Using comics to illustrate scenarios

Christian Crumlish  

March 24, 2006

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I just spent all day in a seminar led by Kevin Cheng and Jane Jao, both currently at Yahoo! Local, on the subject of Creating Conceptual Comics: Storytelling and Techniques and I came away from it with some great ideas about how to communicate web interface and functionality ideas at the early, prototype stage of a project using comics.

The presenters articulated the problem this way:

At Yahoo!, we’ve used a combination of tools such as requirements documents, personas, user scenarios and storyboards with varying degrees of success. For example, requirements and personas were rarely consumed or were interpreted differently between individuals. Traditional storyboards detailing screen by screen progressions created a focus on the interface, rather than the concept.

The solution offered was to use comics as a relatively cheap and easy method intermediate between video and static sketches, and avoiding the problems of traditional storyboards which, by “detailing screen by screen progressions created a focus on the interface, rather than the concept.”

They taught us some principals of communicating with comics, and some key elements of a visual vocabulary and then assigned us in groups to brainstorm, script, and illustrate a scenario using storytelling and the comic-art techniques we’d just learned.

After lunch we paired up with other groups and acted like user focus-groups, giving feedback on the scenarios and suggesting what we found useful, confusing, etc.

The workshop taught me a lot and I can think of a few ways we could employ these techniques at Extractable to get buy-in for some hypothetical user-interfaces, both within our multidisciplinary teams and with our clients.