A civic-minded citizen seeking the singularity

An entry

Visual Documentation

Date: 2016-03-27
Status: release
Tags: workflow documentation

I consider myself a visual learner. When I think of the world, I think in picture. When I use words, I'm simply describing what I see.

By now, I've worked on worked dozens of software systems in about a dozen organizations. Each time I onboard to a new project or a new organization, I begin to orient myself amongst the software systems in place.

Software is complex. And the way organizations use it, may not be as complex as the software, but nevertheless, it adds an additional layer of complexity that must be accounted for when seeking to understand, communicate, or change an organization.

I'm a huge fan of workflow diagramming. I suppose I've taken it for granted that I understand that boxes, arrows, circles, diamonds, and swimlanes mean. I've come to realize process engineering isn't widely known. That UML can be considered a dirty word. Don't utter "documentation".

So, I'm looking for ways to realize the value that formal workflow diagramming can provide for an organization by being able to communicate about it in a more concise, and ultimately, more appealing way.

At SF Brigade's Wednesday Hack Night at Code for America, I found myself perusing the bookshelves, when a book caught my eye.

And that brings me to today, to right now. I just finished reading that book.

I read "See What I Mean" by Kevin Cheng. The subtitle of the book is "How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas".

Kevin outlines:

  • how to draw comics
    • style
    • composition
    • things to watch out for
  • what comics can be used for
    • basic story telling
    • product prototyping
    • production documentation
    • marketing
  • how to make the business case for comics in the workplace
    • time savings
    • able to express important business and product context that UX alone does not express1
  • a comic glossary
    • common panel layouts
    • a gesture dictionary
    • facial expression dictionary


  • A comic illustrating the story of how someone may potentially use the product were shared among the team, it would be much easier to determine if everyone were on the same page. - p. 157
  • Ebay cart diagram - p. 158
  • Showing stories to participants provides them with a context they would otherwise be missing from just looking at screenshots. - p. 161
  • Feedback on Comic vs. Concept
    • A brilliant idea may not be received well if the story describing the idea is poorly done. It is important to differentiate whether feedback, especially negative feedback, is directed toward the comic or the concept. Is the negativity because your participants don't understand what you're trying to say or because what you said isn't appealing to them?
  • SWD - p. 163 We could have written prose instead, bute we felt this was the bestt way to get them to read it.
  • Prototyping diagram - p. 175
  • Apple... branded them in a way that was easy to understand.
  • Your choice of words matters when you present your comics... It's all in how you frame the work. Don't be ashamed of it or feel sheepish. If your confidence is behind it, it will show. p. 177
  • Believe in what a great medium it is and believe in your product concept. Then make absolutely sure that everyone also knows how awesome, incredible and amazing they are. p. 177


  • Martin Hardee
  • Deb Aoki
  • Yvonee Shek, nForm
  • V for Vendetta
  • Whitney Quesenbery - Storytelling for User Experience
  • Spiegelman - Maus
  • Scott McCloud - Understanding Comics
  • Evangeline Haughney
  • Ann Wylie
  • all sorts of Manga