How Storyboarding Can Transform Insights

Every business wants to connect more deeply with customers and users. However, there are certain tools that you can implement that will elevate your solutions and customer satisfaction. One of these critical methods to learn is storyboarding.

When doing user research, it can be really hard to synthesize the information you’ve gathered into a digestible problem - one that you can illustrate to management and base your solutions off of. Storyboarding in the design-thinking world is a technique used to pinpoint specific user needs based on a real persona of the user discovered through needfinding research and user interviews. Storyboarding will help you answer "What problem is my user facing?"

Funnily enough, our brains are actually hardwired to love storytelling. Boiling down your user research into a single short story can help you conceptualize the problem and connect with your user on an emotional level.


Storyboarding isn’t a new technique, though. For years, writers, directors, and animators have used storyboarding as a technique to express the general storyline of the movie before the real artists come in to do detailed renderings. Check out this storyboard from Disney’s ‘The Lion King’:



Each picture communicates a specific and relevant moment in the progression of the scene. Note that this is a really advanced drawing! For our purposes, we are not talking about doing advanced drawing here - the most important part of a storyboard is expressing the user’s situation in a step-by-step progression. You don't need any art training as you can communicate what’s going on.

On the flipside, learning how to do some quick little drawings, as seen below, can actually help you understand the situation better. Drawing pictures can help you focus on human needs instead of technology, business needs or limitations, plus pictures are often more memorable than words. Storyboards also come with captions and extra markings to help describe what’s going on in the story, so the pressure does not fall on your artistic abilities alone.



Simple storyboard for train ticket purchase

We’ll take you through five easy steps to get started with storyboarding!

A note before beginning: Don't be daunted by having to draw things! Storyboarding is just about getting the *story* across, so stick figures are great! The goal is to show your audience, managers, design team, etc. the most boiled-down, salient points from your user interviews. The storyboard is a tool you can use to remember the emotions, frustrations and struggles your user had, and during the design process you can keep coming back to it to ask "are we solving the problems our user is facing?"

1. Pick a story

After conducting user interviews you will have talked to lots of people about the problems they face in their day to day experience. It might be an overwhelming amount of information! To create a storyboard, pick one user interview to hone in on. Try to pick the story that has the most specific details and strongest emotions. If you saw common themes across your user interviews, pick a user that embodies those common themes.

Example: Say you want to analyze the issues that industrial chefs face in the kitchen. You’ve visited lots of kitchens and watched lots of chefs cook meals. Across these interviews you notice a recurring theme: that chefs spend many long hours cutting vegetables, often in a hunched posture, which many have commented on in interviews. You choose to revisit the story of a specific chef named Julia, who is a tall basketball coach but also works at a restaurant at night, and returns home often with back pain.

2. Figure out your beginning, middle and end

Some users will give you a lot of information about their situation, daily lives, etc. You need to figure out what parts of this information is important. Think back to the interview, look at the notes you wrote, review any videos or photos. Oftentimes, user storyboards can be encapsulated by a single "how-to" title. (How I make coffee, how I get to school in the morning, etc.) Try to figure out what process you user is going through, and where the story really starts. This process should connect back to the problem space you are designing for.

If you are focusing on how chefs cut vegetables, what is the first step? You decide to start with when Julia brings out all the tools (cutting board, knife, cut bin, vegetables).

3. Draw simple pictures

Go for it! Make a grid of small boxes with spaces for captions underneath. Feel free to use stick figures to represent people, and break down other complicated shapes (like a knife) into simpler ones (maybe rectangle/line for handle and triangle or half moon for the blade).  Also add speech bubbles, arrows and other features to express movement and conflict. Again, don't worry about creating a perfect drawing. Just try to show the most important details and emotions.



4. Add short, descriptive captions

For ideas you can't express in your drawing, add a little caption at the bottom. The caption serves as a "narration" to the story.



5. Present and/or revise your story!

Once you're done, read it over! Read it to someone else, the rest of your team, or even the user you wrote about. Does it accurately capture the story you observed during your user research? Did you end up getting the start and end points right or does the story actually start earlier than you thought? You may have to go back and revise it. Getting the story straight, simple and clear will help you design relevant solutions to the problem.

We hope this article has given you a toolkit to start storyboarding during your design process. Once you’ve created a storyboard about user needs you’re at a great place to dive into problem identification, and later ideation. You may want to create another storyboard at the end of your design process to express how your solution solves the issues faced by your user. Overall it is a great visual, hands-on technique to clarify insights from user research and focus your ideation not just on a single problem, but a process.

We’d love to see your storyboards - share with us on Facebook, Instagram, or email to!

Written by

Clara Dewey