How to Use Storyboards for Product Development

It’s a common scene at many tech companies today:

Marketer Mary has an idea for a new product. Mary thinks this product will be a huge winner and goes to tech to have them build it. Developer Diane hears Mary’s idea and tells her she will start working on it. As Diane continues to build out functionality, she realizes that the product will actually be much more efficient if she combines some of the parts and cuts out others. Diane finishes building the product and sends it over to Creative Chris. Chris meets with Mary to discuss the product’s UI, where Mary explains her ideas. Chris gets to work. He starts to incorporate Mary’s ideas but quickly realizes that he has a much better and more interesting UI concept in mind, and eventually completes the product that way. Once the project is complete, Mary is upset. The product has neither the functionality she asked for, nor does the UI allow the user to navigate the product properly. All three departments go back to the drawing board to redo the product, and a significant amount of time and money has been wasted.

This situation is no one person’s fault:

  • Mary should have explained to Diane and Chris her clear end goal of the product and let them create it with the goal in mind.
  • Diane and Chris should have understood that Mary was asking for specific functionalities and UI for a reason. They should have worked together to create a concept that works for everyone.

An underutilized tool for solving these issues is storyboards.

 

a six-panel storyboard shows how different teams would build a tree swing, many of them class=

Communication and consensus is key to successful product development.

What is a Storyboard?

A storyboard is a collection of cells that each depicts an image and together narrate a story or journey. Historically, storyboards were most commonly used in media or film production but product developers are now incorporating storyboarding into their processes. Creating a storyboards forces product developers to think through a process in a step-by-step manner allowing them to design streamlined user experiences. 

Why Use Storyboards?

Traditionally, storyboards have been used in media and film to plan out video shots before investing time and resources into the actual production. The use of storyboards for product development and UX design is not that much different. Storyboards allow product designers to easily and inexpensively test multiple product visions, customer journey maps, and UX product flows until a clear final product design is created and understood by all departments.

a six-panel storyboard shows the beginning of a new product by highlighting the user's class=

Storyboards can be an empathetic tool to describe the user’s problem.

Start with the product vision. This is a simple statement, story, or example of how you want the product to function and what objective you want it to achieve. The vision helps the product developer understand the user’s journey as they interact with the product and design the product around the user’s needs.

Creating a few product visions and working across departments is an essential first step to developing a product. Use this step to communicate the product goals to the development team and to create a realistic timeframe for feature development and market release. A storyboard allows for a clearer understanding from the start of how the product is intended to be built and minimizes the chances for miscommunications as the development process continues.

a six-panel storyboard highlighting the company's class=

Use storyboards to quickly show differences between the user and buyer of the product.

Next, storyboarding helps create customer journey maps of your target personas. It’s important to remember that your product users and your product purchasers may not be the same people, and therefore you will have to cater both your product design and marketing efforts differently depending on which audience you’re trying to reach. Work with your team and narrow down a few key buyer personas. Step into their shoes and walk through what you think their process would be, step-by-step, when it comes to realizing what problem they have, looking for a solution, purchasing your product, and finally seeing positive results from the product implementation. Creating a customer journey map storyboard allows developers to experience the product discovery and purchasing process, which in turn can maximize your conversion rate.

Finally, it’s time to dig into the actual UX/UI of the product. When developing a product’s functionality and flow, it’s easy to either miss essential steps that we chalk up in our own heads as “automatic” or do the opposite and get carried away and create superfluous user required actions. Creating a storyboard allows product developers to easily walk through a sample UX step-by-step. The exercise points out holes and problems, where a user might get lost in the process or wasteful steps that may decrease conversion rate.

a six-panel storyboard highlighting the product UI screens and user class=

Much like low-fidelity prototyping tools, storyboards can show product screens and key user flows.

Storyboards are a low investment activity and are easy to iterate, manipulate, and pivot based on feedback from coworkers or user testing. It’s easy to create a few UX examples and work with the product design team to decide which one is the simplest, most streamlined, and will lead to the highest possible conversion rate.

How to Get Started

Here are some guiding questions to help you create storyboards for each of the three essential product development milestones:

Creating a product vision:

  • What problem are my target users currently experiencing?
  • What would help alleviate this problem?
  • How will my product provide this form of problem alleviation?
  • What does a “happy user” look like?

Creating a customer journey map for key user personas:

  • Who would be buying my product? How old are they? What is their professional background? What are their motivations (both personal and professional)?
  • What problem are my buyers currently experiencing?
  • How would they come across my product as a solution?
  • What problems would they face when either trying to purchase my product, or implement it in their business?
  • What would success from our product look like from our buyer’s perspective?

Creating a user experience flow:

  • Where do you want your users to land?
  • What is the “hook” that will stop them from bouncing on your page?
  • Do you need different landing pages for different types of users?
  • How can you capture their contact info so your sales team can follow up on a lead?
  • Are all the steps necessary? Can you cut any out to streamline the flow and increase conversion rate?
  • Is there a clear and obvious way for the users to purchase the product?

Keeping these guiding questions in mind, it’s time to start creating. Create a storyboard from scratch or use a premade template like the one below to help you get started. Play around with different ideas and discuss with coworkers across departments. Iterate your storyboards until consensus has been reached and everyone clearly understands the action items for starting the product development process. Make sure to keep your storyboards handy and constantly update them throughout the design process. As ideas change and grow so should your storyboards!

a six-panel storyboard class=

Get started by using a template.

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