April 21, 2006

Communicating Concepts Through Comics

Today I attended Kevin Cheng and Jane Jao's "Communicating Concepts Through Comics" presentation. Download the slides [5MB PDF] in order to follow along with my notes...

"What is community?"
- On a project, they wanted to add community to local service
- Unfortunately, different people had different ideas of community -- some thought message boards, some thought recommendations, etc.
- Marketing had a different idea from design had a different idea from management had a different idea from engineering

Well, what are the tools we have to communicate these concepts?
- Personas - tells you user's needs and desires, but doesn't communicate concepts
- Use cases - too much detail, too highly defined
- Wireframes - details the nuances of the interface, but doesn't communicate philosophy

Skills and resources
- video, animation, interactive prototype -- effective but take a lot of skills/resources
- scripts, personas, use cases -- fewer skills/resources, but subject to interpretation

They then show a scenario of use depicted in comics
(my thought: what's the difference between this and a story board or a scenario?)

There's a flash tool, Tarquin, that allows you to drop comics boxes into flash and it creates a little interactive comic.

They "user tested" the comics
- Asked users about four different attributes
- what was appealing? (fun, interesting)
- useful (you would actually use)
- complicated (maybe useful, but tedious and time consuming)
- confusing (ambiguous, etc.)
- Helped refine the story
- Different colors to highlight the different attributes
- Important to get the users marking up comics on paper

We do an exercise
- draw the person next to you
- draw the smiley face

Question: Who is an artist?
- From the book, "Orbiting the Giant Hairball"
- the author asked kids, "Who here is an artist?"
- kindergarten - everyone an artist;
- with each subsequent grade it drops dramatically, until very very few consider themselves artists...

Comics used to communicate concepts:
- Cathy comic explaining where you can buy stamps...
- Storyboards from film...
- Apple had illustrated stories...

Five qualities
- Communication
- can be more powerful than words
- kind of a "universal" language
- Imagination
- smiley face - could represent anyone
- short black-haired person - could be many people
- understanding comics -- amplification through simplification... different levels of abstraction
- the more abstract, the more open to interpretation
- when making comics for local, made the mistake of including big screenshots in the comic
- the problem was, people focused on the UI
- so, they abstracted out a bit, showing just bits of the screen
- and then abstracted it further... show just the UI elements that gives context (like the radio buttons or little link list)
- we're NOT talking about illustrated stories... the text is used as a crutch (apple photo example)
- Expression
- "i'm sorry", "thank you" - pretty basic, straightforward
- mapped to different facial expressions changes the meaning
- Motion
- conveying time, how it's elapsed, etc.
- Iteration
- You want to be able to change ideas quickly and get to the point of knowing what you want to build

You can draw comics.
- Don't get worked up about artistic ability.
- Use cheat sheet's like Kevin's set of facial expressions.
- Focus on the user, product, context, not the UI.
- Or use photos and trace them.
- Or use Yahoo!'s avatars. (avatars.yahoo.com)
- Storyboard Artist and Comic Life software for Mac OS X.


At the end of the session, I asked a question:
You originally said that you used comics to get a shared sense of the idea "community," because different stakeholders had different interpretation. However, you also mentioned that comics are powerful for leaving room for interpretation. How do those square?

My paraphrase of Jane and Kevin's answer:
Comics are great for solicitating feedback on concepts. To present many ideas and get responses.

If you want to explain a concrete direction, use a short video.

Posted by peterme at 04:00 PM | TrackBack

Wacky truncation!

My colleague Laura is concerned with the dumping of bunnies that happens after every Easter. Unfortunately, her call for assistance gets cut off in iChat...


Posted by peterme at 10:27 AM | TrackBack

April 20, 2006

When is it appropriate to appropriate?

In keeping with my suggestion that it is the university of Web 2.0, students at the information school at Berkeley recently had a lunch time discussion on designing for appropriation. The notes from the discussion are available, and make for a worthwhile read.

The discussion was spurred by a question aired at the DUX2005 conference: "How can I design for user experience if once I put my products out into the world, they pretty much ‘die.’ They are no longer mine and they are being used in ways that I never intended."

