I am a creative guy, in a problem-solving “engineer” sort of way. I’m also a story-teller. So creating videos feels somewhat natural. It was mostly the mechanics of the process that I needed to learn. That and the proper way to organize. All of which is well underway. That’s the good news.
I am NOT a creative kind of guy when it comes to graphics. Nor am I a simple man in that regard. I feel like the King Of Clever and that everyone should have my mentality. And if not, they’ll learn my looking at my little 1280×720 block of goodness. All of which is wrong to the nth degree.
I have been told directly by a YouTube consultant to make sure my thumbnail tells my entire story at a glance. All of the online gurus tell me to make sure it’s unique enough to capture attention, intriguing enough to make the potential viewer read the title, and simple enough that “Common Joe” over in the midwest will get it. All of which is the exact opposite of the way my brain works.
So how to be creative in an arena in which you have no natural ability to be creative? It’s like asking a sculptor to play a guitar riff before he presents each work.
So I took an online workshop from a guy named Ed Booth. It was … I’m not sure yet. But I wanted to recap a lot of what I was told in the hopes that I could remember to look back at this post and remember what he said.
He categorized thumbnails into several different groupings and tried to list their difficulty and power. To me they all looked pretty much the same. LOL! But I did get the meaning behind his categories at least. Now for me, several of those meant nothing and I only wrote down these six: Star, Emotional, Story, Curiosity, Result, and SWYS. So before I file their definitions into a deep drawer and forget them …
All thumbnails need what he calls a ‘Hero’. Something which is first and foremost the central aspect of the image. Could be a person, place, or even text. But when the theme of the thumbnail is something recognizable … like Brad Pitt or the Eiffel Tower … using those as the hero makes the thumbnail a “Star”. These are for when your subject is something instantly recognizable and is the topic of both their search and your video.
Emotional is just that, showing deep emotion on a face in the graphic, and eliciting an emotional response.
Story is what Ingrid Blackburn (my YouTube Consultant) told me to make. Create a snapshot of the entire story in one image. Which is really, really difficult to do. This is similar to SWYS (which is Show What You Say), which is most folks default. While the latter is easy and the former is hard, the idea behind the thumbnail is to capture exactness. To paint an entire and easy to understand story in one image. (BTW, Show What You Say is like using an image of a loaf of bread and putting text next to it with the words This Is Bread).
The others were curiosity, which is to paint an image of something so intriguing that the viewer needs to find out what the result is. And then there’s the opposite, result, where you show them exactly what they are going to get. Like showing a pile of ingredients versus the final pot roast (all simmering in steamy juices!).
He also had some others, but they were geared towards those with staff. Like sitting in a pool filled with Jello. Not something I can create, nor most YouTubers. So I’m not even going to try to remember what works for the Wonderkids. 🙂
He didn’t mention it, but the idea of mixing and matching seemed to be incorrect. Which is something my clever brain would try. Like making a thumbnail that somehow piqued curiosity, while telling the entire story, and still showed that pot roast. And this gets back to simplifying. Ingrid mentioned to me that everything on the thumbnail needs to have a purpose. And everything needs to feed the whole. Which finally means that it’s impossible for things to serve multiple masters. What Ed alluded to was that we need to figure out what thumbnail category would work best for our video and stick with that.
He did discuss fonts to some degree, but basically that section was use fonts like Poppins or Bebas. And realize that fonts matter. Not terribly helpful.
And the last thing he told us was that once we see it, we’ll see it. He used the Matrix as an example, but to me it’s more like one of those Magic Eye Pictures. To mere mortals it’s just a blur of repeating colors. You have to look at them in a special way to see the real image. And I don’t yet know how to not focus.
I was hoping for more of a ‘how-to’, but didn’t get it. Perhaps that’s because there isn’t a formula. However I did get the hint that I need to make thumbnails for the primary type of target I’m after. Like search vs suggested vs whatever. He said to take a snapshot of whatever YouTube screen you’re after (say it’s search) using the topic of your video. Up pops the top ones that YouTube is going to show someone. Then “Photoshop” your thumbnail into the mix and see if it blends in, or stands out. He also suggests using a tool like https://thumbsup.tv which lets you see exactly what your thumb and title are going to look like in various areas.
And finally … he says he makes 20 thumbnails for each video. The first dozen or so are increasingly better iterations of the main and eventual winner. But! He also drops an initial thumbnail that is geared towards existing subscribers. And then after a few days he drops in a version designed more towards “cold viewers”, those who don’t yet know him. He also went into a lot of A/B testing scenarios, but I’m so not there yet. LOL!
The one thing he mentioned over and over and over again was the importance of putting the same amount of time into a thumbnail (and title) that you do in the video. What we creators have been hearing since time eternal. And I agree, but it also feels like the AntiChrist. Or a necessary evil perhaps. I don’t get what makes a great thumbnail because I haven’t made one yet. I see videos from others with gobs of views, and their thumbs all look the same to me as mine. I haven’t yet seen the dinosaur in the Magic Eye picture. So I’m going to take his advice and work harder, compare to others, continuously tweak, and eventually find my formula. Maybe creativity can be learned. I hope so.
A progression of my latest, from start to …