- Storyboarding has been practiced since before people could even write. Through the use of symbols, and simple shapes, stories have been told over time and continue to help people connect to history, to events, and to meaningful experiences. Typically, we think of storyboards as graphics or illustrations displayed as a sequence to explain and to try to visualize a set of interactions or experiences. However, storyboarding can also be applied to many business practices that involve complexity, multiple steps, and interactions.
This video is all about applying the method of storyboarding to your weekly UX practice. It's about throwing the fear of having to be an excellent illustrator in order to storyboard out the window. I'd like to show you a basic framework that you can follow to become a master storyboarder. By the end, you'll understand the methods to follow, the questions to answer, to jump start your storyboards. And then, I'll even share a template that I used to make this video. When you think of storyboarding, you might immediately start thinking about Disney, and how Walt Disney himself started his practice as an animator.
Walt and his team were some of the most creative and fearless individuals. They saw a unique way to break down step-by-step interactions that would play out on paper, then soon after on screen. This process evolved quickly, but imagine having a process in place where you could rinse, repeat, try again, and do it over and over, till it became as natural as riding a bike. At first it can be shaky but as you practice, you immediately see yourself getting better and better every day.
Before we jump into storyboarding process and begin drawing out a step-by-step interactions, it's essential to know how this is going to help you with the typical projects that you have to execute every single week in the world of technology. Those typical projects consist of presentations, designing of flow, AKA workflows, planning a workshop, developing an event, or engagement with your team, writing a story, and creating a video. Now that you're ready to learn this framework of storyboarding, take a second and think of a project you could apply this to.
If you have one, then pause the video right now and download the Exercise File, Blank-storyboard-worksheet. So you can you can follow along and build out your storyboard right along with watching the rest of this video. When you begin the process, each storyboard needs to have four core questions answered. What is this about? Why is this important? How will we do it? And what are the desired outcomes? I make sure to answer these four questions for every single storyboard I create.
These answers set the tone for the project and help you get the most important thoughts out of the way. Then you can pull together your ideas in an organized way. Let's break down each of these and why you need them. So first, what is this about? This question helps you to find the plot of your story. It helps you dive straight into writing out exactly what this project is, and sets the context for the project so there can be a helpful reference along the way. You also need to know what this is about, so you don't go too far off into the distance and away from what the original intent was for creating the storyboard in the first place.
So here's a pro tip, when writing the what, I try to think about what would hook somebody into wanting to learn, see, touch, or connect with this particular topic. Then that leads me to the next section I fill out. Why is this important? Answering why helps you get what you're thinking out of your head and into the world, to share with your team and to be able to refer to in a much more accessible way. The why is going to help others understand the importance of what you're trying to do.
If you choose not to have a why, then your teammates may find it difficult to connect with your project, or they might lack inspiration because they don't know what they're doing, or why they're doing it. Here's another pro tip, when writing my whys, my goal is to come up with at least four reasons why this topic is essential. After coming up with your whats and whys, you got some serious momentum. You're heading in a direction where you need to start thinking about the how. So how will we do this? The how connects you with the actions and steps that you'll need to execute to make your project a success.
The how isn't something that has to be absolute. It can change, be iterated on, and new items can be added at any time. The goal of the how is to get you thinking about multiple ways you might be able to approach the job. Here's a pro tip to answering the how. Think of typical ways to separate your content out. If you could filter your content by themes, sections, features, or time, how might those distinctions help you narrow in on your approach? One example of separating content out was what I did for this specific video.
I thought about sectioning out the different storyboarding project types, such as presentations, workshops, slideshows, and movies. This gave me a clear picture of how the storyboarding process could be applied to many different types of projects. This leads me up to the last of the four questions, what are the desired outcomes? These are the learning outcomes that you want your audience to experience. The learning outcomes can be as simple as, help my audience understand the value of practicing storyboarding.
These outcomes are essential so you know what you're trying to achieve by creating the story. Here's another pro tip, writing out these can be incredibly valuable because it allows you to reference and connect back with your why, so you never disconnect from the purpose of your project. After the four questions are answered, it's time to jump back into creating the story. In the Storyboarding Worksheet that I provide in the Exercise Files, you'll notice that there's light gray dotted lines to help guide you with writing and sketching.
I did this on purpose. The light boxes allow you to break the grid and try to write as much as you need, while maintaining awareness of how much space you have to sketch in. Then, after you fill in the dotted boxes, you get to trace them with your beautiful black marker to create the storyboard look and feel. The first step here is to look at your what answer and tie that directly back to the first box. The first part of your 12 box storyboarding template is to set the hook, and to think of a few thoughts or words that would do that.
With a user's experience in mind, you might want to use a hook for talking about how big of a problem your customer's facing around a specific task. Then, think about how might you bring the audience into empathizing with this hook? Following writing the hook, I jumped to the very last box in the template, and merely write, recap. The recap is needed for all of the above types of storyboarding projects and its primary purpose is to restate everything you want the audience to remember when they're done.
What are the takeaways? What important points would you want to reinforce? Even if you're repeating something that you stated early on, the recap can be a gentle reminder to help you reiterate your core points, or it can help set you up for the next phase of the project. The next step is to illustrate or write a concept of how you could explain why the subject matters. Remember, you already wrote your four whys at the beginning of this activity. Now you have nine boxes left to fill in with your story.
This is the stage when you draw out the step-by-step flow that your users will follow. In this situation, you might think to yourself, how am I going to fill in these nine boxes? The best approach I've found is to abstract the why and how into a step-by-step story utilizing your previous thoughts on what, and why, and how you're going to do this, then you just try it. You write and draw. And stick people drawings are okay, and welcomed. You don't need to worry about making mistakes.
The more you do this, the better you will get, and try not to worry. If you think you're terrible at sketching, you'll get better. This isn't a process that has to be perfect. It's not about that. It's about getting your thoughts and ideas out into an organized way to help you tell stories, processes, and workflows in a more impactful way. These storyboards take me on average about 30 minutes to an hour to do. I then take these stories and turn them into project presentations, workshops, product ideas, and the list goes on and on.
So why is storyboarding even important? It helps you structure ideas quickly. It enables you to find gaps and problems in your steps faster. Storyboarding allows you to align with your team so they can see what you're thinking around a specific flow or process. It helps you think about the build up of a story versus just a completed task. And hey, it's fun, creative, and grounds you. This process can not only happen on 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper, you can follow the same process on a giant whiteboard, or an InVision Freehand.
So this is my approach when storyboarding in UX and I can't wait to see what you create when you apply this method to your own practice. If you'd like to continue the conversation or have questions about the storyboarding techniques I mentioned, and how to use them, then I'd love to discuss them with you. Find me on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter @abridewell. Or you can post a question on our Practical UX Weekly LinkedIn group. Thanks for watching and I look forward to seeing you next time.
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Check out Practical UX Weekly (2017) for 40 more tips and tricks.
Note: Because this is an ongoing series, viewers will not receive a certificate of completion.