Compelling Characters and Customer Journeys

Character moods, created for a Weight Watchers customer journey map

Character moods, created for a Weight Watchers customer journey map

Just finished a fun project: creating customer journey maps!

Though normally there isn’t much crossover between my artwork and my experience design work, this project fell squarely between the two. I learned a lot while doing it, and the output is fun…so here’s a glimpse at what I created and why.I recently worked with Weight Watchers to distill extensive research into a high-level story about what happens when people sign up for the program. Director of design Vlad Margulis, researcher Paige Bennett, and I worked together to describe the process – which spans a website, in-person meetings, and a mobile app – into one continuous experience. We used personas, spreadsheets, and service blueprints to craft a story with 16 distinct steps. Each step has its own customer & business goals, opportunities and pain points, and even different teams working on them.

High level view of the completed customer journey map

High level view of the completed customer journey map

That’s all design work, though…why use illustrations? With such rich detail about the logistics, the illustrations provide one coherent story arc. It not only shows how one interaction led to another, but also provides insight to the emotional cues: the uncertainties, the curiosities, the victories.

This project was particularly well suited for this kind of activity due to the variety of environments and people that are a part of it. Here are the qualities I’ve found to make these kind of illustrations lively and effective.

 

Expression. Both the facial expression and pose can speak volumes about what’s on a person’s mind. Eyebrows, shoulders, and overall angle can go far in showing reactions, even with stick figures. I reused drawings of “Jennifer” many times with these small adjustments. When Jennifer’s contemplating something, I have her raise her right eyebrow just a bit higher than the left; asymmetry always looks more natural.

Closed eyes can help reinforce contentment or frustration. On one drawing, I added a little extra blush when one of her fears is addressed. For the meeting portion I introduced Jennifer’s purse as an additional cue about how she feels. The way she holds/interacts with it changes over time as a signal about how comfortable she feels.

Meaningful colors. I started off with more muted tones and made them more vibrant as the story progresses. I also picked a few key colors to make it easier to spot particular items of note. Pink/salmon is Jennifer’s color to help keep the focus on her throughout the story. Green is a cue about the environment she interacts with: from her laptop, to the chairs at the meeting, to her mobile phone. Blue is a cue for Weight Watchers itself, which I used when Jennifer compares plans and imagines what it will be like, and reinforced by the book she receives and the meeting leader’s attire.

Varied layouts. Seeing the same layout step after step can present a quiet feeling, one where not much is happening besides the passage of time. If this is what you want, great! If not, it’s worth varying the size, layout, and/or angle of characters to keep it fresh and prevent them from feeling wooden or lacking emotion. There are three types of layouts I like to use to switch things up.

An Environment layout

An Environment layout

Environment. These are great for establishing shots before getting into details. I also started with one here with a thought balloon to contrast what Jennifer’s thinking about (“what plan should I choose?”) with a reflection of where she’s starting from for food and fitness.

An Over-the-Shoulder layout

An Over-the-Shoulder layout

Over-the-shoulder. It’s handy to see both the person and the thing they’re looking at. In this case, it was more important to see her facial expression and pose than how she was specifically interacting with her laptop or phone. What she sees – the screen – takes the place of the background. It’s what she’s focused on now, after all. I also kept with a cartoony style here to avoid prescribing what the interface itself should look like (and also wanted to indicate locations that matter to her: home, work, daycare).

A Cause and Effect example

A Cause and Effect layout

Cause and effect. I like to use a squiggly line between two things to show different points of view. Since I can assume the team I’m creating this for reads English, I can rely on a left-to-right visual parsing of what I draw. It usually doesn’t take much beyond that, though if it’s a trickier visual progression, characters can look or gesture towards the direction you want readers to see next. If all else fails there’s always arrows, but it’s a fun layout challenge to make it work without them.

Character illustrations can lend a lot of richness to understanding what’s happening with people, and any fidelity will do if you take a little care to keep them lively. I highly recommend using a vector drawing tool so they’ll look good when printed, and you can go far with simple transforms. Draw on!

Peace, Love, and Understanding

Peace, Love, and Understanding

Peace, Love, and Understanding • 7.5″ x 8″

I found these little frames with comic-strip-like sections and thought it would work well with a three-part phrase. I immediately thought of Elvis Costello singing “what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” I thought about tattoos as a way to show these words, and a few small sketches later came up with this.

