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WHAM! POW! Comics as User Assistance

Erika Noll Webb, Gayathri Balasubramanian, Ultan ỎBroin, and Jayson M. Webb

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 7, Issue 3, May 2012, pp. 105 - 117

Article Contents


Our data showed that comics had an affective appeal to participants. Participants found the comic to be a friendlier and more approachable form of communication. The first study showed that participants preferred a comic to a PowerPoint presentation with the same information. They felt that the comic was easier to use, more attractive, more useful, and more usable than a PowerPoint presenting the same information. Comics are easy to create with a variety of free, online tools that present storyboards and characters with talk bubbles. All the practitioner has to do is add the particulars of the information to be conveyed. In this study, we used a set of design characters that were explicitly created for use in usability activities (see www.designcomics.org) and are free to use. These particular cartoon figures and backgrounds make the creation of a comic simple and quick. Hardee (2011) described how powerful the use of a comic can be in telling a usability and design story.

The second study’s finding that the use of a comic alone was not as successful as the use of a comic that included a metaphor speaks to the power of metaphors as a communicative tool. It appeared there was a ceiling effect in the quiz data. Nonetheless, in future studies, we should use the metaphor in a PowerPoint presentation to determine whether metaphor alone could boost comprehension.

Also interesting was that the ratings for PowerPoint were negatively impacted by the presentation of an alternative comic format. When users saw the PowerPoint last, it was rated lower than when it was the first material presented to them, although this was not significantly different at the p<.05 level.

Comics appealed to users in an affective way. Participants responded at an emotional level in the first study to the comparison between the comic and the PowerPoint. Our conclusions are that comics are an effective method of conveying information to users and that combined with metaphors comics can be a useful training tool.


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