TCeurope Summer School: Visual Highlights of Features

During the last TCeurope Summer School, I taught 12 people how they might use comics to communicate the effects of technology in people.

APCOMTEC (the Portuguese Association for Technical Communication) proposed the Summer School in 2018 as a first step to advance Technical Communication training at ISCAP (a school of the Polytechnic University of Porto). During a week in July, attendees could combine a visit to Porto with 4 days of formal training and a full day conference.

For the second edition of the Summer School in 2019, APCOMTEC challenged me to deliver a more advanced half-day module that might attract more people. I proposed to teach my experience with comics at Altitude Software, Thales, and Farfetch. I thought it would be a provocative topic that might surprise the attendees. As an added benefit, it would also be a self-contained topic that would not require me to coordinate with the previous teachers at the Summer School. To make the preparation effort even more worthwhile, I also submitted the workshop to the TCUK conference.


My introduction to comics was the three-hour workshop by Kevin Cheng at UX Lx 2011, followed by reading his book See What I Mean in 2016. I drew on his motivation and introduction to start my own workshop, but then I focused on one-panel cartoons similar to what I have been doing at Farfetch.

I wanted to acknowledge Kevin Cheng and Rosenfeld Media, and it dawned on me that I could promote the book. I contacted Rosenfeld Media and I negotiated both an ebook to raffle and a 20% discount code for the attendees.

Practice was also a challenge. Inspiration came from a personal joke: the only musical instrument that I can play is the common doorbell. To my utter amazement, you can now have remote doorbells systems that combine several buttons with several bells. These doorbells seemed accessible to everyone yet complicated enough to create an interesting exercise.

Having no previous experience in teaching comics, I was afraid I did not have enough material to fill four hours. I believe that technical writers can identify the right stories to tell, and I also believe that anyone can draw comics that are good enough to tell that story within the company. However, the company may demand an extra level of artistry to tell the same story outside the company. So, I decided to add script writing conventions, as a means for technical writers to communicate their story to other professionals.


The TCeurope Summer School of 2019 attracted 12 attendees, including 5 undergraduate students, and 5 attendees outside the local circle of APCOMTEC and the Polytechnic University of Porto. Ages ranged from 20 to 57 years with an average of 36.

Because of scheduling constraints, my module was moved from the morning to the afternoon. Starting after lunch and being confident that we had enough time, I proceeded at a slow pace and extended my motivation and experience with comics, welcoming comments and interactions with the attendees and the organizers in the room. That long introduction established a good rapport with the attendees.

I moved to the practical details of comics, and asked attendees to draw their first exercise. When I asked them to show their sketch to the person next to them, however, most were surprised with the praise they got. And the following sequence of exercises boosted the confidence of the attendees in their ability to draw effective sketches.

Those four hours that seemed like a long time were now running short. I had to ask the attendees whether they preferred to tackle the doorbell exercise or script writing. They picked script writing.

I ended the module happy with the reactions of the attendees, but also thinking that more practice and a tighter control of time would have made a difference.


Poster for TCSS'19
Poster for the Technical Communication Summer School 2019 at Porto Accounting and Business School (ISCAP).
Module announcement for TCSS'19
Announcement of my module (mostly featuring my bio) for the Technical Communication Summer School 2019 at Porto Accounting and Business School (ISCAP).


Inspire with Comics at ISTC Communicator
Article published in the magazine ISTC Communicator describing how to create cartoons.
Kevin Cheng at UX Lx 2011
Announcement of the workshop by Kevin Cheng at UX Lx 2011.
Kevin Cheng, 2012. See What I Mean: How to use comics to communicate ideas
Book edited by Rosenfeld Media in 2012, available in 2019 as a $22 eBook.
TCeurope Summer School 2019
Announcement for the Summer School at EventBrite.
A plain text format for screenplays, similar to Markdown.
A free editor, processor, and formatter for Fountain screenplays. For example, count pages, sum action and dialogue time, list locations.