Looking at the history of how this book’s idea and motivation came about, it’s interesting to see how many of the milestones occurred at design conferences.
It all started at the 2005 CHI conference in Portland. Bill Buxton, author of “Sketching the User Experience” was in the midst of writing his book and contacted my OK/Cancel partner in crime Tom Chi and I about meeting up to chat with him at the conference. We met up and discussed various ideas surrounding his book as well as our particular medium of comics and how successful that was.
Then Bill offhandedly wondered how showing comics would compare to showing wireframes to stakeholders. He’d effectively planted a seed in my brain.
Months later, I joined Yahoo! Maps and Yahoo! Local. The design team and, in particular, our manager Tom Wailes were receptive to trying new methods and the idea of using comics to illustrate our next major set of features to stakeholders. With the help of Jane Jao and Shane Kibble, we created three sets of short comics that detailed the major use cases. They were instantly a hit all the way up to the VP of our organization. Mark Wehner, our team’s user researcher, then brilliantly suggested what should have been obvious—that we show the comics to potential users. That was also a great success.
Fast forward a few months to IA Summit 2006. Lou Rosenfeld and I were already acquainted through some other work OK/Cancel had done for Lou and he was just getting Rosenfeld Media started and seeking authors. He suggested that perhaps the comics method would make a good addition but I was hesitant and uncertain of how much demand there would be for such a title. “I’m not sure it’s enough for a book,” I recall saying.
Jane and I presented our work with comics at the Summit to our largest audience yet which resulted in a great deal of positive feedback. But what I remember most was Lou coming up immediately after the talk and saying simply, “definitely a book.”
And yet, I remained hesitant. Demand for the method’s workshop was modest the following two years and the number didn’t seem to be increasing. Many people were still encumbered with the notion that they needed to be able to draw to use the method and there was always the hurdle of overcoming the stigma of the word “comics”.
Then, the momentum picked up. Martin Hardee, the director of user experience at Cisco.com, used the method and released comic templates to the public. Jess McMullin from nForm used comics as part of their swim lanes method. Boxes and Arrows had not one, but two articles on the use of comics. At the same time, many comic creation applications and websites were starting to appear.
As if to bring the tale full circle, the story ends with CHI and IA Summit. Further signifying the popularity of the method, the two most recent CHI conferences have included presentations on the use of comics to inform design. Then at the most recent IA Summit, Lou and I held an impromptu session soliciting ideas from interested readers and practitioners.
A large part of my uncertainty had been around the marketing of the book and the title. During this session, we received tremendous feedback from the participants about all aspects of the potential book but perhaps the most significant for me was Stephen Anderson’s suggestion for the book title, “See What I Mean”. It perfectly encapsulated what this book will be about.
I hope that session will only be the beginning of such quality feedback and advice from everyone. One of the great things about Rosenfeld Media is that the development of the book is such a collaborative process between the author and its audience. Throughout the next few months, I will be posting snippets, resources and most importantly, questions. I’m looking forward to it!
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