One of the goals of UX/UI design is to establish that emotional connection between your product and users. And there’s no better way to do that than through stories. People gravitate towards a compelling narrative, especially if it is one that is similar to their lives.

Hence, using stories is also a natural way to design a product. Storyboarding is a sequence of visuals to narrate a user’s experience, emotions, thoughts, and motivation when using your product to solve their problems. It’s a concept borrowed from filmmaking and comics, where each scene is laid out in sequence before it goes into production.

A storyboard has a user persona and the scenario that the user is in, which is usually a problem the user is facing or something the user desires. For this article, I will use a fashion retail company. A typical user and scenario could look like:

User: Julia, 35, works full time
Scenario: During lunch time, she realises she needs to buy a formal dress for an important company event that night.

Through a series of sketches and captions, you will depict how Julia manages to achieve her goal of buying a frock in a short time frame. A storyboard allows you to imagine the sequence of events that Julia (user) goes through, and identify ways you can design your solution better, so things run smoothly for her.

Storyboarding is best done as a team activity, which means they are perfect in a design sprint. The best thing about a storyboard is everyone can create one and contribute to it in a discussion because they are just simple hand sketches. It is much simpler than a user journey map or a UX/UI flowchart.

You could create storyboards that are videos, animation, or any type of medium. It just takes longer, and isn’t ideal when you’re brainstorming as a team. As long as the sketches can be understood by everyone in the room, why complicate things?

Example of a basic storyboard

Why should you use a storyboard?

1. Storyboards help convey ideas and plans better

In a design sprint or any problem-solving session, you will typically have people with different skill sets, from designers to marketers and business leaders. By using a visual medium such as a storyboard, you are able to convey your ideas, plans and scenarios much better. Brainstorming also becomes easier when everybody just gets the point. People get pictures, and it sticks in their mind better. It simplifies the complex.

2. Storyboards help the ideation process

Storyboards are handy during the product discovery phase, especially when you’re designing a new product. A storyboard forces you to think visually, and imagine yourself as the user persona. The team will be able to identify potential roadblocks, loopholes, and opportunities better, as you draw out each step the user takes, and consider the thoughts and emotions behind it.

3. Storyboards help in usability testing

You can use storyboards to help design usability tests. By mapping out all the possible scenarios a user might do, you are able to see all that could go wrong in a test, and redesign a better one. It’s also quick to whip out a storyboard when playing out a scenario.

4. Storyboards help you make better decisions

Some people are more visual learners, and work better with pictures or videos. And when you’re in a room with top management and leaders, it is also much easier to present a storyboard for them to digest, especially with multiple scenarios that are complex.

When is it best to use a storyboard in UX design?

I have found storyboarding to be essential when the end-to-end process is complex and involves both online and offline events. This is especially true in the retail environment, as we’ve done a lot of work on this with our clients at Relab.

A simple example is ordering online for store pickup, returning a faulty product for a refund, or booking a service and completing the appointment on site. Another common one is hearing a promo on the radio, seeing an ad on tv, a social media post or live event, and then heading online to buy or register.

There will be multiple touchpoints for the users, in real-life and online, that makes it much easier to map everything out in a storyboard to see all the possible actions a user may take. In a design sprint, I will use a paper for each sequence, stick them on a wall, and then everyone in the room can discuss, and rearrange the sequence to paint a better story and outcome for the user.

How to create a storyboard

A storyboard’s purpose is to tell a story. Therefore, you need a:

  • character (user persona)
  • backstory (scenario and goals)
  • conflict (the problem)
  • resolution (the solution)

A storyboard will also outline the journey the user takes, which may have:

  • the lows (when something goes wrong, or the user did something wrong)
  • the highs (when user achieves something, like a climax)
  • the emotions and thoughts of the users as they go through the journey

You’ll need to think about these elements when you’re designing a storyboard, in order to cover a lot, if not all, the bases. These are the common steps to creating a useful and meaningful storyboard with a team:

  1. Identify the key pieces: Determine your user, scenario, goals, conflict, resolution, and key moments in the story. Bear in mind that the conflict, resolution, and key moments may change as you brainstorm with your team.
  2. Use the right tools: A low-fidelity (hand-drawn) visual is enough to do the job. Use pen, paper or any software that allows fast sketching.
  3. Draw the most logical or common scenario: Nominate one illustrator to draw, and this doesn’t have to be a designer. I usually do this myself when I’m facilitating a design sprint.
  4. Add annotations to your sketches: These are elements such as feelings, thoughts, context, and notes specific to a particular scene.
  5. Discuss and draw each step: Play out all the different possible scenarios for your user, for each logical sequence. You don’t have to draw every single moment, just the key interactions and highlights of the journey. Stories have a beginning, middle and, ending, so try to draw a compelling narrative.
  6. Learn more about your user: As you draw, you may discover key moments, decisions, and touchpoints, when the user interacts with your product or service, that you didn’t think of. You may also uncover scenarios where your product or service could be introduced or help your user better.
  7. Iterate: Don’t stop after you finish your first storyboard. You’ll need to iterate as a team to refine and improve the story. How else could your product help? Is there an opportunity to cut down the actions required? Have you accounted for a situation where your user makes a mistake?

Storyboarding is a simple method that is easily understood by non-designers, but is useful enough to create impactful solutions. We are all drawn to a good narrative, and for some people, this is the best way to generate ideas. Some of the storyboards I have helped create have proven to be an invaluable tool for the sales and marketing team, as it helps them understand the user problems better.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.