The Humble Storyboard is almost 80 years old. Is it time for its retirement?

The Humble Storyboard is almost 80 years old. Is it time for its retirement?

A month ago, Connie Malamed posted a discussion in LinkedIn inviting readers to donate storyboard formats to be offered as a resource to the eLearning fraternity. Many have offered the formats they were using. You can find them at the eLearning coach. I too sent a couple of them (yet to be uploaded; Connie is a terribly busy person but still finds time to maintain an extremely useful site for learning professionals like us).

That started my thinking about this fairly “low-tech” component in a high tech world of technology-based learning and corporate training. I was amazed to discover that our ubiquitous storyboard is actually an 80-year old Ancient 🙂 . The humble word document that serves us in developing eLearning courseware has an interesting history. According to Wikipedia, the first storyboard was developed at the Walt Disney studio during the early 1930s for the 1933 Disney’s Three Little Pigs! I also learnt that it is used in many ways by many professions – Film, Theater, Advertising, TV, Publishing, Business, eLearning…

We at CommLab use MS Word to make our storyboards. PowerPoint is also used by some and Authoring tools by a few. But I think ‘MS Word’ is by far the most extensively used in developing online course storyboards. Connie has a very useful section, “Storyboards for eLearning” on her site for those who wish to pick up some tips.

I wonder if we can give the ol’ storyboard a ‘makeover? Can we come up with a tool that offers all the following.

  • Desktop Publishing software like Ventura or PageMaker to build a tailor-made formats with ease
  • PowerPoint to create some elementary animation
  • Clip Art Gallery for images / photographs
  • Various Assessment Components that can just be selected and populated
  • Audio / Video Gallery of music, standard instructions, video clips…
  • Dictionary and Thesaurus

Any more ideas?

Thank you for reading my blog. I look forward to your comments.

RK Prasad


  • Funny but I’ve noticed in the eLearning community the use of storyboards has become almost a controversial subject. There are many instances when the humble storyboard CAN be retired. Teams can try working with mind maps, or prototype and storyboard directly into the tool, as with Captivate and Articulate Presenter (using PowerPoint).

    Then again, there are many times when a storyboard IS needed. Perhaps they are demanded by company policy or the client or perhaps its needed to communicate with a big team, a bunch of SMEs, etc.

    Anyway, I like your idea of coming up with a new approach. I always thought a three-dimensional storyboard would be perfect!

    Gotta go. Have to upload RK’s storyboards now to The eLearning Coach. Busy busy.

  • I think you are talking about two seperate things here.

    1. Storyboards as presentation tool.

    2. Storyboards as functional tools to plan out a real shoot.

    Many, many agencies spend tens of thousands of the client’s budget trying to sell an idea by making a concept look good in drawn form…the storyboard.

    That part is wasteful because the money should be better spent towards the actual production and what is seen in the final spot. Loose but well thought out storyboards are needed 100% of the time.

    Bad agencies produce glamour boards that are not functional but look nice. In these cases that can be retired.

    However, no production will run smoothly without well planned storyboards. Today I received a set of boards (I am a former Chicago creative director turned director) that are pencil sketches. They are so well thought out I can focus in on executing them. And all of the production money will be spent on things the consumer will actually see instead of wasting money to focus group pretty storyboards that function only as meeting fodder.

  • Steve Lumley

    I agree with Michael’s comment completely. I work in the animation industry and although most storyboards these days are drawn digitally they are still a necessity and the most cost effective planning and development process for either 2d or 3D films.

    With the cost of production in the tens of millions of dollars you have to know how your film is working, if the emotional impact can reach and carry an audience before you get into production. Not only can producers and directors know if they have a viable movie but can budget and schedule accurately.

    For action and VFX sequences or live action films that don’t rely on character and emotion you can storyboard or in a lot of studios now go direct previz in a 3D program.

    The physical production of storyboards is more diversified today and you can use all sorts of tricks with programs like Adobe After Effects but I believe Storyboards will still be around for some time to come yet.