It is exactly such egocentricity and small-mindedness that upsets me about designers. Oh, boo-hoo, users aren't respecting your brilliant vision for their experience!

Anyway, the discussion at the iSchool took a different tack, exploring the opportunities afforded by appropriation. (It also lead to my most favorite recent turn of phrase, "Is it appropriate to appropriate?")

This subject has been dear to me for a long time. At South by Southwest 1999 (my first), I participated on a panel called "Interface Design as Social Architecture," and spent my time focusing on unintended uses. The grandest being that "hypertext" was invented to augment intelligence, the web created to facilitate physics knowledge sharing, but when placed in the hands of users, it quickly became out shopping and porn.

I also discussed the subversive appropriations, such as using Amazon's customer comments section to discuss the literary merits of The Family Circus.

When taking Nancy van House's IS 212 course, Information in Society, I learned of "SCOT", the Social Construction of Technology, which deals explicitly with how individuals and groups make technologies their own. Appropriation goes back a long way.

All this was reminiscent of Anne Galloway's "Design for Hackability" panel at DIS2004.

Anyway, stick with the notes through the end, where methods for designing for appropriation are discussed. That whole post is filled with good, though-provoking stuff.

Posted by peterme at 08:58 AM | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

Meeting My Maker

Mesmerized by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

(Photo from here.)

Posted by peterme at 12:50 PM | TrackBack

April 16, 2006

Going Back To South Park, Gonna Have Myself A Time

The SF Chronicle published a story on the San Francisco neighborhood called South Park, prominently featuring Adaptive Path and many of our friends.

When Adaptive Path moved to the neighborhood in October 2004, I intended to write about it. It sat in my "drafts" folder since then, but the Chron's piece is encouraging me to get some thoughts down.

Adaptive Path, October 2004

The move in 2004 was a return to South Park for me. You couldn't work in the web industry in the second half of the 90s and not find yourself there at least some of the time. While my first job back in San Francisco was way over on 7th and Townsend (to those not familiar with SF: that's a joke -- it's about 5 blocks away, though they *are* big blocks), I hung out with friends from Wired, Vivid, Organic. My next job was with Phoenix-Pop, a web design and development agency headquartered at 512 Second Street.

This was my first official "South Park" job. David Siegel's Studio Verso was on the first floor. Method started on the 3rd floor (if memory serves). I didn't stay long at Pop, but as an independent, I worked with both Organic and Hotwired, so returned to South Park frequently.

In 2000, South Park was a great strange place. On a sunny day, the entire park would be covered at lunch with eaters. Only two years later, it resembled a ghost town. I'm still annoyed by the unrepentant greed that lead to close Ristorante Ecco, a delightful Italian restaurant with rapacious landlords. The restaurant was priced out of the space, the economy collapsed, and the building remained empty for about 2 years. Fucking idiots.

When thinking about my return in 2004, I remembered that I had actually worked near South Park before the whole multimedia gulch boom. In the summer of 1991, I had a summer internship at Redgate Communications, a communications firm started by Ted Leonsis (who later became a mucky-muck at AOL). Redgate's San Francisco office was in the China Basin Building:

I hated that job. It was where I learned just how reprehensible public relations was. I also learned that I could sneak up to the roof and witness amazing views of San Francisco all around. Those views would be gone now, largely obscured by the condos and apartment buildings that now run along King Street, where there used to be a chunk of freeway with a parking lot beneath.

Anyway, Adaptive Path has been in South Park for over a year and a half. In that time, we've seen parking prices nearly double. We've seen the lines at the burrito place snake down the street. We've seen many of our friends' businesses move into the neighborhood. It's an exciting and uncertain time (exciting, probably, because it is uncertain).

The park itself is still a jewel. I have trouble thinking of places I'd rather dine on a nice day. Watching the dogs play. Running into friends. It's remarkable how it's held on through thick and thin.

Peter in South Park, Photo by Brian Oberkirch

Posted by peterme at 01:08 PM


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