Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome: conveying technical ideas with doodles

Google has finally built a browser.  This is great news if you happen to own GOOG stock -- and mixed news if you happen to be a web developer.  [WARNING: non-geeks, skip directly to paragraph 2]  On the up-side, we'll finally have an environment with all the perks we're after: multi-threaded, process-isolated, open-sourced.  On the downside, unless everyone adopts it (and not everyone will, since it will never be distributed as Vista's default browser) we'll now have to write our programs to perform reliably in radically different environments...a single-threaded version for IE and a multi-threaded version for Chrome, etc (frameworks like jQuery may ease some of that pain).  *Sigh* just when we thought web environments were beginning to standardize.

But I'm not here today to geek out about all the pros and cons of Chrome.  I'm actually more interested in a little-advertised side effect of the project: cartooning as a means to convey technical data.

When Google made the browser available at http://www.google.com/chrome/, they also included a 39-panel comic...err, "graphic novel"..."visual explanation" drawn by experimental cartoonist Scott McCloud; read it here: http://www.google.com/googlebooks/chrome/.

McCloud's doodle manages to convey complex concepts, like process isolation and multithreading, with a minimum of words and only a few panels of graphics.  Those of us who have taught a software development course (or simply tried to explain our jobs to non-developers) will recognize Scott's graphics as a more evolved form of our own back-of-the-napkin sketches.  He has taken those core visuals, stripped out the cruft, and nestled them into a semi-storyline (or, at least, series of situations) which the layman can relate to*.

This strikes me as an indispensable skill, and also as an excellent example to aspiring writers.  Take any description of a complex concept, distill it down to a few short sentences, and add visuals.  If you are a cartoonist...just a add color and a dose of dry wit; you're done.   If you're writing prose, describe the visuals you've just created; you'll end up with something entirely different from -- and possibly much more entertaining than -- your original description.

From now on, I'm going to make sure that all my software consulting teams have at least one cartoonist on hand.  I'm also tempted to say that I'll learn to draw something more than stick figures...but why bother?  It's working out fine for Randall.


* don't start with me; I'll end my sentences with prepositions if I want to.

1 comment:

Hysteresis Monkey said...

I've been thinking about this ever since Neil Gaiman gave a talk at MIT. He started with comic books. Graphic novels.

So I gotta find somebody who can draw, and write some words that go with pictures.