  • franklyn margasak

    I read the article with curiosity, I went to Michael’s website, cecked it out, looked at the video and other pieces on his site, I was unable to access Connie’s website, checked out what was available by the author, you obviously are clueless in regards to the value of storyboards, both for TV and Feature Films. I was fortunate to have spent most of my storyboard life in Chicago, 1971 to 1985, I did thousands of frames for most of the better agencies in town. My dear Sudhaker, the point of view gave the frame life, the finish was determined mostly by how brain dead the client was, so you had to lead to water and then pour it down his or her throat. So the storyboard artist along with the writer and art director breathed life into an idea, created some brilliant TV spots, enhanced product viability, and kept the creative process alive. It was a time when good aimed for great. Look at what remains, stealing images from the internet, making them fit or even worse have their tired images give birth to even more tired images, now good has been replaced by good enough and worse, creative directors and even sadder art directors can’t even draw a stick figure, the level of acceptance is dictated by the lack of the creative process. There are still those who battle through occasionally (usually a new presentation) by trying to find the other dinosaur, a storyboard artist.
    I work every day on the computer doing work on the Cintiq, photoshop, painter, illustrator, LightWave, making it work. But I still miss the invention of making you viewpoint a camera, the feel of the marker squeaking over the paper, making the images rough, finished, breaking the borders, just creating, having fun and getting paid as well.

  • Seth Kearsley
  • I agree with the last writer. Truth be told, the best thing about a storyboard is that you get to draw with a pencil on paper. The computer doesn’t replace that. Drawing by hand feeds something in us, and we are all starving to death by computer – cutting us off from our artistic selves. Go grab a pencil and do some drawing – the act will revive your creative spirit.

  • Billy Pittard

    Storyboards are as basic as pencil and paper. It’s easier, faster, and more effective to develop and refine ideas for sequential media with a storyboard than any other way -especially when you are working with pencil and paper. The moment you start using digital tools to develop ideas, you become constrained in your thinking to what those digital tools want to do. The same issue applies to graphic designers who jump onto Illustrator to develop a design. It is, however fine to use digital tools at a later stage of development – especially if the boards are for presentation. Storyboards are simply a way to pre-visualize a sequence in the most expedient manner. I know some people like to think it’s possible to cut out all of this incremental stuff and just produce the finished work – but that is completely unrealistic for quality work. A creative project is really a sequence of a thousand choices. Storyboards are a tool to help make those choices in an efficient manner. Of course I’m talking about quality work — but if you don’t care about quality, skip the storyboard and enjoy your crap!

  • Hey everyone, I think we may be talking about two different things here. Storyboards are obviously needed for a video shoot, tv production and for animations. But I believe Prasad (and myself) were focusing on storyboards for eLearning courses. Probably most eLearning designers use storyboards, but they may also storyboard right in the authoring tools and/or some people go right into prototyping and collaborate with the client first.

  • Thank you folks for sharing your experiences in your respective domains. Very interesting. But, Connie echoed my response.

  • Mikael Wirén

    Very interesting, reading other peoples use of the storyboard as a tool. I agree that it seems e-learning people are talking about a differnt thing from ad/film people.
    I´ve had the opportunity working with both “sides”.
    For me a storyboard is the planning of a scene “in toto”, not specific wordings in a test area. Usually we have a rough sketch, showing the scenery, on stage objects, camera angle and ligthing. This is companioned with a “technical specification” written in a simple wordprocessor. Stating everything from buttonmodes to animation sequences to interactions and navigation options. If we´d put this into a framework where working with presets is the way to go, that would put e-learning back in the mid 90´s faster than it took me to write this post.
    My vote goes for “no tech” any day.
    -Structure: Post-it notes / whiteboard
    -Storyboard: markers and white paper
    -Spec: taperecorder / wordprocessor
    -Design: paper / computer
    -Production: pick your favourite weapon thats right for the specific job.
    I try and always remember that a computer is dumb by default.

  • This is int. for film/animation as well:

  • Niall

    I still use storyboards in elearning. They enable me to organise content in a logical sequence with appropriate activities. This is kept separate from the interface design which may be sketched before being developed as a mockup in Photoshop. Rapid development tools such as Articulate or Captivate allow you to develop as you design. But as always planning and preparation improve the quality of the learning materials.

  • Franklyn.

    I hired the awesome storyboard artist at the Art Bunch in Chicago monthly. They always plused each TV spot. The level of craft and discermment has dropped so much but there are still those of us that undrestand .

