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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


In the Oracle Fusion User Assistance group, we are always interested in how to communicate information more effectively to users. In this particular set of studies, we wanted to study the use of comics as user assistance. Comics are easy to create with a number of free, online tools. Two studies examined how comics can be used to convey both task-based and conceptual information. In the first study, participants were shown a new feature in a software application—both in the form of a comic and in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Both contained the same information. Based on the information in the training materials, the participants then performed tasks in a functional prototype of a Human Capital Management tool. Participants preferred the comic on two usability scales.

In the second study, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) authoring and publishing model was presented to an audience of technical writers. Respondents were asked to view each of three information formats for the same information: metaphor- and non-metaphor-based comics and a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Metaphor-based comics scored better than the other two formats on usability scale ratings and on a multiple-choice test.

These studies suggest that the novel and affective format of a comic book should be considered as an alternative to more traditional training materials.

Practitioner’s Take Away

The following are some tips for usability professionals:

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WHAM! POW! Comics as User Assistance