Let’s draw… A user!

It can be hard to explain different IT concepts to other people. How does services, servers, databases or the like look like? Within often large and complicated systems comes the possibility of being in a completely different place when discussing with your colleagues. I know I’ve had problems describing bugs to non-testers, I’ve had problems with not understanding the lingo on a new project, and I’ve had problems when discussing large and abstract systems with my team members.

One thing I want to be better at, is visualizing the systems or concepts that I want to discuss. I like drawing, but I know a lot of people who don’t, and some who are downright scared of it. So these posts are a small visual library of different IT concepts. They take their starting point in test-related concepts, but anyone involved in IT can benefit from them.

A User

I’ve saved the most difficult post for last in this run of summer-holiday-posts. The user. There are so many ways to represent a user, so the way you draw him/her depends on your context, on what you want to achieve.

Note: All the “meanings” or “moods” written under the figures are my own. You can perceive them in a different way. The perceived meaning of symbols are heavily influenced by environment and culture.

Want to explain how a user fits into a large and complicated system?

Draw a neutral representation of a human. He’s just supposed to be there, so you don’t have to worry about his posture or anything complicated. I like drawing stick-men. They are easy and fast to draw, and the simplicity of the lines of their bodies are great for exaggerating body language. And you want exaggeration. No naturalistic and pretty lines here. Why? I’ll tell you in 5 seconds.

Want to explain something in which a user takes an active role?

This is why you want to be able to make easy, exaggerated body postures.

Let’s say you have an IT solution consisting of different systems, where the user can interact with all these systems. It could be a solution for a bank. The user can use an ATM (System 1), go online to see their home banking (System 2), or go to the physical bank and have a meeting with a consultant who helps the user interact with some budget-planning system (System 3).

To symbolize a user taking an active role, draw a full-body character in a posture that resembles what the user should do while interacting with the system.


Exaggeration. Don’t be afraid to draw something that’s physically impossible in real life. Nobody cares. When I’m e.g. happy, I do not detach my arms from my body, and glue them to my ears (Stickman 4). I’m also pretty sure my arms aren’t longer than my legs. But I’m not going to invest several minutes in drawing one simple stickman.

Want to explain something that triggers an emotional response in a user?

Maybe you’ve gotten feedback on a web shop where people are thrilled about the way they place orders, but dissatisfied with the way they search for items. If you were to present these different findings for someone, you could give them a nice overview of which areas sparked which reactions in users by drawing faces representing user’s reactions.

Draw faces that are sad, happy, bored, angry etc. Exaggeration is yet again the key. You want to break down the emotion of your choice to the simplest possible way of representing it.Humans use a lot of muscles when they show emotions, but we are only interested in the basic, visible areas that are affected: The mouth.


Or you can use symbols…


If you want, you can add eyebrows as well, to emphasize or specify the mood. In the below image I’ve used the leftmost face throughout the row of faces, and just added eyebrows (Or cheeks). It’s a small addition to the drawing, with a dramatic result.


Fuck fact: Eyebrows are the key to expressing emotions!

Eyebrows convey so much emotion, that people who do not have them, will seem very untrustworthy and unsettling. In The Silent Hill games the antagonist Claudia was purposefully designed without eyebrows, to allude to her unsettling nature and to spark aversion towards her character.

Feel free to submit your own interpretations of the concepts in the comments!


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