Learning Video Lessons from CommonCraft Founder Lee Lefever


If you’ve created training media for more than 10 years, you probably remember when the Explainer Video was born. Lee Lefever and his wife Satchi created the first explainer videos in 2007 that started the “…in Plain English” series of YouTube videos.  These videos were a quick success landing Lefever as the founder of the explainer industry exemplified by the unique, low budget, paper cutout, production style.

Lee Lefever was a guest on a recent episode of L&D Talk: Video Friday. It was a fantastic conversation that covered a lot of ground.

Just start! Learn as You Go!

If you watch the L&D Talk video below, you’ll hear Lee talk about how they got started. It wasn’t pretty. They didn’t know much of anything about video production at the time. That lack of knowledge did not stop them from producing a video that now has 2.5 million views on YouTube. Lee offers up some fantastic tips they learned from the production experience. Those tips alone are worth the time spent watching the video.

Content is important – Get the Script Right!

This is where Lee and Satchi would put most of the their time. They would find existing information on the internet, get as many words onto a page as possible, and then start editing until they reached the simplest explanation of the topic. Go back and watch RSS in Plain English. Then watch something newer like their video on Net Neutrality. There is an obvious improvement in the production quality. But the quality of the content has not changed much. And if you’re into data you’ll notice that most of the videos have millions of views despite improvements in production quality. Content trumps production quality every time.

Bonus content: Ever wonder how Lee is able to slide those paper cutouts into just the right position on the whiteboard?

No Formal Instructional Design Training Required!

Lee mentioned in our conversation that he only recently learned that Instructional Design is a thing. That statement says a lot about the state of instructional design. Lee is not alone. There is a growing population of professionals driving the training function who are not formally trained instructional designers. Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing doesn’t matter. It’s just the reality of training in the workplace.

The disruption of instructional design has been brewing for many years now. This isn’t a new conversation. Back in 2008 I blogged about CommonCraft on my personal blog elearndev.blogspot.com in a post titled “My Response to “…Instructional Design is Dead”:

“What are we to make of sites like commoncraft?  The Lefevre’s have no instructional design background at all and yet their tag line is “our product is explanation”.  And they are DAMN good at it!  Their website also states “Our three-minute videos help educators and influencers introduce complex subjects.”  Sure does sound like a lot of my ID projects from my early years.  And I can guarantee mine were no where near as cool as the commoncraft videos.  Nobody really cares if they followed the ADDIE model or not.”

~Brent Schlenker, August 2008, elearndev.blogspot.com

Our 55 minute conversation was well received by those in the live chat. If you create media content at all, then you will find this video well worth your time. Please comment or send me feedback on twitter @Litmos.

We recently had Lee Lefever (@leelefever) as a guest on L&D Talk: Video Friday.