  • jake3_14

    I just finished a week of grueling SME review of storyboards for an e-learning course on basic product knowledge for a company. It’s going to be text heavy DBT (deadly boring training), where most of the content is communicating via screen text and Narration. PPT storyboards with detailed text were the only practical way to share the designers’ ideas quickly with the reviewers.

  • Matt Lobel

    — Desktop Publishing software like Ventura or PageMaker to build a tailor-made formats with ease
    — PowerPoint to create some elementary animation
    — Clip Art Gallery for images / photographs
    — Various Assessment Components that can just be selected and populated
    — Audio / Video Gallery of music, standard instructions, video clips…
    — Dictionary and Thesaurus

    It looks like you are actually inferring two different tools here. For storyboards, rarely does an ISD need acces to video/audio/animation. In fact putting in that level of production at the storyboard level is actually counter-productive in many cases (although I’m sure there are exceptions).

    What is interesting to me in this discussion is that our organization has been working on a “next-generation” planning/storyboarding tool for the instructional industry and will be going beta soon. I would be very interested in finding out what the thoughts of those in the broader instructional design industry are with regards to feature sets. (rather than the argument we seem to have going right now related to whether or not to use storyboards)

    Our tool incorporates the non-media based elements above (although clipart is available to facilitate modeling layouts) as well as:

    – Preplanning and analysis questionnaires
    – Course flowcharting
    – Interoperability with Powerpoint (import/export)
    – Collaboration features
    – Client review functionality

    Our development is based on the functionality that our instructional designers have felt was missing in the “standard” tools that they have used for years, and is meant to bridge that gap. We are still looking for ways to make this tool better, so if you have feature suggestions, please contact me. Also, if you wish to sign up for beta testing, send me a note as well.

    Matt Lobel
    [email protected]
    Sparrow InterActive

  • @Matt – thanks a lot. I would be very happy to sign up for your product’s beta testing. I think I will be able to give more meaningful suggestions at that time. My email is [email protected]

  • Alex Seif

    I tried to read all the comments.. so I don’t know if someone posted this yet..
    But did you hear of google Wave??
    It should fit greatly.. as a good starter for constructing a stroyboard and maybe later through development it could should cover a lot of more aspects
    But thnx for this blog I never took notice before 🙂

    Alex Seif

  • Thank you. Alex. Actually, I have written a blog on Google Wave and received some interesting comments –

  • Sandhya

    RK Google Wave is still in beta so the full potential of the tool is yet to be revealed. As per how it can prove to be an effective tool in revolutinizing learning and education, well I would say it is upto the great innovative minds to use this tool to their advantage. It is a great collaborative tool and I think it is a potential for creating waves, aptly named I would say.

    I think with the advancement in technology, the entire world’s education system needs to be revamped. Education has to be thought about from a completely different perspective. The integration of technology is inevitable as today’s generation lives and breathes, interacts and communicates effectively using technology. I would like to see schools move towards M-Learning and I am sure collaboration tools will be a big part of education and learning.

  • Hi.I ‘m extremly interested in this.Where can I discover other text about this? Any advice?

  • Great blog, where exactly did you found that knowledge in this article? I’m pleased I discovered it even though, ill be checking back quickly to check out what other content you have.

  • I would say it is upto the great innovative minds to use this tool to their advantage, it is a great collaborative tool and I think it is a potential for creating waves.

  • The main reasons for storyboarding in our firm is for team development of elearning courses in an ISD process. It has it’s limitations in communicating externally with SMEs and stakeholders, but is extremely useful in internal team communication throughout the development process. All developers, taking on any number of roles in the complex process, use the one document to work from.

    I have in the past developed some more robust features over the basic empty Word document. This comes mainly in creating pre-formatted tables for every possible screen layout or interaction type and then saving them as auto-text that can be added by the ID, selected from custom toolbars.

    Unless you are working as sole designer/developer on a course, the storyboard as a communication tool has proven to be extremely valuable. Even if you are the sole designer/developer, if you or another team member has to make updates months or years later, having that document as a staring point is invaluable.

  • Hi there, I just wrote a guest blog about this very subject. You can check it out here:

    I hope its of value and adds to the subject area. Thanks!

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