On comics, from two different angles

First, I think I might have actually found a way around the now-infamous elevator comic that has stalled Night Fugues for months.

Second, I spent a significant amount of time today harassing my fellow Information Architects about a Boxes and Arrows podcast that implied there was a difference between storyboards and comics, at least as far as the artifacts of the design process are concerned. Since I’m coming from the comic side of that dichotomy I thought it would be important to know the difference between a “design” comic and a “normal” comic, especially since I thought storyboards were comics. A storyboard is a piece of sequential art that expresses design and behavior of a system through a story that provides insight into the user’s mental/emotional state, which pretty much defines “comic” , so what the heck?

A conversation with my mentor led me to a conversation with another excellent IA, which led me to a printout of a presentation from this year’s IA Summit discussing how you could use a comic instead of a storyboard to present design ideas. That presentation was done by Kevin Cheng one of the creators of OK/Cancel, a design-oriented webcomic I’ve been reading for years, and it recommended the same books for writing comics to express design that I own in order to improve my comic production skills — Will Eisner and Scott McCloud and company.

So, having read the presentation and worked with storyboards for design (even though I’m not first-hand familiar with either one from start to finish) I’m willing to take the chance and summarize the difference between a storyboard and a comic when it comes to design.

Storyboards are comics by the definition of any comic author anywhere. But in storyboards, the panels generally concentrate on the screens and their functionality, business and user goals, and similar sawdust-flavored information.

A comic (as stated above) is is a piece of sequential art that expresses something through the act of telling a story. A comic (like any piece of fiction and some nonfiction) is generally showing the growth of the main character through their interaction with other characters, their environment, or themselves. A comic visually provides insight into the user’s mental/emotional state as well as that interaction with their surroundings.

A design comic (which is where we use the comic to express the design of a piece of software) keeps the same character focus that we find in standard comic strips and comic books. It uses sequential art to express high level design ideas (probably pre-wireframes) to add clarity to the growing user scenarios and situations, and share the user’s growth through the
story.

Or to sum up really quick and easy, storyboards are a) more likely to be higher fidelity detailed designs or wireframes, b) more likely to express business goals and user goals in the margins instead of in the comic, and c) really really boring to read.

*Updated 4/24 at 7:12 am when I not trying to type on the iPhone while falling asleep, and thus could correctly link and close tags.

One response to “On comics, from two different angles”

  1. Kevin Cheng says:

    You pretty much summed it up. Really, storyboards, as you said, are comics. The only reason that they’ve had to be differentiated is because designers no have different preconceived notions of what storyboards could mean – series of wireframes that, ironically, don’t tell much of story.

    Glad you enjoyed the slides and managed to make sense of them =)

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