How storyboarding can help you to make your ideas tangible

Stories are a fundamental part of being human. We turn just about everything we experience into a story, to remember it better and tell it to others. In a business context, storyboards are an essential tool to visualize an experience from start to finish and communicate your ideas. If you make your ideas come alive, they become more powerful, as you are able to share them with other people to discuss, refine and iterate them. That is why you should definitely look into the topic of storyboarding. In this article, I will explain what a storyboard is, how it can help your business, and provide you with hands-on tips on how to create your own storyboard.

Definition: What is storyboarding? What is a storyboard?

Storyboarding is the process of creating a visual representation of a story through static frames. These can for example be drawings, images, cartoons, or photos. Text is used to add context, e.g. speech, thoughts or background information. The finished piece is called storyboard.

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When to use a storyboard?

We know storyboards from the film industry. They are used during the pre-production process to visualize the script as picture story and essentially show what is taking place in the film. But storyboarding is not just for film makers and animators. It can also be used in a business context. Marketing specialists leverage storyboard to create engaging advertisements and marketing campaigns. In business innovation, storyboards are used as prototyping tool to visualize your ideas and tell the story of an experience from start to finish .  They make it possible to show the user’s perspective and how the idea fits into their world, including actions, thoughts, goals, emotions, and relationships. In addition, it helps to illustrate the benefits and gain useful feedback. Also software developers like to use a storyboard as part of identifying the requirements for software during the specification phase.

Business Innovation and storyboarding: why it helps to communicate your innovative idea

Having an innovative idea is one thing, but if you want to let it develop fully, you need to share it with others. By doing that, you instantly open the door for more diverse and widespread opinions, discussion, feedback, and other people’s ideas to mix with yours. No matter how great your idea is, there is always opportunity for improvement. If you share your it with others, new and better ideas can arise from it. This way your idea will grow and become more powerful. In order to share your idea, you need to make it tangible, so that everybody can understand it. And here is where storyboards come into play: they can help you communicating your ideas and sharing them with other people. Story boards are a great tool to translate your ideas into a graphical, i.e. visual form. We process visual content faster, understand it better and remember it more easily. In addition, it brings everybody on the same page and ensures a common understanding.

An example of storyboarding in action: SAP Fiori Makers Bootcamp

SAP Fiori Makers bootcamp is an intense, four-day workshop in which designers, developers and end-users work together to create a clickable SAP Fiori prototype. It follows a user-centric and design-oriented approach, based on Design Thinking methodology. As the end user is in the focus, a first step is to find out their problems and needs for a specific use case. Based on this information a persona and a storyboard are created. The story board as visual representation of the as-is user journey is perfect for collaboration. It helps to understand the individual steps the user needs to go through and thus makes it possible to identify challenges and pain points. To speed up the process, a physical toolkit called SAP Scenes is used. It provides different elements such as people, speech bubbles, and backgrounds to put the story together in a short time. After a common understanding is established, new ideas are developed and translated into a clickable prototype that can be used for feedback and validation with more end users. The storyboard is a crucial tool for creating better software. If you want to know more about SAP Fiori Makers Bootcamp, watch the video or read the blog post.

Storyboards in software development

In addition to visualizing a user journey or experience, as-is or to-be, storyboarding can also be used in a later stage in software development when identifying the specifications for a particular feature or app. During the prototyping phase, screens that the software will show are visualized. The screens can either be drawn on paper or whiteboard or built using specialized mock-up software. Put into a sequence, they illustrate the important steps of the user experience. The storyboard is then used for sharing it with the customers i.e. end-users to iterate until it fits their specific needs. Storyboarding is very powerful during software engineering because it helps the users understand exactly how the software will work, much better than an abstract description that just consists of text. In addition, it is cheaper to make changes to a storyboard than implemented software. It is also especially helpful in the context of digital innovation when you are trying to explore new technologies which might seem very fluffy and abstract at first but can be made tangible using a story board.

4 reasons how storyboarding can help your business

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Here are some reasons how storyboarding can help your business:

Create a common understanding

A storyboard can help to get everyone aligned. The visuals make the abstract ideas tangible and help to get everyone on the same page. Communication issues especially in interdisciplinary teams can be resolved because language and cultural barriers are broken down. Thus, a common understanding can be established.

Get buy-in from stakeholders

Drawings and visualized stories can be used in meetings to communicate. The content is not only more engaging and interesting, but also easier to understand. In addition to illustrating an idea or experience, a story also brings the value of a certain idea across. This simplified communication helps you to convey your idea and makes it more likely to achieve a desired outcome, e.g. to get the buy-in from your stakeholders.

