Here’s a textbook example of how to make a nice, simple, friendly, well conceived, developed and executed informative video.

THIS IS HOW TO DO IT: “My Toxic Couch” video from NRDC is very well done



I’m going to call this a piece of “informative media” because I so despise the term “educational media” (almost all of which is so poorly crafted). ┬áLet’s take a look at all the ways in which it excels:

STORYTELLING – Last July we (my team of Dorie Barton, Brian Palermo and myself) ran a day-long storytelling workshop at NRDC for which this was one of the storylines presented by Sarah Janssen, an NRDC scientist. Since then, the NRDC folks did an outstanding job of bringing the concept to life. The video presents a story following all the basic rules we discuss. It sets up an “ordinary world” (Sarah, her daughter, her cat on their couch), then takes us into the “special world” of realizing their couch is toxic. She then takes us on a journey of exploration in pursuit of answers to questions she poses (“How can this be possible?” and “Now, it’s in my family’s couch?”). This is exactly how you use storytelling for effective broad communication. And just as a thought exercise, imagine this video without the daughter, cat, and personal story or even artwork — just a bunch of photos of couches with facts and figures. That would be fine for a presentation at a science conference, but not so good with the general public.

FORMAT – In “Don’t Be Such a Scientist” I talked about my belief that this sort of piece (limited imagery presented slowly so that the viewer can absorb the visuals then concentrate on the audio) is more effective for educational purposes than a video where the imagery is constantly moving. This is the divide between entertainment and education. It’s fun to be entertained, but it’s hard to mix entertainment and education. Yes, I know EVERY teacher dreams of it, but the truth is they don’t mix well. If you have a serious issue to communicate, things should be slowed down a bit like this. I came to this conclusion after doing 4 Flash pieces for my Shifting Baselines project, two of which were very popular and effective (“Pristine?” and “Shifting Baselines in the Surf“).

ARTWORK – Brilliant, lovely, friendly, lively, vibrant, human, textured, effective.

VOICE – Perfect, first person with huge credibility, and a voice that is not overly dramatic, affected, strident or monotonic, just simply a bullseye for having the crucial qualities of trust and likeability, all of which is incredibly subjective (welcome to the “art” side of communication)

USE OF TEXT — So good — you need on-screen text for an educational video to hammer home the key points. It’s primarily a visual medium, so you really have to at some point use text to be explicit about your message. Just look at the end of almost any television commercial.

MUSIC SCORING — Really great, the pacing matches the voice and editing

FINAL TOUCH – Love that the cat comes back at the end, solo

And let me finish with brief reviews from my teammates, Dorie (narrative structure) and Brian (improv techniques).

“Wow! That was gorgeous, and really effective. I remember clearly how good her story was at the workshop in July, and it’s really thrilling to see how well this turned out. Such a great example to show how effective good story can be, and the message of what we need to do is so clear and simple. The watercolors worked beautifully and brought in a whole new layer of accessibility. Congratulations to all on this terrific piece!” – Dorie Barton

“I totally agree with the above. This is fantastic use of the elements of our workshop. Biggest point: It is RELATABLE! Most of the target audience of voters who could effect change have kids. Many have cats and nearly all have couches. So almost everyone watching this will see themselves in this video. RELATABLE. Which is a perfect way of making dry science personal and important.” – Brian Palermo