Communicating UX issues with comics

Steve Cable’s UX Comic library

There is a common misconception that user experience issues can always be demonstrated in neat little video clips. Some simple ones can, but many important issues can’t be explained this way.

It’s often necessary to consider several (sometimes subtle) observations together in order to understand the issue.

Writing a dissertation on the subject is a sure-fire way to convince your colleagues their attention is better spent on something else.

Try making a comic strip to illustrate the issue

In this post I’ll tell you about a time I did exactly that and show you the feature we ended up shipping to resolve it.

Finding non-stop flights on Skyscanner

In our user research, we noticed an issue which was not only stopping people finding non-stop flights on Skyscanner, but it also led them to wrongly believe we weren’t covering some airlines.

We had tried explaining the issue to colleagues and showing video clips piecing together the events which led to to it occurring. A Jira ticket was created and withered away, an ugly duckling being noticed by nobody.

Some colleagues understood it, but understanding wasn’t widespread enough and there wasn’t enough appetite to make it a priority. It became another one of those issues we brought up whenever the opportunity arose, languishing deep in a product backlog somewhere.

Some time later my colleague Jackie showed me Steve Cable’s excellent UX comic pattern library.

I had never thought of making a comic to tell the story of a user experience issue before. But it seemed the perfect way to explain the series of events which come together to cause this one.

Here is the comic I made. The airline I used as an example (Monarch) has since ceased trading. In the UK, we use the word direct to refer to non-stop flights.

Janet uses Skyscanner to see how much it costs to fly to Alicante.
She chooses a Wednesday to get cheaper flights
There are no direct flights on Wednesdays so she gets lots of results with stops.
She knows an airline which flies direct and assumes Skyscanner doesn’t cover those flights.
The airline website points out the dates they fly when she is choosing dates. This time she chooses Thursday.
She sees direct flights and thinks she would have been better coming straight to this website instead. She’s right.

This UX issue is an example of facts being meaningless and the user’s perception is all that matters. We covered the airline in question, but because Janet hadn’t chosen a Thursday, she concluded that we didn’t include the airline in our searches.

In reality, the steps shown here are often more subtle than shown in the comic and they feature in a timeline of 20 minutes or so where lots of other stuff is going on. The comic has much of the benefit of a video clip, but it isolates the key things the reader needs to know in order to understand the problem.

The solution we shipped

No sooner had I shared the comic than the entire company jumped into action to fix it…

…yeah right. If my job was that easy it would be pretty boring. The events running up to a solution actually being shipped are probably worth a number of posts in themselves.

But the comic became the central reference for the issue when trying to communicate it. I left copies of it all over the place. I stuck it to the doors of toilet cubicles, left copies in the canteen and in meeting rooms, I attached it to Jira tickets and more.

Eventually, we got round to working on the solution to the problem. These days when you search on Skyscanner and you can get direct (non-stop) flights on different days of the week, we’ll give you the option to change your dates before seeing any results.

Our users loved it

Like any new feature, we iterated and tested it with target users before releasing it as an experiment to a small percentage of users. When we did so, our users began contacting us to say how much they loved it.

I can’t remember such a thing happening before or since for a feature experiment on a small percentage of our traffic. The analytics also showed us that people were changing their dates in response to it.

Try a new approach

There are a number of ways you can communicate research findings to your colleagues. One approach will never be better than others, all of the time.

If you are struggling to explain the complexity of an issue to your colleagues, consider making a comic out of it.