Stand Up for Comics

Mention comics as a form of user assistance and you might think it's some kind of exercise in comedy. However, as pointed out by Rebekah Sedaca in her super article, comics are not just for laughs. Over the past couple of years there's been a huge interest in the use of comics as UA. How encouraging to see comics guru and evangelist Scott McCloud (@scottmccloud) as keynote speaker at the CMS DITA North America 2011 conference, an indicator of how seriously comics are now being taken by information development professionals.

Comics are an important form of visual communication, the possibilities of which are often underplayed by some in the UA community (usually because they mistakenly believe you need special skills to create them). Comics offer a graphically powerful and meaningful way to tell users about new features, best practices, concepts (see this great SlideShare presentation by Kevin Cheng and Jane Jao of Yahoo!), policies, and more. Alan J. Porter (@4JsGroup) offers a useful plain language definition for this form of communication: A graphic medium in which images are utilized in order to convey a sequential narrative. Importantly, the comic also conveys its message in a way that readers will recognize and relate to on a different level than other forms of help.

Increasingly, we're learning that effective UA must be affective. The UA must not only be contextual and relevant to the reader's task, representing real world examples, but it must strike a chord with them emotionally and personally. There are important returns when that happens: increased transfer of information, learning, and a great way to reinforce corporate culture, nurture enterprise and branding loyalty, and other benefits. Comics are one such form of UA.

Comics are, as Kevin Cheng says, a "universal language", a true user-centered form of communication design that can be classed as another form of "affective user assistance" as explained by Ellis Pratt (@ellispratt) of Cherryleaf in this great YouTube video about documentation as an emotional experience for users from TCUK 2010. Don Norman would be proud!

There are plenty of different examples of comics as UA that I could point out to you. You're probably familiar with the Google Chrome comic (adapted for Google by Scott McCloud). As Scott explained in his CMS DITA keynote the comic was  "amplification by simplification." Engineers at Google really wanted people to understand their work, rather than be distracted by media focus on the corporation.

Words by the Google Chrome team, comics adaptation by Scott McCloud. Image licensed under creative commons

Words by the Google Chrome team, comics adaptation by Scott McCloud. Image licensed under creative commons

Or perhaps you've seen the Oatmeal's use of comics to explain a superior UX for shopping carts? But, how about this fine manga ( 漫画) example tackling the area of RDBMS?

Copyright. The Manga Guide to Databases (Paperback) by Mana Takahashi, Shoko Azuma

Image copyright acknowledged from for The Manga Guide to Databases (Paperback) by Mana Takahashi, Shoko Azuma

Who'd a thunk? (Japanese language version is here - h/t @taksasak.) Thanks to Debra Lilley(@debralilley) for that one.

The comics approach can also offer opportunities for combinations with other forms of information. In come cases we've seen customers and partners combine them with other UA formats such as UPK demos, and I just love this er, non-Oracle example of a cartoon/video delivery.

By the way, you don't need special skills to create comics for user assistance. If you're interested in giving comics a test run yourself, check out the Visio template distributed by Rebekah Sedaca or the website. Give it a shot. Remember, comics can make you a better communicator.


Thank you Ultan FYI I'm developing this idea with my presentation on applying games theories to User Assistance at the UAEurope 2011 conference (16-17 June, Brighton). Ellis Pratt Cherryleaf

Posted by Ellis Pratt on May 09, 2011 at 02:09 AM IST #

Wow, great resource for those interested in the comics topic. Thanks for posting this.

Posted by Frances Mackey on May 10, 2011 at 04:16 AM IST #

We used comics in the UI design process at Sun from time to time. As part of that work, Martin Hardee produced this set of scenes and characters that anyone is free to use (provided you credit the source):

Posted by Calum Benson on May 10, 2011 at 06:03 AM IST #

We used comics in the design process at Sun from time to time. Martin Hardee put together this set of free-to-use characters and scenes as part of that work:

Posted by Calum Benson on May 10, 2011 at 06:08 AM IST #

Interesting about the Japanese comics. Maybe the French market has similar comics too given the fondness for the genre (Tin Tin, etc)?

Posted by David Cooper on May 11, 2011 at 03:22 AM IST #

>Interesting about the Japanese comics. Maybe the French market has similar comics too given the fondness for the genre (Tin Tin, etc)? Tintin and the writer Hergé were both Belgian, not French. Asterix (by Goscinny and Uderzo) were French - so the argument might still be true.

Posted by Ellis Pratt on May 11, 2011 at 03:28 AM IST #

FYI - a comic about intellectual property rights (including translations) : The creator is talking at the Science Gallery in Dublin *tomorrow* (12-May-2011) if you're interested.

Posted by ultan o'broin on May 11, 2011 at 06:44 AM IST #

Here is another fine example from Scott McCloud's website [via Tom Crawford and Nathan Bashaw]

Posted by guest on May 13, 2011 at 11:14 AM IST #

Such seen this on Twitter: "scottmccloud Ooh! A new Google Comic (on Google Correlate): More info here: #mccloudapproved"

Posted by ultan obroin on May 30, 2011 at 08:11 PM IST #

I saw these How Toons ( at the Maker Faire last month. Really struck me as appealing to kids and adults, also note the way airlines are starting to use cartoons to show the safety procedures, Virgin have been doing that for some time.

Posted by David Haimes on June 06, 2011 at 04:44 PM IST #

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Oracle Apps Cloud UX assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps dev community, helping them to design and deliver usable apps using PaaS4SaaS.


Ultan Ó Broin. Senior Director, Oracle Applications User Experience, Oracle EMEA. Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog on product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), PaaS, SaaS, design patterns, tailoring, Cloud, dev productivity, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW, and a lot more.


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