Are comic books the future of self help? New Google collaboration with Scott McCloud shows how.

The introduction of Google’s new open source Chrome browser is newsworthy.  So is the way that Google chose to explain the new features to users. Both items are sterling examples of collaborative creativity.

Google teamed up with veteran cartoonist Scott McCloud to create a cool graphic narrative about the new browser.

During a week of breaking news about hurricanes, lurid political drama, and the GOP convention, the Google announcement is likely to get buried in sensational headlines.  But it’s worth your while to check out this new online comic book that illustrates the sophisticated new features of the Chrome browser.   Because this type of presentation just might be the future of self help guidebooks.

Scott McCloud is revered among designers and information architects for his pioneering book “Understanding Comics“.   Personally, I’ve used McCould’s book for ten years as part of the curriculum in the digital media courses I teach:  it’s the best example of how a combination of pictures and words can be used to convey complex information in an easily digestible format.   McCloud demonstrates how the graphical qualities of text (font size, density, shape) can express emotional content that plain text just cannot convey.  Plus his pictures range from cinematic narratives to abstract diagrams, depicting the full spectrum of possibility inherent in illustrations.   McCloud’s virtuosity is in the combination of these disparate techniques to compose a fluid and easily-understood narrative.

Now McCloud has done it again, teaming up with the Google Chrome developers to create a totally unique introduction to the design principles behind the new browser.  This online comic is an efficient and fun way to present information that might otherwise leave the average user confused or bored.    The new Chrome UI is actually used as a graphic device to frame the story.   So it shows, rather than tells, what the new features are all about.  Plus you actually get a chance to meet the various developers and designers who worked on the project, so there’s a personal connection that never otherwise occurs in the typically anonymous process of releasing software products.

Is this the future of “how to” books and self help guides?   Best selling author Dan Pink seems to think so.   His most recent foray into self help is a guide for job seekers called “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.” The entire book consists of a narrative presented in the form of a Japanese manga.    You can read it in one sitting.   It’s a fun and entertaining way to absorb information that, frankly, could otherwise be really tedious if presented in the classic self help format.    Plus it’s a vivid example of Pink applying the principles set forth in his previous self-improvement tome,” A Whole New Mind.” This is one of my favorite self improvement books.  If you haven’t read it, check it out.  Required reading for the 21st century careerist.

We live in a time of DIY culture, where people are left to their own devices when it comes to big decisions about technology, careers, information sources and more.  Whom do we trust?  How do we learn more?  How can we glean new info efficiently?   My hunch is that graphical narratives, rather than tediuous instruction manuals, will very likely emerge as an important new way for people to improve their understanding of complex data sets.