Case Study:
When Explaining Complex Topics, Cutting Corners Won’t Save Time

By
Skipping vital stages of the process, especially storyboarding, doesn’t guarantee a quicker process, it might even make things take longer.

The Challenge:

Cigital SecureAssist is an IDE plugin that gives software developers the ability to find and fix security flaws in their code when it matters most; as they’re coding, rather than later on during the testing phase when it’ll cost more. With script in hand Cigital needed a video that perfectly explained how that technology worked and why it was such a game changer. Oh, and they needed it for a trade show they were attending in a matter of weeks. No pressure.

To add to the challenge, Cigital had already started the process with another studio, but weren’t happy. Not because the animation quality was poor, far from it, rather due to the fact that they weren’t visualizing the script. They were making graphic choices based on how “techy” they looked rather than translating the content of the script. They had also jumped to the animation stage without doing storyboards thinking it would speed up the process. To the contrary, it ended up causing project delays as the client wasn’t satisfied with how the studio was communicating key concepts and each round of revision took days to turn-around since they were spending time animating rather than simply adjusting static storyboards.

The Solution:

Once we took over the project and had an in-depth kickoff call with the client, we went back to the drawing board (literally). We began by sketching out some metaphors addressing the main points of the script. Paramount to the setup of the story was showing insecure code being created and subsequently attacked. As usual, we explored verbally before playing with visual representations.

The initial storyboards involved using a developer’s monitor with scrolling code as a backdrop. Then a file folder spitting out tattered looking file icons appears, but as they land, they are attacked by red lasers revealing security holes indicated by shields with exclamation marks.

The feedback to the boards in general was positive:

“Overall, the visualizations you came up with are outstanding! Again, I am very impressed with the creativity and clarity in communicating ideas and concepts in the visualizations. Very happy to be working with you on this project!”

– Casey C, Cigital

But…

“The technical co-workers I solicited feedback from were all confused by the folder at the bottom of storyboard #2 ’producing software.’ They said they think of software as something that is produced along a software development ‘assembly line’ from ‘technically fancy components’ whose internals are opaque and confusing…”

– Casey C, Cigital
 
This feedback was vital in helping us change our perspective on how we depict software development and subsequently improving the video. Files magically coming out of a file folder hid the work that goes into crafting code and it’s this hard work that SecureAssist is trying to help with. We initially took a more impersonal approach to the assembly line, using robotic arms as the assembling mechanisms.
 

 
Again the response was positive:

“So…this is really good. Very, very happy with what you have created and the additional modifications you have made based on earlier feedback.”

– Casey C, Cigital

But…

“The way the application gets built is spot-on. The only issue my co-workers had was with the mechanical hands…they felt like it marginalizes software development as something a robot could do.”

– Casey C, Cigital

 

So we ended up with a more personal approach, using icons for developers as the ones adding blocks of code to the software.
 

 
One of the unique visualization challenges on this project was in illustrating the software development life cycle (SDLC), and differentiating it from the software development process so that the viewer wasn’t confused about which one was being discussed at the relevant times in the explainer video. So the SDLC was shown as a linear progression; going from coding to release, while the development process was depicted as a cycle; repeatedly going through coding, compiling and debugging stages.

In the end, we think the animation turned out well, and more importantly the client was pleased.

“This is awesome! Absolutely love the video. The animation is outstanding, the music is good, and Paul’s voice over is great!”

– Casey C, Cigital

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