Producing a Compelling Animated Tech Explainer for a Software Product

By Andrew Davies

Animated tech explainer videos demystify complex software products; learn how we crafted one for Cigital SecureAssist under tight deadlines.

Key Takeaways

Tech Explainer videos, especially the animated variants, have emerged as a vital element in marketing strategies for cutting-edge tech products. They distill intricate technical details into compelling, simple visual narratives that efficiently highlight product functionalities and resonate with viewers. Reflecting on our experience with producing an explainer video for just such a technical tool, we wanted to share two pivotal lessons:

  • Overlooking critical stages, like storyboarding, doesn’t expedite the process—it could make it take longer.
  • Regularly re-evaluate your assumptions. Consult with subject matter experts to ensure your metaphors are precise and free from unconscious bias.

The Challenge: Quickly understand and explain a highly technical product

Cigital SecureAssist isn’t just any IDE plugin—it’s a revolutionary tool that lets developers detect and address security vulnerabilities directly within their workflow. The need? A clear, concise animated tech explainer video to illuminate its workings and significance. Oh, and they needed it for a trade show they were attending in a matter of weeks. So, no pressure.

The Complication: Taking Over an Explainer Mid-Project

To add to the challenge, Cigital had already started the process with another studio but wasn’t happy with the results they’d seen so far. Cigital wasn’t satisfied with the initial studio’s attempt, which focused on flashy ‘techy-looking’ graphics that misfired on conveying the true message. This common pitfall in tech explainer videos overlooks the importance of translating script content into visuals that communicate, not just dazzle.

Screenshots of the original tech animated Explainer.
The original studio’s video featured a lot of tech-y graphics, but none of it was related to communicating the software’s features.

The Storyboarding Misstep: A Critical Oversight

To make matters worse, the studio had also jumped straight to the animation stage without doing storyboards. I can sympathize with the impulse to skip a step of the process based on a tight deadline. But missing a vital step like storyboarding thinking it would speed up the process, ended up causing more project delays. Since the client wasn’t satisfied each round of revision took days to turn around since they were spending time animating the revisions rather than adjusting static storyboards.

Lesson 1: Tech Products Thrive on Metaphors

After diving deep into our initial client discussion, we went straight to the proverbial drawing board. Our goal was to turn-key script points into relatable metaphors.

For example the visualization of vulnerable code. I initially approached the idea of insecure code by being somewhat literal. So I showed a developer’s monitor with scrolling code as a backdrop. Then file folders spitting out tattered-looking file icons appeared, but as they landed, they were attacked by red lasers revealing security holes indicated by shields with exclamation marks. 

Initial storyboards for the tech explainer depicting an abstracted process.

Lesson 2: Collaborative Refinement is Key

The feedback to this approach 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 


“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 improve 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. Taking the assembly line concept the client suggested I initially took an impersonal approach and used robotic arms as the assembling mechanisms.

Tech explainer storyboards depicting the development process with mechanical arms.

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


“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 I ended up with a more personal approach, depicting the developers as the people involved in adding the blocks of code to the software. 

Tech explainer storyboards depicting the process using characters to represent the developers.

Another of the unique visualization challenges on this animated tech explainer 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.

Accelerating Explainer Production Without Sacrificing Quality

But with all this back-and-forth with the storyboards, you’re probably wondering “What about the tight deadline?” Simple. To make sure there were no delays we handled the music, and voice-over approvals while we were working on the storyboards. Typically we wait until the storyboards are locked before approaching voice-over talent, just in case there are any last-minute script edits while we’re hashing out the visuals. But given the circumstances, we thought it best to take the risk this time.

By the time the storyboards were approved, we had all the audio in hand and were ready to start animation. 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

Final Thoughts

In summary, creating an effective animated tech explainer video requires close collaboration with clients, clear visualization of concepts, and a willingness to adapt to feedback. By following these guidelines, we were able to create a successful video for Cigital SecureAssist, demonstrating its capabilities and benefits in a way that was both informative and entertaining. By the way, Cigital has since been acquired by application security testing juggernaut Synopsys. I’m not saying our video had anything to do with that, but it is a nice coincidence.