I didn’t use any photo references on this one so it’s a little more cartoony than my recent work. I wanted to use realistic-looking tattoo styles and locations, with each piece seen as tattoos are often seen: as the decorative pieces peeking out from clothes.

The arm tattoo I imagined as “Rest In Peace” with a calavera, a decorated skull just barely visible. The ankle tattoo: “Love Kills”, with the V as a dagger into a heart. The back tattoo I never fully figured out beyond “Understanding is the only way” but I imagined it has another few words there.

I used this to test out some new watercolor pencils and quickly realized I should have used thicker paper if I wanted to treat it like a true watercolor. After I added the ink outlines, I filled in more texture, color, and contrast with regular Prismacolor pencils instead.

Starting sketch

Starting sketch

Before adding water

Before adding water

After water & ink, before more color

After water & ink, before more color

Accordion Book for a Quickstart Manual

Canon 50d Pocket Guide, Accordion Bound

Canon 50d Pocket Guide, Accordion Bound

I put my Bookbinding I skills to work to create an accordion book for a quickstart manual for a used camera we recently picked up, the Canon EOS 50D.

I found the PDF online, but unfortunately it had a bunch of watermarks across it. Or did it..? Yes, I have Photoshop skills. No, I won’t use them to remove watermarks from legitimately-for-sale imagery. But to make password-protected-for-no-good-reason old product manuals look better? Sure.

I arranged the corrected pages so each page ended up 2.5″ x 3.5″, and I was able to get about half onto one standard letter-sized sheet of paper. I set them up so they would create a nice, thick two-paper-width page once folded. My measurements were perfect, and they lined up nicely. Attempting to glue them…not so clean. I really need to get the “50/50″ glue we used at the class since it’s more forgiving for repositioning. The basic school glue I used was not, so my perfect alignment ended up not-so-perfect…oh well.

In the true spirit of a first attempt from memory of something done in a class, I also mis-measured the paper for the cover. I forgot to take into account the thickness of the davey board used for the cover, so I realized the paper wouldn’t wrap far enough (~.25”) to cover the edges so the inner paper would be approximately the same size as the paper. Yes, these are the things I’m now aware of after a class about this. To “fix” this, I chopped of 3/16″ of the davey board for the covers. This would definitely not fly if I were making this to particular specs, but since I was making this just to work on its own, it’ll do! The rest came together a bit better: the glue didn’t warp the paper as much as I feared, the glue held, and I decided to favor cover alignment (so the front and back lined up) rather than paper alignment (since that was a bit off-kilter anyway).

I’ll just pretend there are no mistakes. Isn’t it lovely?

Folding the pages

Folding the pages

Joining the pages

Joining the pages

Aligning the covers

Aligning the covers

Glueing the paper edges

Glueing the paper edges

With end papers

With end papers

Completed book (closed)

Completed book (closed)

Statement VIII

Statement VIII • 10" x 8"

Statement VIII • 10″ x 8″

Over the last year I’ve slowed down on new paintings in the Statement series in favor of other projects, but there was one more I hadn’t posted yet. This one is my photographer friend Jillian who took the reference shot for Statement I. During a different shoot for reference photos I noticed she was wearing a white shirt while I saw her reviewing photos. I asked to include her in this series, and here she is!

Since this was in her studio, there was a large white background on one side of the image. It had very subtle shadows and lighting which was interesting to pin down. It was so bright relative to the rest of the scene that I opted to put a warm tone on the rest: the crates on the floor, the stacked reflectors on the left, and the wall and floor. I kept the dark details in the blue-ish range to stay soft while still providing sufficient contrast from the warm background.

It’s always satisfying to find a few small high-contrast details to paint. The reflection on the camera screen was a fun piece to do as well as the embroidery on the shirt. Nicely balanced!

Sketch

Sketch

Yellow Ochre

Yellow Ochre

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Umber

Burnt Umber

Ultramarine Blue

Ultramarine Blue

First round of white

First round of white

Cooler tones

Cooler tones

Second round of white

Second round of white

Warmer tones

Warmer tones

Highlights

Highlights

Embroidery detail

Embroidery detail

Another warm tone wash

Another warm tone wash

Learning About Bookbinding

Made in Bookbinding I

Made in Bookbinding I

This weekend I took the Bookbinding I intensive class at The Crucible in Oakland. This is right up my alley — I like working with paper and fabric, and I found that those skills carried over nicely.

