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  • Writer's pictureantoniodellomo

Storyboarding In UX Design

In order to create better products, designers must understand what’s going on in the user’s world and understand how their products can make the user’s life better. And that’s where storyboards come in.

We all know the value of user interviews or personas. We agree that testing is a crucial part of product design. In contrast, people do not commonly use storyboarding, even though it can help in many situations. Storyboards show what a design enables the user to accomplish without specifying a particular user interface.

Why use a storyboard?

There are many ways to tell a story. The impact of showing a user persona as they walk through the experience is a way to understand and have more context. A storyboard is a way to communicate and does not have to focus on illustration as a skill set. Instead, it helps to focus on what the priorities are for users. Storyboards in UX design are engaging even with minimal sketches, and they are flexible. They can be erased, drawn over, made in pencil, and modified, as they are not finite in form. A storyboard in UX will help create insight into the user’s experience and should be made with a goal in mind for the team.

Why does storytelling matter in UX?

Stories are an effective and inexpensive way to capture, convey and explore experiences in the design process. In UX design, this technique has the following benefits:

  • Human-centered approach

Storyboards put people at the heart of the design process. They put a human face on analytics data and research findings.

  • Forces thinking about user flow

Designers are able to walk in the shoes of their users and see the products in a similar light. This helps designers to understand existing scenarios of interaction, as well as to test hypotheses about potential scenarios.

  • Prioritizes what’s important

Storyboards also reveal what you don’t need to spend money on. Thanks to them, you can cut out a lot of unnecessary work.

  • Allows for “pitch and critique” method

Storyboarding is a team-based activity, and everyone on a team can contribute to it (not just designers). Similar to the movie industry, each scene should be critiqued by all team members. Approaching UX with storytelling inspires collaboration. This can spark new design concepts.

When to storyboard

Storyboarding earlier on in the design process is a good way to ensure the user needs are being considered. Storyboarding is also a way to ensure that you are building an accessible experience when the inclusive design is a part of the goal. It’s done early on to gather insights from the team to see if everyone is striving towards the same goal. Storyboarding is useful for participatory design. Participatory design involves all parties (stakeholders, UI and UX designers, developers, researchers) in the design process, to ensure that the result is as good as possible. It can also be helpful during design sprints and hackathons, when the prototype is being built by multiple people in a very short time. Communicating design decisions with a storyboard really come in handy.

How to work out a story structure?

If you are going to create a visual representation of stories to communicate user issues to others, there’s some preparation to be done to make them logical, understandable, and convincing in their arguments. Each story should have the following essential elements:

Character: The specific persona involved in your story. Their behaviors, appearance, and expectations, as well as any decisions they make along the way, are very important. Revealing what is going on in your character’s mind is essential to a successful illustration of their experience in the storyboard.

Scene: It’s an environment that the character finds herself in (real-world contexts that involve place and people).

Plot: All too often you designers jump straight into explaining the details of their design without first explaining the back story. Don’t be one of them — your story must be created with a structure in mind, there should be an obvious beginning, middle, and end. The narrative that unfolds in your storyboard should focus on a goal for the character. The plot should start with a specific trigger and end with either the benefit of the solution or a problem that the character is left with. Try using Freytag’s Pyramid in structuring your plot.

Stories tend to follow a narrative structure that looks a lot like a pyramid. Freytag’s Pyramid, showing the five parts or acts: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action (or final suspense and resolution), and Denouement (Conclusion). Ben Crothers added a quick story into the pyramid about a guy and his phone that won’t work.

Storyboard Template. Image credit Nielsen Norman Group.

To make your story powerful, try to make it as much authentic as possible. The main thing is to make the character, their goal, and what happens in their experience as clear as possible. Also, cut out any unnecessary extras. No matter how good a sentence, picture, or page maybe, if it doesn’t add value to the overall message, you should remove it. Finally, it’s essential to communicate the emotional state of your character throughout their experience. Remember to always use storyboards to illustrate experiences. Add emotions to your story. Add emoticons to each step, to help others get a feel for what’s going on inside the character’s head. Remember to illustrate any reactions to success/pain points along the way.

Smile and sadness on human faces can add emotions to your story and it comes alive in the hearts and minds of your audience. Image credit: Chelsea Hostetter, Austin Center for Design


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