Communicating with Comics

By | January 27, 2010

I recently read a book by Scott McCloud called Understanding Comics.  You might have seen his work on the Google Chrome comic strip.  Despite the fact that my blog is most text, I have been a huge fan of the image as a superior communications vehicle than text.  A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

This is why mockups are so important.  Writing text is not nearly as effective in getting your point across to engineering or other stakeholders.  Comics are a great way to communicate a series of events.  Let’s say you wanted to explain the workflow of a particular application.  You could make a swimlane diagram or BPML, but it might be more effective to have a comic strip showing what the people do. Comics humanize the issue as well as let the user abstract away the complexity of the details and focus on the goals of the process.

Considering the fact that most people can only draw stick figures, the question is:  Are stick figures good enough for the task of communicating the flow of ideas?  Another question is:  How good does it have to be to use it as an external document?  If you look at Gaping Void by Hugh MacLeod, you can clearly see that “realism” is not required to look good and communicate an idea.  His drawings are distinct, but not particularly good when compared to traditional comics like Marvel.  So, I think the answer to the first question is Yes, stick figures are good enough.

The second question is harder.  Are stick figures good enough for external documents?  This example about the Google Content Network is gorgeous.  However, it’s simplicity is deceiving.  Clearly, this is the work of professional animators and artists.  I think there needs to be a professional touch to marketing materials.  Homemade stick figures won’t cut it.

This has me thinking that any decent sized company with a marketing budget should hire an animator/cartoonist.  If we make the assumption that comics and animations communicate better than text, then this sort of person could easily be used for Marketing, website, training materials, sales materials, etc.

Hmm.  I think I convinced myself that a full time animator/comic artist is a good thing to have in a company.  Maybe I am easier to convince than you are.

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