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A New Way to Deliver Presentations by Employing Graphic Design

When you have to create a user-research deliverable, you face several challenges. Firstly, you have to put to good use the valuable information that you gathered and also present it clearly and succinctly. Secondly, you have to arouse the interest of your audience and keep them engaged throughout the entire time of your presentation. And finally, you have to convey your research findings in a way that people can understand them, remember them and exploit them.

Usually, these kinds of presentations use reports, presentations, videos, customer journey maps, diagrams etc. Historically, each one of these formats has had a certain appeal to different types of audience, but it would be a bit far-fetched to describe them as foolproof methods.

As of late, a new way to make and deliver presentations in a fashion that makes them both engaging and rich in information has been developed through the use of graphic design. Let’s see a hypothetical situation in which such an approach could be used and how it would play out.

Under attack

Let’s tackle a crisis-management drill. Imagine that fourteen executives and administrators of a business are faced with a situation involving a data-loss crisis due to the fact that their system was attacked by a hacker. The players that take part in the simulation are divided as follows: one team represents the business, one is the hacker and the other plays the media. Imagine also that there is a scenario master who uses a spreadsheet to record their dialogue, choices and actions and whom you are cooperating with.

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Once the game is finished, participants will want to learn from this experience, so they will want to evaluate team moves, choices and dialogue for future reference; handle each problem separately and come up with a new solution; maybe even share their insights to a larger audience. As such, the researcher has to make good use of the information gathered, present his research findings as clearly as possible and make sure his audience stays focused throughout the entire time. How should (s)he best go about it?

A new approach

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As you may have guessed from the above picture, my suggestion is to make use of good graphic design and create a comic book. It makes everything easy to understand because it provides a visual picture which both describes and is associated with a certain concept or topic. Due to limited space, when creating a comic book you have to determine what’s truly relevant and then focus on it. Moreover, a comic book will appeal to a much larger audience, because you don’t have to use technical terms or complicated formats. In fact, comic books can communicate even complex topics, including military equipment maintenance – this was the case in the 1950s and was achieved by Will Eisner, who wrote PS Magazine.

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Other serious topics tackled in the form of sequential art were the 9/11 terrorist attacks’ report in “The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation”(2006), by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón; the “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explaining what to do if faced with a plague; and in 2012 Kevin Cheng illustrated how to document your organization’s work and use comics to engage users and solicit their feedback in “See What I Mean”.

For the crisis-management drill described previously, a comic book would be the best way to meet the needs of the participants. It would also be easy to use and reproduce for the players who were involved. Moreover, because it would depict people with opposite or conflicting goals, placed in a situation that lacks a foreseeable outcome, such a comic book would additionally work as a thinking tool that can be incredibly useful when brainstorming for new ideas and solutions.

Comic books 101

After you have gathered the necessary data (the playing cards, the scenario master’s transcripts, the list of players, stakeholders and game goals), you can start turning them into sketches. The next step after that is to chronologically arrange the storyboard you created so that it matches the actual flow of the drill. Furthermore, each page can be customized so that it addresses a specific problem that came up during the game, the people involved and their decisions, thus becoming a worksheet. Usually, one page takes approximately one hour to ink.

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To give you an idea of the work that goes into a 13-page comic book, it takes a day to sketch one 11 × 17-inch (or A3) page in pencil, five days to colour 12 pages and print the dialogue in black ink, and you can copy and bind five books per hour on 8.5 × 11-inch (or A4) paper. The first page should be an introductory one, listing the participants and main events of the game; also, I recommend leaving a few blank pages at the end of the book, for writing down notes.

If you aren’t very good at drawing or don’t have enough time on your hands but you would still like to make such a comic book, there are a few websites which provide ready-made elements, such as designcomics.org, plasq.com and makebeliefscomix.com/Comix.

The back-up plan

Irrespective of your willingness to create a comic book for your client, it may happen that the latter doesn’t give you enough time or even rejects your idea, considering it inappropriate for a staid corporate setting. If this were to happen, there are a few alternatives available:

1. Pinpoint one aspect of the problem and try to illustrate it with a storyboard or several thumbnails. It’s much easier to approach a client by presenting him a sketch rather than by trying to have him visualize what you’re talking about. First of all, however, you must be certain you’re dealing with a problem that can be “translated” into a comic book, before you pitch the idea of a comic by using a sketch of one.

2. You could also test the waters by spending only a few minutes to create a simple sketch of a story and present it to your client. Use the feedback you get to decide between choosing an alternative method (if feedback is negative) or investing a week or two’s budget into making an entire comic book.

3. If the business problem requires those involved to be active, exchange information and make various movements, you should focus on these dynamic aspects and emphasize them by using stick figures, clothespin people or even pictures with word bubbles. Detailed drawings represent a better alternative only if you’re trying to emphasize facial or physical details.

All in all, the next time you have to create a user-research deliverable, consider making a comic book. You will make good use of the information gathered because such a format will help you focus on what’s truly important. You will deliver your client something that is engaging, memorable and easy to understand, not to mention that there’s a great chance both you and your client will enjoy the process!

Anamaria

I read, I write, I sleep.

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