We started with paper folding and learned about some subtle aspects of paper. Plain copy paper is surprisingly high quality for book purposes. It has notably different sides, too, and will accept folding better if you pick the right side: if you bend it lengthwise on each side, you can find one is slightly more accepting of the bend than the other. It’s called the “wet test” as I guess getting it wet can also reveal that too. Probably destroys your paper along the way though.

There’s a lot of cutting of paper and fabric, so an eye for measurement and mat cutting or other Xacto knife experience comes in handy. A little bit of needlework experience from cross-stitching, crochet, or knitting also helps for the bindings.

This was a fun way to use fabric and paper remnants. I’ve started a Creative Bookbinding board on Pinterest to gather neat applications of these, and I’m already planning a few more books to make.

In order, we made:

  • Folded “maze books”
  • Folded paper bound as an accordion book
  • A stack of paper bound into a book with Japanese stab binding
  • Folios (small 3-5 page books with simple folds) and signatures (a collection of 6-10 of these) bound into a book with Coptic binding
  • A stack of paper bound as a softcover book with “perfect” binding
  • A stack of paper bound as a hardcover book
  • A laminate made from comic pages
Japanese Stab Binding (side)

Japanese Stab Binding (side)

Japanese Stab Binding

Japanese Stab Binding

Coptic binding (spread)

Coptic binding (spread)

Coptic binding

Coptic binding

Paperback perfect binding (edge)

Paperback perfect binding (edge)

Paperback perfect binding

Paperback perfect binding

Hardcover (spread)

Hardcover (spread)

Hardcover

Hardcover

Little Creatures of Love

Rat Love & Chameleon Love • 2016 • 6" x 6"

Rat Love & Chameleon Love • 2016 • 6″ x 6″

I created a few new illustrations for the upcoming Psycho Donuts Evol | Love show & sale. It’s a love (or not) theme, and since I felt like drawing animals, I thought I’d focus on animals that can be a bit misunderstood but are lovely pets.

I’ve had a few rats as pets and they can be quite sweet. When I was drawing this I also thought of the Church Mice series from Graham Oakley, a children’s book series I always loved for its detailed crowd scenes of dozens of happy, confused, curious, afraid, and feuding mice in the middle of some conundrum (together with the sole cat willing to be around them).

I’ve never had a chameleon as a pet, but if I were to get a reptile again that would be my next choice. The color-changing is interesting, but the independently-moving eyes and the five-toes-fused-into-two are endlessly fascinating. They also don’t move very fast and seem to have a gentle disposition – something I can’t say for other attempts at reptile pets. Since they’re cold-blooded I gave this guy a little blue heart.

Rat Love detail (watercolor, ink, acrylic)

Rat Love detail (watercolor, ink, acrylic)

Chameleon Love detail (watercolor, ink, acrylic)

Chameleon Love detail (watercolor, ink, acrylic)

Me, My Purse, and I

Me, My Purse, and I

Me, My Purse, and I • 13.5″ x 13.5″ • 2016

Super Bowl 50 is upon us in the Bay Area, and one of the teams is staying at a hotel just down the street from the Works/San José gallery. I created this piece for their upcoming show titled SUPER Hunger Anti-Valentine BOWL Games Part 50. The call for entries encouraged “commenting on sport and the season” so I took more of an editorial approach to this one. 

I like to watch football with friends, especially when they’re involved in fantasy football due to the constant shifting of allegiances and opinions about particular games. While there’s plenty to criticize about the sport, the topic I kept coming back to is the recently updated bag regulations for NFL stadium events. It bothers me because it uses an inconsistently-applied logic about security, and in a spot of doublespeak, promotes its awkward guidelines as a “convenience”.

The story

Public events typically have guidelines about what can and cannot be brought in from the outside. In 2013 the NFL released an updated set of guidelines about how items can be brought in. These guidelines are a puzzling mix of size, visibility, and brand restrictions. A bag must be transparent unless it’s as small as one’s hand…and a transparent bag cannot show any logo expect club and NFL official logos.

These restrictions limit bags only. They do not limit carrying items in jackets, cargo shorts, or other pockets. Most people do not wear pocket-laden clothing in daily wear, and the trend in women’s clothing is to have shallow pockets (2-3” deep) or no pockets at all. In practice, these guidelines primarily impact women (purses) and parents (diaper bags).