Get quick feedback from users

By creating and presenting a low-fidelity story board, you can get quick feedback from users.You can detect aspects that are still unresolved in your solution proposal or further refine it. This enables you to go through fast prototype iteration cycles.

Avoid losing much time and much money

Although it takes a bit of time to create a good story board in the beginning, it saves you a lot of time later in the process. Like all prototypes, the goal of a story board is to make your ideas tangible and share them. The story board can then be discussed and iterated to meet the needs of the end users. Once agreed, the requirements can directly be derived from the story board. This is very helpful. But what is even more helpful is that you can make changes and adjustments at early stages in the process. The earlier you notice a mistake, the better to fix it without losing much time and money.

Storyboarding step by step: how can you build your own storyboard?

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Storyboarding process step by step

  1. Determine what you want to test and prototype: do you want the storyboard to show one aspect of your idea or to visualize the entire experience from start to finish?
  2. Decide for a tool: you can build the storyboard the old-school way drawing it by hand or you can build it digitally with any tool that lets you create individual slides or frames.
  3. Setting the scene: who is your main persona / the persona in focus? What is his / her background? What is he / she trying to achieve? Which other personas do you need?
  4. Brainstorm key moments, bring them into an order and add scenes in between as necessary.
  5. Add details such as text, speech, thoughts, and build a short narrative.

5 important tips to help you make great storyboards

  • Remember to focus on your story: who is your story about, what is the setting, what are you trying to achieve?
  • Do not try to make it perfect in the first go. Iterate and test it with your team and “friendly” critics.
  • Do not get hung up on your drawing abilities. This is not about creating something that looks beautiful, but to think through your concept. You do not need to be an artist! Stick figures are great 😊
  • Use post-it notes or individual sheets so you can be more flexible and rearrange their order.
  • If it is faster: write down something as text instead of drawing it complicatedly. Being visual does not necessarily mean that everything needs to be visual.

Storyboarding tools: how to get started right away…

You are highly motivated and want to get started right away? The simplest and easiest way is to draw your storyboard by hand. You only need a pen, paper or for a more flexible story sticky notes to put the individual scenes on them that you can re-shuffle later. You cannot draw? That is not a problem. Remember, it is all about visualizing your idea, not about creating a piece of art. So you can go ahead with stick figures and easy visuals. If you want to learn the very basics of sketching, have a look at the Be Visual! Sketching Basics for IT Business class which is available through openSAP.

Do you prefer to create storyboards in a digital format? No problem. You can build storyboards digitally with any tool that lets you create individual slides or frames, e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint. You can use the built-in clipart. In case you want to use pictures or graphics from the Internet, be sure to check out the corresponding licenses for use.

SAP Scenes for storyboarding as a free tool for digital storyboards

If you want to explore and iterate your ideas fast with little effort, SAP Scenes might be the right thing for you to create a digital storyboard. The professionally designed toolkit contains library of illustrations for your stories that can be easily adapted to a wide variety of use-cases. The building blocks contain characters, office furniture, callouts, buildings, devices, backgrounds, and many more. It is available as digital version which has been especially designed for creating storyboards in a collaborative setting. For more information and download, check out the SAP Scenes website. If you are using MURAL, you also might want to check out the vision board template that can be used to validate initial concepts or pitch ideas to stakeholders and derive requirements for development.

Storyboards as powerful tool for the innovation manager

In my role as innovation manager, I use story boards a lot. Especially when it comes to sampling new and innovative technologies, a visual representation of an idea can make a big difference. It helps to spark imagination about a possible and desirable future. To learn more about the work of an innovation manager, I recommend reading the Digital Innovation manager blog post. If you are interested in technology foresight and exploration as well as thought leadership, follow our digital innovation blog to stay up to date.

Example of a storyboard with SAP Scenes

Explore the story of Max, a truck driver, built with the SAP Scenes toolkit.

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Storyboard Introduction

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The main personas

Conclusion

Storyboards are a crucial tool when it comes to communicating your ideas. They can be used at several stages of the software development process for different purposes: in an early phase to visualize an experience from start to finish or later to show how concrete software screens could look like. By using storyboards you create a common understanding which helps you to get buy-in from your stakeholders as well as actionable feedback from your end-users. Thus you avoid loosing much time and money. While there are plenty of tools to create digital story boards, you can also get started right away drawing it by hand. Make sure that whatever approach you use, you can easily tweak and modify your storyboards since storyboarding is a highly iterative process.

Did you already use storybaords? What were your biggest learnings and hardest challenges? I’m curious to hear about your experience and feedback in the comments.

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