Understanding Comics and User Experience

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

I work as an Information Architect / Developer, and I’m a big fan of comics. For my IA work I refer frequently to the work of Jesse James Garrett, especially his Elements of User Experience book, and as a fan of comics I recently read (again) Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

I’m not saying that to boast of my geek credentials, but to introduce something I never imagined I’d find: a connection between the two.

Garrett’s famous diagram introduced the concept of the five Elements which make User Experience on the web:

Elements of User Experience diagram

He later distilled those five elements to: Strategy; Scope; Structure; Skeleton; Surface.

McCloud’s book is an analysis of the visual language of comics, and he lists six elements which he says make up any work in any medium: Idea/Purpose; Form; Idiom; Structure; Craft; Surface.

Panels from Understanding Comics

I think you can see where I’m going with this; although McCloud uses six steps to Garrett’s five, the mapping is still quite straightforward:

  1. User Needs / Site Objectives = Idea / Purpose
  2. Content Requirements = Form & Idiom
  3. Information Architecture = Structure
  4. Information Design = Craft
  5. Visual Design = Surface

Although I can’t be the first to draw the parallel, I think it’s quite nice. It adds extra validation to both concepts, and helps me to convince my friends and colleagues that reading comics isn’t a sign of arrested development.

I recommend both books very highly, of course.

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