It’s disheartening that female fans are singled out to change their behavior and appearance for the sake of seeing a live football game. It is insulting to imply that this is safer or more convenient for anyone. The only convenience here is the convenient side effect of selling more NFL-approved merchandise

Is your bag (or wallet? or phone?) smaller than your hand? If not, would be comfortable carrying your possessions in a clear plastic bag for everyone to see? Before attending a live football game you now should read up on how to stay safe on gameday given the new guidelines. Or these amusing ways to beat the bag ban. Funny how none of this is an issue for hockey, or soccer, or other organized sports.

Symbolism

The middle area shows the smaller-than-your-hand bag criteria in real size. There is a mirror inset here to reflect on how purses are a part of one’s identity. This size is far smaller than a standard purse – so to belong, you must conform to the right size.

The large dotted area is the 12″x12″ transparent bag maximum. Since anything you’ve got in there is free to be seen, I covered the area in eyes. There are 32 eyes, to be precise: a woman’s eye to represent each of the 32 NFL teams. They are (roughly) laid out in the cardinal directions to reflect the AFC/NFC team divisions, and each one reflects each team’s colors.

Purses are normal. These foolish guidelines treat them as uniquely threatening, and they reflect poorly on the NFL’s attitude towards its own fans.

Over the Shoulder

Over the Shoulder

Over the Shoulder • 30″ x 20″ • 2015

This one’s another commission from my friend Kevin. Merry Christmas Allie!

I worked from an Instagram photo of her two cats before a windowsill. The layout was the first challenge. Since the original photo was square, I mocked up a few options in landscapes and portrait orientations. This landscape option gave it a little more room to breathe, and is closer to what an observer would see. I made some small adjustments to the composition to remove a few ambiguous objects (between the cats, and on the far right), add a little more separation between the cats for a better silhouette, and scooted the vase over a bit.

The second challenge was getting an accurate sketch of the perspective. Between the windowsills and the blinds, I spent a little extra time on the sketch to be sure I got it right. This painting is a bit larger than I usually work so I used my massive T-square (3 feet long) to make the sketch. It’s so big I often only use it for mat cutting…or retrieving things that have rolled away under furniture. Nice to use it for its intended purpose!

Since the lighting is so bright, I used a few additional reference photos of the cats to get the colors right. They have a light tan undercoat with grayish stripes. The stippling texture I’ll often use in details worked out well here for their coloration. One of the most interesting parts to paint was the tabletop due to the window and vase reflections. I also enjoyed painting the cats, and in particular getting the ear positions right. They’re definitely listening here.

Original photo

Original photo

Initial sketch

Initial sketch

Yellow ochre

Yellow ochre

Burnt sienna

Burnt sienna

Burnt umber

Burnt umber

Adding blues

Adding blues

Green wash

Green wash

Adding reds

Adding reds

Blinds details

Blinds details

Cat lighting detail

Cat lighting detail

Blue cast

Blue cast

At the Paris Exhibition, 1900

At the Paris Exhibition, 1900

At the Paris Exhibition, 1900 • 14.25″ x 17.25″

This is based on a photo from an exhibition at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. It was assembled by W.E.B. DuBois “with the goal of demonstrating the progress and commemorating the lives of African Americans at the turn of the century.” I found this while browsing the collection at the Library of Congress. Her expression and outfit really stood out to me. Unfortunately there’s no name attached to it, so I don’t know who she is. I named this so it could either be interpreted as her being in the exhibition, or attending the exhibition. Maybe she did both!

I have some lovely mid-toned paper made with coffee, which is an excellent base for two-toned charcoal drawings. I start with the light colors first so they’ll stay crisp and are less likely to get muddied by black charcoal smears. It’s easy to add black charcoal; it’s nearly impossible to add white charcoal after the fact.

In progress

In progress

Waiting & Watching

Waiting & Watching

Waiting & Watching • 11″ x 9″

This chunky wooden frame reminded me of the aesthetic of Bruegel’s earthy illustrations or Goya’s creatures. I felt a gargoyle would suit it, so I found this fellow for a start. I wanted to give it more of a body so after I drew the head I opted to draw its paws, clawed, to echo the fangs.

Once I started filling in more of the body, I thought it really needed something else to balance the picture. A bird! I found a reference photo with just the right expression: mostly clueless, but slightly wary. It was also a nice light touch against the darkness of the gargoyle.

I’ll leave it up to you as to which one is waiting and which one is watching.