understand, but a Pulitzer level explanation shows how complex an apparently simple subject is… and temperatures cool. Watch both of these and tell me he doesn’t have his trade down:

The genre keeps reinventing itself. I remember when Communication Arts got really excited about PIC‘s title for Peter Berg’s The Kingdom. Then the style really started making waves. BUCK’s Waiting for Superman, Gentleman Scholar’s Bill Gates’ Anthems, Fraser Davidson’s Fanboy Super Bowl piece, a meta meta meta for Adobe by Veracity Colab – there’s a bundle of them and they keep getting better, or at least some of them *wink.*

The genre has continued to trickle out to Joe Businessman, and it’s causing the rise of 1 Dimensional Trick Pony studios that do Explainers for a living, like Video Jane. One wonders if, for the genre, they’re really just $25 Logo sites in disguise? Yes, some are. But others are no different than previous studios that capitalized on another design zeitgeist. Time will tell, as will money.