UX is Drawing words & writing pictures

This case study shows how images can support and enhance user experience.
Unless otherwise specified I personally created the images shown.

Credit for the title

The title of this case study was inspired by the book “Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond” by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1596431318/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_R1KK3HK0RJFH01A3PAPM

I purchased this book many years ago based on the title alone. I wasn’t disappointed. I have always been interested in storyboards and comics, especially how I can use visual storytelling in UX Design. If you want to know more see my: Using Storyboards for UX¬†Design.

A website without images is boring

Let’s face it, most of us like to look at images. They trigger emotions, remind us we are in the right place, explain complex concepts and much more. Images communicate information very quickly and conveniently as we scan a screen of content, looking for things that might interest us. I’m not saying text isn’t important, it is critically important. What I am suggesting is, the right image can enhance the user experience significantly.

In this case study I share some examples of how I’ve created and used images (mostly vector illustrations but some photographic) in various UX Design projects I’ve worked on, to intentionally enhance the user experience. If you are interested in how to do similar with text, you might be interested in another of my case studies: Improve content with FISH &¬†CHIPS

Writing with pictures

An image ideally should serve a purpose other than just looking good. I believe whenever you use an image, it should be for a specific reason. Using clip-art, just because it looks nice, is “eye candy” only. This can even impact usability by attracting attention away from the main content, confusing the viewer and leaving them to wonder, what does this mean and how does it relate?

I’m not suggesting we should use illustrations everywhere. You wouldn’t want a large image distracting you while completing an online banking form. Also, poorly designed images could create accessibility problems for visually impaired users. What I am suggesting, in the right situations e.g. news articles, blog postings and informational-oriented content like most intranets, images can be very effective in enhancing the user experience.

Visual narrative

Visual narrative is simply communicating a story visually. This is why I like the title, “writing with pictures”. Images can be used to communicate complex things like, user journeys, personas, service blueprints, business process flows, critical safety information e.g. airplane safety cards, or IKEA assembly instructions.

RYANAIR – Boeing 737-800 safety information

IKEA – Malm chest of 3 drawers assembly instructions (AA 1971377-2 pub)

Much more than eye-candy

It is true that humans do like to see attractive things, after all we are emotional beings. However, I believe we can achieve so much more by combining traditional visual design with UX techniques like: information architecture, usability, accessibility, interaction design and content design.

Doesn’t UX encompass visual design?

UX is a multidisciplinary discipline and does include visual design but, so often I’ve encountered situations where UX designers simply handover wireframes to graphic designers with instructions to, make it look good. Instead if we considered graphic design integral to any other user UX activity, I believe we would produce much more interesting, engaging, desirable, effective and useable experiences.

What follows are some example projects that illustrate (excuse the pun) what I mean by “writing with pictures”.

Change management process

I was asked by a large multinational if I could suggest a better way to communicate their change management process that was to be published on their intranet. It was a complex process with different stages and stage gates. Previously this information was in the form of Powerpoint Slides showing lots of detailed flow diagrams and lists of templates required. There was no overall “big picture” of how everything related. It was also difficult to understand how to progress through stages and what was required to move from one stage to another.

I used a “steps” metaphor to show progress and transitioning from one stage (step) to another. Each stage referenced repositories of information (drawers) containing various templates available. Characters were used to focus and draw attention. The male person walking up the steps, indicates progress. The female character, at the bottom, is reviewing a checklist representing the need for stage gate checks.

An illustration I created to explain a complex change management framework

Onboarding

Each illustration visually explains what the user needs to do at each step of the workflow. The first screen visually explains the overall process and what “handling units” are. The second screen visually explains a label is needed for each “handling unit”. The next three screens: Step:1, Step:2 & Step:3 visually show what to do: scan a parcel, scan a “handling unit then place parcel on or in a “handling unit”.

For unfamiliar users e.g. new-hires, or if the user’s first language isn’t English, using illustrations like this is intended to make onboarding and training easier, more convenient and self-service.

Infographics

Illustrations were used in the individual screen mockups as well as the infographic itself. The background image reinforces how using the mobile application, enables a direct communications channel with the courier and delivery driver. The intention of the infographic was to communicate a more personal and improved delivery experience was possible using the app.

Warehouse mobile scanning application

The following images are from a large project to enable warehouse operatives record various transactions. These screens show how the illustrations visually explain the different measurements types needed. Under normal circumstances most measurements are automatic. However, certain type of parcels have to be measured manually. These include: long length (e.g. carpets) not machine readable (e.g. liquids) and any other parcel that can’t be automatically scanned. The icons, on each menu button, convey the different measurement modes visually and once a mode selected, the following screens illustrate the actions to take. This enables even the most novice of operators to come up to speed very quickly.

Sketched characters and finalised illustrations used in the app

Intranet illustrations

I was hired to design 100+ illustrations for a multinational internet. These illustrations would primarily be featured on the company’s main intranet landing pages, with an option to be re-purposed elsewhere. The client previously created a series of animations on their public website. I was asked to match the style deployed in these animations, as well as to adhere to company style guide , branding and the inclusion and diversity workplace that the company fostered.

Each illustration was intended to make the intranet content more usable.

Understanding the purpose of each intranet page was key. Through interviews with content owners, I extracted key concepts. I paid particular attention to nouns because these are candidates for objects and characters and verbs because these were candidates for actions. From this analysis I then explored different sketches of characters in different work scenarios. I shared these sketches with the client for feedback before developing further. After the client approved the sketched ideas, I refined these using Adobe Illustrator.

I was able to develop a component based approach where I could assemble different characters heads and poses into individual scenarios to communicate the concepts required. Using this systematic approach, more than 300 illustrations were created, from which the client selected the final 100+.

Sketches of intranet characters representing company values of inclusion and diversity
Final illustrations based on initial sketches

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