Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: See What I Mean by Kevin Cheng

The following book review was originally published in Technical Communication, Volume 60, Number 2, May 2013, the Society for Technical Communications' quarterly magazine.

See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas
Kevin Cheng. 2012. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-27-9. 202 pages, including index. USD$39.00 (softcover).]

Storytelling is great for conveying information in a memorable way. Comics can make storytelling even more effective through images. See What I Mean shows you how to present business information using comics. Cheng writes, “Comics are like a Trojan horse for information” (p. 165).

See What I Mean is written for non-artists and the comics uninitiated. It starts with an overview of what comics are and how to read them, such as what a gutter is and the order to read speech bubbles. Then it details how to make comics. Cheng creates an example comic that describes the purpose of Square, a new credit card reader for smart phones. Finally, Cheng goes over how to use comics for business. Each chapter starts with an overview comic. These comics are good examples of his method.

If you give someone this book to convince them to use comics, I suggest starting them with Chapter 8, “Applying Comics.” Start with this chapter to get an idea of how you want to use comics, and then apply the ideas learned on your own work. I make comics in my spare time and wanted to get ideas about using comics in my day job. Chapters 8 and 9 were the most helpful. Also, the table of contents and the overview comics make it easy to find your information if you are not sure.

Cheng is an enthusiastic writer with an obvious passion for comics. Most of the book is spent on creating comics. Cheng is encouraging to the non-artist, but he might spend too much time convincing you that you can draw. If you are that reluctant, I do not think any amount of text will convince you. Because there are already so many great books on creating comics, I was hoping for more information on how comics can be used specifically with business.

Cheng discusses a number of benefits to using comics. Relatively speaking, creating a comic does not take much time. The skills are easy to learn. You can work with tools as simple as a pen, sticky notes, and stick figures to create a story that readers relate to. “By reducing the amount of detail in a drawing, you can encourage your reader to relate personally to what’s being presented” (p. 24). And the restrictions of the format, such as length, can help you present your idea in a concise way.

People are finding that comics are a good way to no only help them retain information, but to get them to read it in the first place. “. . .a senior user researcher at Adobe, used comics to convey her research findings...she found that more people actually spent time reading her findings” (p. 168). People will actually read our content if we format our business information to be enjoyable or entertaining.

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