For a while now I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using sequential art to communicate service encounters. I’ve designed simple storyboards that marry word and image, but the crew at thinkpublic have gone a step further and put together a fantastic proof-of-concept in the form of a three page comic [PDF 8MB] showing an entire service encounter at Argos.
I only have a few quibbles with thinkpublic’s approach.
The first is philosophical. If you’re showing a service encounter and aiming to demonstrate how Argos provide a service for their customers then you’ve got to show a bit of the backstage process. I know this is basically a customer journey map focused on the customer’s perspective, but it would have been nice to include a panel or two showing how Argos process the orders.
The second critique has to do with craft. I routinely use photographs (both original and stock) as a starting point for my storyboards, but I never use them raw. For one thing, it’s difficult to capture retail photos that look good without proper lighting and without dressing the location. The images in thinkpublic’s comic are descriptive, but lackluster. The other problem with photographs is that they capture too much detail. It’s hard to focus the visual storytelling with such a uniform degree of detail throughout the image. Photographs also communicate a degree of finish that isn’t always appropriate, particularly if you’re only trying to communicate a potential service.
Instead, I’ve been experimenting with ways to use photographs as starting points for lower-fidelity sketches, filtered through Photoshop. Professional illustrators frown on this technique because photographic compositions tend to be more stilted than hand-drawn artwork but I’ve found that this technique at least helps screen out visual clutter and makes the images seem more cohesive. Compared to photographs, the result is also more in keeping with the visual style of comic art.
I thought I’d try applying this technique to the thinkpublic comic to demonstrate the difference. Here’s my revised artwork, based on their original photographs.
Two of the best books for learning the tropes of sequential art are Understanding Comics and Making Comics, both by Scott McCloud. For putting together the panels and adding the lettering, I’d recommend Comic Life. It comes pre-installed on most Macs, so you probably have it already.
One day I’d like to commission original artwork for a service design comic, but this will do in a pinch.