Storyboarding for better solutions

At some point in time, we have all seen a storyboard: a simple frame-by-frame description of the main stages in a story or process.

Designers will often use this approach to show the steps that a customer goes through when using a new product or service. In film, a storyboard might be used to show how events unfold – providing a useful tool for firming up the plot and planning the production process.

In recent years, storyboarding has moved off of artists’ easels and into the boardroom, as many of the benefits long appreciated in other industries are realized in the realm of business.

First, it lends clarity to nascent stage ideas. How many times have you tried to explain a new idea floating around in your head to colleagues, only to find it difficult to get across? We’ve all been there. Many times this is simply because we haven’t fully explored the idea enough to speak about it clearly and succinctly. Storyboarding can help. By illustrating the basic elements of an idea, we are better able to see the idea as a whole, how the parts are related, where the key connections are, and where dependencies might exist. This helps the idea gel in our own minds as well as become more readily communicable to others.

Beyond this, storyboarding can actually improve the final product we are illustrating. The process of storyboarding an idea can help us see it in a whole new light – often uncovering hidden assumptions, new questions and potential synergies. In this way, storyboarding can be seen as a tool for rapid prototyping, where design issues are identified early so changes can be made with minimal cost.

These benefits can be intensified when storyboarding is done as part of collaborative design process. It helps create buy-in around a shared understanding of the concept in development, and allows for multiple visions to be distilled into one shared vision – incorporating the best ideas of all involved.

Some general tips for storyboarding:

A picture is worth a thousand words. Storyboarding is about visual language, so when words are necessary, they should be short, bold, and clear. If you find yourself creating more than a few text boxes, labels, and call-outs, you probably need to rethink how much content you’re trying to cram into one frame.

Scale your effort to suit the idea. The storyboard can be as simple as two frames on two side-by-side pieces of paper, or dozens of frames in a computer program. The important thing is that you get all of the related pieces in one place, in sequence, and viewable as a single whole. That’s where the magic happens.

Use color. Colors can evoke emotions, even specific thoughts. Blue can also be tranquil and serene, while red is a color passion and aggression. The color selection process can sometimes spark revealing conversations within groups.

Continuity is key. When storyboarding an idea, make sure to consistently ask “how did I get from step A to step B?”. If you don’t have an answer, you may have missed a step or revealed a hidden assumption about your solution.

Do it quickly. There’s no prize for great artwork. A storyboard is a tool to help clarify, communicate and improve your ideas, not a final product. Try starting with a 4-6 frame blank template and give your team no more than 10 minutes to fill it in. Stand back, discuss it, then try it again after questions have been addressed and improvements suggested.

And of course, relax and have fun. By making storyboarding a part of the job that the team enjoys, you’re increasing the odds of more and better ideas coming out of the process.

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