Understanding Experience – a graphic novel guide to the principles of human-centered design

Attending the Intranet Italia Day in Milan last month I spotted a very unusual book on one of the exhibitions stands. In the business of intranet and digital workplace development we are constantly trying to develop interactive applications that deliver an intuitive and engaging user experience.

Understanding Experience is a graphic novel guide to the use and value of human-centered design principles for products and services. It is the result of the partnership between Stefano Dominici (a highly respected design strategist and university lecturer in Italy) and Laura Angelucci, a cartoonist and illustrator. This book is a superb example of synergy at work. There are 14 chapters in this 121pp book. It tells the story of a project to improve the user experience at four health care centres, starting with bringing a team together and moving on to setting the project goals, a valuable section on user research techniques, and then the process of design. The project is not just about the design of a mobile-supported web site  but also examines (through the user research) the experiences of people walking into the health centre to pick up (for example) their test results

The book then moves on to presenting the design solutions, creating prototypes, the releases and initial adoption of the new forms and processes and assessing the outcomes of the project. The final chapter considers the value of human-centered design and then there is a very good list of additional books on the topic of user experience research.

What makes this book novel (if you will excuse the obvious pun) is the graphical presentation of the interactions between the team members and with the client organisation, with text balloons taking the place of linear sentences. I am very often guilty of speed reading a book and was intrigued to find that having to read the text in a ‘balloon’ format ensured that I read every word with care and comprehension.

There are also visual examples of the interim and final project deliverables. As a result, it is a pleasure to turn each page and follow the project through from inception to closure, all the time seeing every interaction illustrated in typically four or five illustrations on each page. You can get a feel of the style of the illustrations here.

The text has clearly been written by a highly experienced user experience practitioner as the words used in each illustration are very well chosen. The book was originally published in Italian but the English translation by DNA Language is flawless. You can order it from Amazon Italia and the price is €24.70 at the time of writing this review.

This is an excellent book and I recommend it to you very strongly as I am sure you will not only learn a great deal from the book but also enjoy the process of doing so. Use it to explain to clients the value of human-centered design and to developers the processes involved.

Martin White