Friday, July 13, 2007

Communicating Concepts with Comics: An Interview with Kevin Cheng

Keven Cheng's experience with comics ...

"Kevin Cheng is a senior interaction designer with Yahoo! Maps and Yahoo! Local, and is an expert in using comics as a technique to communicate the key concepts behind a design's intended user experience. UIE's Ashley McKee recently had the opportunity to talk with Kevin about the increasing popularity of using comics in the design process, the five inherent properties of successful comics, the skills needed to create comics, and the best way to deliver comics to key stakeholders. Here is what Kevin had to say about his experiences with comics.

UIE: How long have you been utilizing comics in your work? Can you give us an example of a recent concept or product design you've conveyed through comics?

Kevin Cheng: We started trying out the idea in the fall of 2005 after a conversation with Bill Buxton at CHI. Bill was looking at various ways of conveying concepts and was curious whether comics would be a good tool for communicating ideas instead of our more widely used tools like personas and requirements documents.

We’ve used the idea for Yahoo! Maps, and I’ve seen some other groups in Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Autos utilize comics for their products as well. In particular, I believe the Yahoo! Mail Messenger integration had some concept comics during its early design phase though I wasn’t a part of that.

What limitations with existing tools (requirements documents, personas, user scenarios, and storyboards) led you to start focusing on using comics in the design process?

All of the tools you mention are used throughout Yahoo! and have their place in the design process depending on the project. The problem we encountered was the documentation would either not be read thoroughly enough or each person would interpret the meaning of the requirements differently. Two months later, we were deep in the development process and suddenly realized everyone had different visions of what the requirements actually meant.

You often talk about the 5 inherent properties of comics (communication, imagination, expression, motion, and iteration), which, if understood, can help people use comics to their full potential. Can you briefly explain these properties?

Communication references how comics are a visual language or as I say in the presentations, a "universal" language. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is a cliched term but for good reason.

Imagination speaks to the ability for illustrations – and it’s important that they’re illustrations, not photographs – to abstract away unnecessary details so the reader can focus on what you really want and fill in the rest.

Expression and motion are about the properties of comics as a medium, and how you can tell different kinds of stories with comics because of the expressiveness of the visual form, and the sequential nature inherent in it.

Finally, we all want tools with which we can do rapid designs and iterations, and comics have been great for that.

It’s hard to explain these properties in one sentence or less because they are so key to understanding how this medium is much more valuable and expressive than you initially think."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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