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Want to Explain How-To? Do It Visually With These Free Tools


When you want to teach your audience how to do something, visualization is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build awesome media. While we’ve talked about more obvious ways to visualize an instruction such as a SlideShare presentation or a video, here are a few newer, more creative ways to visualize your how-to instruction.

Instructographics: Best of two worlds

An instructographic is the type of an informational graphic that presents step-by-step instructions and is particularly popular on Pinterest.  Infographics are very popular on Pinterest. These visuals are chained images that walk you through the steps of how to do something. There are two versions:

  • Image only: Use descriptive images in each panel to clearly show what to do without further instruction.
  • Images paired with detailed or simple instructions: Explain each step as the viewer moves down the linked images.

Your format choice shouldn’t be a matter of preference, but of need. If you can genuinely show how to do something with images only, do it. If you think confusion is possible or the images can’t show everything, provide context.

When you pair images with text, make the text concise. (Remember, many people see your graphic as a thumbnail: Make it clear and minimal.)

Instructographics are great for SaaS (software as a service), e-commerce, and retail, among other sectors. Here are a couple examples:

  • Frozen whipped cream: Walgreens put together a timely and effective holiday instructographic and curated it on its Pinterest board. Using only images, the graphic shows viewers how to turn the whipped cream from the can into a frozen topping for hot chocolate. Notice how the first panel shows everything needed to create the project.


  • DIY snow globes: Although the connection may not be obvious, sponsored an instructographic about how to create snow globes in a jar. I share this as a great example of a visual tutorial that incorporates succinct text below images to explain what’s needed and how to create the DIY jar snow globe.

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The free version of Canva is absolutely enough to create awesome instructographics.

Besides using Canva to put together instructographics, here are a few other resources to help:

  • Icon Finder – icons available to visualize words more effectively (Make sure you use the “free” filter when searching.)


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Create an interactive flow

WhatFix is a newer option that has made visual instruction highly interactive. It’s an awesome solution for a digital walk through the site or for explaining how your product works. WhatFix flows are usually short, leading a customer further down the conversion funnel.

To create a flow, you’ll need a FireFox plug-in or a Google Chrome extension. When that is installed, it’s easy. For sample flows, proceed to this page and try playing any of them.


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You can embed the WhatFix widget on your site or have users view it as a YouTube video.

Here’s an example of a WhatFix flow explaining how to verify your phone settings on Facebook:


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If you install the browser extension, click “Live” to see the instruction playing on the page explained in the flow chart. Here’s the same Facebook mobile-settings flow but in “Live” mode:


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You are likely to find the free version sufficient. The pro accounts allow you to host your flows locally, remove branding, etc.

Harness the power of animated GIFs

Surprisingly, animated GIFs have not been used nearly as much as you would think for instructing others on how to do things. People aren’t taking advantage of it. Your efforts are going to stand out. What could be better than that?

Here’s a quick GIF showing how to use the search feature on the Content Marketing Institute site:


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To make your own animated GIFs for tutorials, try these tools:

  • GIF Brewery — Usually used as a video preview generator, this tool enables you to make mini animated GIFs from video clips. Only available for Mac OSX … sorry Windows and Linux users.
  • Recordit – Make GIFs using rapid-take screenshots. Crop your desktop to match the segment you want watched then record, enhance, and you’re done. Perfect for screencasts.
  • EZGIF – Select images, string them together, save your GIF. It is that simple. The site also has a video-to-GIF tool, resizer, and various editing tools.
  • Gyazo – The screen-capture and screencast tool supports both animated GIFs and videos with a free download.
  • Cockos LICEcap – The open-source application captures a segment of your desktop and creates an animated GIF. Great for doing digital, software, and other tutorials.

Each tool has a different strength but it comes down to using what you find more convenient. You can create GIFs from videos or images, or start from scratch. From there, you can share them on social media or other sites. They also are great for including in blog posts as a visual break in the text.

Note: Twitter now allows animated GIFs to play in a post (as do Pinterest and Google Plus). This should give you an idea of what GIFs can do for your site.

Bottom line

There are lots of various ways to create a visual instruction. First Site Guide identifies some of the other major formats:


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There’s no reason to focus solely on one type of visual content to instruct your audience. For example, an instructographic can be repackaged into a presentation (each step as a separate slide) and uploaded to SlideShare. The presentation can be repackaged into a PDF-format guide (a mini e-book).

This repackaging path can be as long as you want it to be: The more tools you have, the more opportunities you have to market and remarket your visual how-to content.

Do you have any tips for visual how-to tutorials? Leave them in the comments.

Looking for more ways to maximize the impact of your content by adding great visuals? Try one of these 27+ Handy Tools for Better Visual Content Marketing.

Cover image by Mconnors, MorgueFile, via