Storyboarding the Disney Way


“The storyboard’s primary value is that it forces you to have a reason for, and a consistent approach to, everything you do.” — David Beckerimage

Storyboarding is a brainstorming technique where you stick pictures on a wall to frame out stories.

In the book, Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, Michael Michalko writes about how Walt Disney originally came up with the idea of storyboarding to see at a glance how far along a project was.

What Is a Storyboard?

A storyboard is a way to visually display and organize thoughts and ideas.

Michalko writes:

“Storyboarding can be likened to taking your thoughts and the thoughts of others and making them visible by spreading them on a wall as you work on your problems.”

The Story of Storyboarding

Walt Disney used storyboarding to quickly show and share progress on the walls of his studio.

Michalko writes:

“Walt Disney came up with the idea of having his artists pin their drawings on the walls of the studio in sequence so he could see at a glance how far along the project was. Each scene was then used as a point around which a complete story could be told. The story was told on a wall covered with a special kind of board, hence the term ‘storyboard.'”

How To Storyboard the Disney Way

Michalko outlines the following guidelines:

  1. Topic. Tape or pin the topic card on the wall. In our example, the topic is to “create a new restaurant.”
  2. Purpose. Each brainstormed purpose is written on a card and posted beneath the “purpose” card.
  3. Headers. Identify and list headers, which are primarily the major issues, attributes, or solution categories of the process.
  4. Miscellaneous. It’s a good idea to include a miscellaneous header to contain all those items that don’t fit within the other categories.
  5. Brainstorming. Group members use each category as a stimulus for problem solutions and write these ideas, solutions, and thoughts on cards.
  6. Hitchhiking. During a storyboard session, consider all ideas relevant, no matter how impractical they appear.
  7. Flexibility. Keep the storyboard flexible and dynamic.
  8. Incubating. The process continues until the group generates a sufficient number of ideas or time is called.

Key Take Aways

I use storyboarding as a software development technique for framing out user experiences. I’ve used the technique effectively over the years, but didn’t know it was originated by Disney.

I think the key to the storyboards is that they help you get the big picture before spiraling down on the details. At the same time, storyboards are a useful backdrop to elaborate on a given area as needed.

The real beauty is that everybody can talk in pictures, so it can help get over communication barriers – what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG.)


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