A tale of two different storyboards and what they’re used for
I recently created two storyboards that each highlighted significant but different advantages of the method.
The first was what UX storyboarding is often used for: highlighting the user’s workflow and communicating our designs visually. The second, though, was a storyboard with a slightly different purpose. It was to get stakeholders to empathize with our user’s problems, collaborate on a potential solution, and help visualize the overall UX idea for the future.
Both can be valuable tools for UX designers, although each requires setting the storyboard up slightly differently.
Storyboarding is often Persona + Use Case Scenario.
The most common type of storyboard is a combination of personas and use cases.
These stories combine who the user is, what scenario they are facing, and more to tell a user’s story as they attempt to interact with your product.
This can be used in several ways, such as:
- Visually summarizing user research and testing
- Augmenting existing documents, such as user journeys
- Establishing common ground among your team
- Finding gaps in the process (or other missing pieces)
With storyboards, you can take a one-sentence summary of the problem like this:
“Eric, the IT admin of a small company, gets a 3 AM call of the nightmare scenario like a DDoS attack.”
From there, you can turn it into something with much more detail based on user research that can allow your stakeholders to create requirements, make design decisions, and more.
However, I found out recently that this isn’t the only way to use storyboards.
Creating a collaborative vision with your stakeholders
How do we get our stakeholders to envision the future of a product when things aren’t built yet (and requirements haven’t been established)? We tell a UX story through storyboarding.
This technique is often used in movie storyboarding. The most extreme example is the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, where over 3500 storyboards were created to capture director George Miller’s vision visually and get the rest of the team on board.
UX stories are less about the project requirements, and the tasks users do at each stage. Instead, the goal is to give an account of events from a user’s perspective, with the user’s goals and motivations being clear.
This is used to accomplish several things:
My UX Story was a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ model that would tie together efforts from several teams (that might not have built certain features). It was intended to walk our executives through the experience users might have of being overwhelmed by creating clinical pathways and searching for solutions.
I still used my user research (personas and use cases). Still, it was more about understanding what they were looking for and establishing clear motivations rather than the process of ‘signing up. In some sense, this can often act as a proto-user journey map, visually outlining the user’s experience before filling in the details.
But no matter which method you choose, storyboarding can be a valuable tool that should honestly be at the front of every designer’s toolbox.
Learning to tell stories with Storyboards helps persuade your team
You might often use many user research methods and design artifacts in your projects, so it’s understandable if storyboards are not at the top of your list.
However, I’ve come to prefer them for a straightforward reason: storytelling is engaging and persuasive. It only takes being burned once to realize that raw facts aren’t enough for most team members: they often need to understand the bigger picture to be persuaded to make design changes, approve specific tests, and more.
This is what both UX stories and storyboarding can offer you. In addition to ironing out the details (and gaps in the process) you might have, it gets your team on board with your user, their process, and designing something that meets their needs.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you and your team are tangled up with product requirements, features, and more, try expressing things visually in a storyboard. Doing so might help untangle any messes you might run into.
Kai Wong is a Senior UX Designer, Design Writer, and author of the Data and Design newsletter. His new book, Data-informed UX Design, explains small changes you can make regarding data to improve your UX Design process.