Book Review: The Art of Explanation

What we love in The Art of Explanation

On a near daily basis, nonprofits and campaigns are trying to explain things to supporters, potential supporters, target audiences they want to educate, and those they want to persuade. Yet, as many of us practitioners know, we often miss the mark for two key reasons: We have the wrong audience or our content doesn’t connect. While this book has been in print for six years the core concepts are as useful as ever.

This invaluable resource is so important we reference it in our book The Digital Plan. This invaluable resource is so important we reference it in our book “The Digital Plan.” “The Art of Explanation” is not just a book you’ll want to read once and toss aside but an important resource in you strategy library that you’ll want to reflect on every time you create a video, landing page, or issue explanation.

Our big 3 takeaways

1) The explanation scale will make you better at connecting with audiences.

2) Using their explanation formula will make your explanations better.

3) “Right medium for the message” tips will make your content planning better.

Expanded below.

Summary from the publishers

Your guide to becoming an explanation specialist.
You’ve done the hard work. Your product or service works beautifully – but something is missing.  People just don’t see the big idea – and it’s keeping you from being successful. Your idea has an explanation problem. The Art of Explanation is for business people, educators and influencers who want to improve their explanation skills and start solving explanation problems. Author Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft, a company known around the world for making complex ideas easy to understand through short animated videos. He is your guide to helping audiences fall in love with your ideas, products or services through better explanations in any medium.
You will learn to:
  • Plan: Learn explanation basics, what causes them to fail and how to diagnose explanation problems.
  • Package: Using simple elements, create an explanation strategy that builds confidence and motivates your audience.
  • Present: Produce remarkable explanations with visuals and media.
The Art of Explanation is your invitation to become an explanation specialist and see why explanation is now a fundamental skill for professionals.

Takeaway #1 Explanation Scale

Simply put, the explanation scale helps you think about and communicate with your audience. They do a great job of going in-depth and helping you understand how to think about the scale and the audiences across the scale.

You can replace customers with supporters or target audience and think about how you are going to better reach people.

With thorough explanation, we can understand both how to think about people across the scale but also how the explanations themselves fall across the scale and when we need to tell the story of the forest before jumping right into the trees.

Explanation scale

Takeaway #2 Content Formula

Lee LeFever has helped explain concepts like Dropbox, Google Docs, and RSS to non-digital people using this detailed but easy-to-implement formula which he refers to as agreement and context. Using this formula you can better explain issues and connect with people. Expand the images to get the breakdown but we recommend the book for full context.

Takeaway #3 Right Medium

Similar to the concept of what we call the 3 Rs to connect with people (Right Ask, Right Time, Right Audience) their section on picking the right medium is invaluable. Too often in digital strategy, folks not well-experienced in content strategy try to link the wrong content or tactic with their goals.

Finding the right medium to put the right explanation into and how to do it is crucial. The book takes an approach of clear advice on when to use which medium and expands with examples to make the right medium for explanations clear. Layering the explanation scale, the formula, and the right medium is a recipe for more engagement no matter what no matter your message, audience or goal. This is why we think this book belongs in every stategists toolbox.


Use the link below to get your copy of The Art of Explanation today and expand your strategy library.