Content classification and findability no image

Published on August 6th, 2008 | by Rahel Bailie


Using comics to convey “how to” user instructions

The feature article of July issue of Boxes and Arrows is about using comics for DIY legal guides by IDI‘s Rahel Anne Bailie. This case study, based on work done at the Legal Services Society during the 1990s, discusses how a comic book format was used to convey instructions for navigating the legal system. These how-to guides were an alternative to the usual text-heavy guides. If the concept of presenting complex legal material in a graphic format seems incongruous, read Comics for Consumer Communication to see how the process was carried out.

Actually, moving away from written instructions seems to be a popular way to go. However, there is a serious downside to graphic instructions, however, that hasn’t been addressed yet, and that is content findability. Graphic instructions can’t be located by text search, so unless the artist or video director attaches the appropriate keywords, one may not even realize that the instructions even exist on the Web.

For example, I own a bicycle alternative called a Trikke, a self-propelled cambering vehicle, and while its manual gave me the basics of how to assemble and use it, there were a certain number of incongruities between the marketing hype and the instructions, particularly around safety. (Are you truly supposed to avoid puddles and ride on flat, dry pavement, or can you really do half-pipes?  But I digress.) The Trikke site has a limited amount of installation and training instructions. On the Web, there are some intstructional videos on the Trikke site, and links to more videos in the Trikke Talk forums. Some enthusiasts have their own sites with instructional videos, which may or may not come up during a search (such as Nicky’s Seeds in the UK). And YouTube yields its share of videos, but I wouldn’t have discovered certain riding techniques had I not been intrigued by a Trikke video called Trikke – Newbie Day 2, which had to do with Trikkes and weight loss.

This leads me to wonder how organizations will cope with the consumer-driven demand for instructions in graphic and video format. Will this trigger a resurgence of the importance of taxonomies, or will organizations opt for taxonomies enhanced by a user-generated folksonomy? The next few years will be an interesting time as the industry discovers and defines its best practices.

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

2 Responses to Using comics to convey “how to” user instructions

  1. As part of of Native Programs for LSS at the time I would like to point out that it was I, who along with Penny Desjarlais who came up with the initial idea for this project. I invited Candis Callison to the project. It was she who suggested the most talented Brian for the project.

    Bernee Boulton

  2. Rahel Bailie says:

    Very true, Bernee, and I wouldn’t want to diminish your role in this at all! It couldn’t have happened without the direction of you and Penny. And thanks for clarifying – I thought Moe had brought Brian in, but that just shows that my memory isn’t what it used to be!

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