Comics in the Enterprise: Beyond Dilbert

Editorial note: Here’s a guest post from Ultan O’Broin (@ultan) from the Oracle Applications User Experience Team in Dublin. You should read his blogs on translation and user experience. Enjoy.

I see Steve Jobs is about to have his life featured in comic form. Actually, comics are regularly encountered these days, and not surprisingly are a research area for Applications UX , approximating to an interest area called “affective user assistance”. In the enterprise, there’s lots of potential for using comics to tell stories to software users about organizational concepts, new features, best practices, policies, productivity tips, you name it…

You’re probably familiar with that comic adapted by Scott McCloud (@scottmccloud) for the Google Chrome browser (debatable success, but it’s not Google’s only comic). But how about Manga-stye RDBMS (h/t: @debralilley)? Or some UX tips (courtesy @oatmeal)? The US Military have used comics for years. Airlines use them for safety instruction, so does healthcare. There’s a ton of visual weapons of mass construction (h/t: @dhaimes) out there. They’re everywhere. Even lawyers are using them!

Words by the Google Chrome team, comics adaptation by Scott McCloud. Image part of work licensed under creative commons, source:

I see Oracle customers using comics too, sometimes alongside other formats such as procedural help or UPK demos, for example. The friendly, more personal, graphical approach to comics means better uptake of information and learning compared to other ‘traditional’ instructional formats, and also helps reinforce team morale and corporate culture too as users see portrayals of familiar ‘rock star’ members of staff getting that message across. Comics, believe it or not, are a very sophisticated communications device.

And before you ask, no, you don’t need any special technical skills to create comics (funny, that question never bothers discussions about technical documentation). If you’ve got the narrative and that character’s voice sorted out, off you go. Check out this great website of resources created by Martin Hardee (@mhardee), for example (h/t @scottishwildcat).

Have you any examples of the effectiveness of comics as instructional devices in your job or elsewhere? Any ideas where we should see them used (or not) by application users or developers, even? How about the IKEA approach to software architecture? Any others? Let us know in the comments…


  1. Back when I was a product manager, one of my associates was responsible for introducing a kiosk in Europe that would be used for biometric self-enrollment for visa purposes. The intended user base (not necessarily technically savvy, and speaking a ployglot of languages) dictated that the product use a comic-like approach, similar to the one that the airlines use (as referenced in the post).

    This is of course a specialized case within the comics area, since many comics do have word bubbles, but the use of stylized graphics to convey a concept can be a very effective tool, especially where language or literacy issues are present.

  2. Good points. The idea of conveying the concept can minimize the need for language and any translation, and can play a huge role in communicating vital life-saving information too in developing countries. Even when there is next involved, it most cases translation isn’t that hard to do. See:

  3. Use comics a bit when I’m working prototypes via storyboards – effective means of communication and helps keep the audience engaged.

  4. Just when you thought it was safe:

  5. Sounds interesting Floyd. We must talk more when we meet again (will be in Long Beach this Friday, btw).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.