The MGS Blog

Friday, October 31, 2014

Storyboarding ideas

Why should I care about what you've got to say?
Storyboarding is a technique I can use to help craft my message (Reynolds, 2008). Going about the business of presenting ideas has to be seen as a process. It's a creative process that rarely proceeds in linear, sequential fashion from initial concept through to completed work. The problem with software tools like PowerPoint is just that, they are tools, part of my equipment but not the source of my inspiration nor necessarily the subject matter. That said the tools are great aides for producing 'the work' but I need to include all the equipment I'm going to use because it's all part of the process and therefore necessary and relevant: sticky notes, whiteboard, back-of-a-napkin, sheets of paper, and software tools.

Foremost I should know what my message is. In this case, I want to convince others that storyboarding is a great way of structuring a persuasive narrative. I also want to link this to the idea that the media I use is merely an adjunct to the the narrative, even when I capture and distill my story in a close-ended format like film. What I mean is by this is that the narrative still needs me (and you the audience) to interpret it.

Garr Reynolds describes 'crafting the story' as a process, a process that takes place over a number of steps (Reynolds, 2008). I'll use the phrase 'categories' rather than steps. The process of crafting the story starts from a 'core message after which we branch into a mixed sequence of activities that I'll paraphrase from Reynolds as follows:
  • Brainstorming
  • Grouping & identifying the core
  • Layout and organising
  • Dry run and re-organising
Implicit in the process is its iterative, non-linear nature.

Let's look at "The Learner's Journey in Practice" by Brian Sawyer to illustrate the narrative of a story and an approach to structuring it. Sawyer presents a case of storyboarding with a colleague (Michael Milton) to outline the detail of a book chapter. They structure the chapter around a learner's learning process. They start from a basic linear narrative ploy, learning as a journey with a beginning, middle, and end. The learner they envisage needs to cover a number of major points and the major points are interspersed with supporting subtopics. They then create a scenario, a "learner's journey", to overlay the storyline. Sawyer then uses the idea of an actual reader undergoing his or her own learning experience; feeling the peaks and troughs of accomplishment, the 'oh crap' valleys and the 'I rule' moments. The scenario becomes a narrative tool to refine the chapter content, order, and presentation.

Sawyer's linear story is just one way of depicting what Reynolds calls layout. But how does the scenario work? The story is the simple linear sequence but the narrative is what they construct around the bare facts of the story. The narrative sketches how someone (a generic audience) encounters the facts as they are presented or made available 'in order'. Perhaps most important and implied but not explicit is that the rough notes, the storyline and the narrative structure are also necessary tools and technique for communicating ideas these. In the first instance Sawyer might be working alone but still putting ideas down and re-engaging with them, reorganising them. This process of capturing, organising, reorganising is a simple compelling account of what goes into presenting ideas but a lot of work has taken place prior to this stage; the goal of the book, deciding what the chapters should cover, how the chapters relate to each other etc.

Quick and Easy Video with a Flip Cam (
A Guide to Student-Generated Videos(
The following tutorials from UCD's School of Information and Library Studies (SILS) may be of interest (note that JayCut, the Blackboard Wiki, and other systems they describe are no longer available).

Storyboarding is also used as a user-design technique for systems development. For examples see The Importance of Storyboarding Your iPhone App by Josh Clark and Storyboard technique for software projects by Adam Musial-Bright.

Reynolds, G. (2008) Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, Berkeley, CA, New Riders.
Sawyer, B. (2009) The Learner's Journey in Practice. (

Here's my pitch for you to 'storyboard' and some tips on how to do it.

Storyboarding from Allen Higgins on Vimeo.