Guide to Storyboards for Design Thinking

Dayana Mayfield

Agile Methodologies

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Storyboarding is one of the most valuable stages of the design thinking process. It offers an engaging, visual way for teams to collaborate when solving problems. It can also help organizations save money, because they'll iron out disagreements even before investing in prototypes.

Storyboarding is most commonly done during the discovery phase for a new product to help align stakeholders around user outcomes. But it can also be important undertaking when developing an existing product. A company could storyboard annually, during a UX audit, or whenever they're considering adding a big new feature to the product roadmap.

What is storyboarding for design thinking?

Storyboards are a visual representation of the user's journey that don't correlate to the product's user interface, which will later be designed based on the journey depicted in the storyboard.

They are a critical part of the design thinking process. Before actual products can be designed, built, and launched, collaborators first need to research their target user's problems and then distill that down into a story. What is the user's starting point? What do they want to achieve?

A storyboard offers a visual way to represent user research, so that product UX and functionality can be brainstormed and decided upon using a storyboard as a common starting point.

"Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy."

- Tim Brown, Executive Chair of Ideo

Storyboard design thinking example

Here's an example storyboard created during a design thinking process. The storyboard shows a person considering purchasing a ticket to a conference, purchasing that ticket, and then enjoying the post-purchase experience, with an easy-to-find mobile ticket and food and lodging suggestions.

storyboard design thinking example, woman buying a conference ticketWoman purchasing a conference ticket - source

Why is storyboarding important for the design thinking process?

Storyboarding is an essential part of design thinking and design sprints. Companies that fail to innovate (like Kodak and Blockbuster) do so for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's debt and overhead. But more often, it's because the corporations have slow and inefficient innovation processes and because they get complacent and feel invincible.

When companies do want to start innovating like startups, they need to use startup methodologies, which are agile and affordable.

Whether in physical or digital form, a storyboard offers a simple way for companies to start innovating, without spending money on rapid prototypes just yet.

Companies can get on the same page about the user journeys that matter most. By aligning around the user journey, organizations will save a lot of money when it comes time to move onto the next phases of design thinking, such as UX design, prototyping, product validation, and development.

How to storyboard

The storyboarding process is simple to understand but difficult to do right. You need an excellent facilitator to help you.

Step 1. Designate a facilitator and a drawer

Organize a storyboarding meeting with all of the major stakeholders. In-person meetings are better, but virtual will suffice if necessary.

Make sure to have a separate facilitator and drawer. That way the facilitator can focus on asking follow up questions, encouraging input from silent collaborators, and helping everyone take turns talking. Meanwhile, the drawer can draw out the points being discussed.

Step 2. Have the facilitator moderate the conversation

The facilitator should seek to gather...

  • Current issues and problems that users are facing

  • What users want to achieve

  • What users need to achieve (even if they're not aware of it, or it's not what they want)

  • The most important problems to be solved

  • Anciliary or less important problems to be solved

Later, you'll determine user flows, but for now it's wise to just stick with user needs.

Step 3. Narrow down to 4 - 6 key moments in the user's journey

The next step is to work together to determine the 4 - 6 most important moments in the user's journey. For example, with a ticketing software, it might be to discover the event, choose a ticket option, pay for the ticket, choose a seat, and store the ticket.

By condensing the user's needs down into a clear story, you'll make sure that future prototyping and development will stay on track.

The facilitator can help the team determine the essential moments, and the drawer and map them out.

Step 4. Determine the most important user flows

Next, you can start jotting down all of the essential user flows that will help the user achieve their journey. Start at a high level, and wait to get nitty-gritty until you're in the prototyping stage.

For example, at this stage some user flows for ticketing software could be to review event information, choose a price option, and create an account.

Step 5. Get feedback

Now, it's time to get feedback. Share the storyboard and essential user flows with other stakeholders who weren't able to attend the storyboard meeting.

You might also want to share these materials with target users and ask them if this product concept will meet their needs.

Once you've ironed out the storyboard, you're ready to move onto prototyping and UI design.

If you don't have the experience to do this in house, make sure to partner with a product development agency that specializes in building products—not projects.

Storyboard tools

Try these different tools for storyboarding in an in-person, remote, or hybrid setting.

1. (The old school way) whiteboards, bulletin boards, sticky notes, etc.

Here at DevSquad, whenever possible we like to kick off new digital products with an in-person workshop. This is part of our Sprint Zero process. We talk through user issues and flows to come up with the best concept. Then we prototype that and rely on user testing to validate the prototype before we move onto development.

2. Miro

Miro is a very popular online whiteboard tool that can work well when storyboarding either virtually or in person with a device. You can use Miro for storyboarding and low-fidelity product prototypes. There are useful features for comments and annotations to fuel remote and hybrid collaboration.

3. Figma

Figma is another great tool for UX and product designers, but it's more commonly used as a wireframing and prototyping tool rather than a storyboarding tool. However, it functions well as a digital whiteboard, so if you're already using Figma for prototyping go ahead and use it for storyboarding as well.

4. LucidChart

LucidChart is most similar to Miro. It offers whiteboards, diagrams, and data visualization. It's an excellent fit for more complex whiteboards and diagrams, with lots of different elements, contingencies, and connections. The platform offers customer journey diagram templates that can be used after a storyboard meeting to distill decisions down into a more shareable format.

5. MicroSoft Whiteboard

With MicroSoft Whiteboard, you can collaboratively work on a whiteboard with your team during meetings, without having to use separate tools. That makes the platform a good fit for teams that can't meet in person. The whiteboard is simple to use and is perfect for storyboarding.

Storyboarding requires excellent facilitation to be successful, so make sure you've got the right facilitator on board.

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