Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you will have heard that Google has just released an innovative new browser called Chrome. Now Chrome is being analysed to death all over the web, and I have no inclination to add to the noise until the dust settles. What I am interested in, though, is the comic book that was provided to the press to explain the technical vision behind the Chrome project.
No, really, a comic
Here in the western, English-speaking world, we are used to equating comics with low-brow, superhero wish-fulfillment fantasies aimed at teenage boys. But that need not be the case. In some cultures, notably Japan, comics (or Manga) are not only an accepted form of entertainment for people of all ages, they are used as product instruction manuals and even on government tax forms. In fact, the US navy has even produced a Manga explaining the presence of the US fleet to Japanese citizens.
My own eyes were opened a few years ago when I came across Scott McCloud, a professional comic artist who wrote a brilliant analysis of the medium of comics called Understanding Comics. Naturally, this book takes the form of a comic. In Understanding Comics, Scott showed that the poor image of comics in the west stems from their origins as filler in the American press. Superhero tales are not inherent to the medium. He then takes you through a brilliant exposition of how the combination of words and pictures in sequence can communicate in ways other media can’t manage.
It is no surprise, then, that Scott McCloud was asked by Google to create a comic that explains all aspects of the Chrome browser project. Look, for example, at this excerpt from the Google Chrome comic book. Here, we are learning about memory management models in Chrome and in other more traditional browsers.
Now this is a subject guaranteed to put most people to sleep, or to trigger their techno-babble filter, which inserts a placeholder in the brain for whatever was just said that went over the reader’s head. In either case, no useful communication occurs. The Chrome comic makes this dry material understandable by juxtaposing the text with vivid images in meaningful sequence to aid understanding.
Comics are not new to design communication
The Chrome comic is not the first foray into the world of comics that the UxD and Tech communities have made. Rahel Anne Bailie wrote about Comics for Consumer Communication, while Rebekah Sedaca wrote about using comics for design communication in her article Comics: Not just for laughs!, both appearing in the webzine Boxes and arrows. Before both of these articles, Yahoo! staffer Kevin Cheng made a well-received presentation on Communicating Concepts Through Comics at Jared Spool’s UI12 Conference. All of these were directly inspired by Scott McCloud’s work. Personally, I’d like to see more of this kind of work, and recently bought the Comic Life application to start experimenting with the format myself.
Some of my colleagues have looked at the Chrome comic and said
Yeah, it’s great, but it’s too long!. Unfortunately, the comic now online is a leaked version scanned and posted by a blogger. The original item was designed for print consumption and handed to the press and other interested parties in preparation for the project launch. Personally, I’d rather wade through a 30+ page comic than 15 pages of technical detail, randomly salted with marketing bumpf. And I’d be willing to bet that a group of random punters given the comic book version would get the concepts quicker and more completely than a control group given a prose-only version. Any takers?
Update: 3rd September 2008
The guys over at Portfolio have posted a take off of the Google Chrome comic, disparaging the comic, geeks and Google’s nefarious strategy. Good for a laugh.