StoryboardTrek – the Search for the Sweet Spot

I originally was going to make a comparison between Storyboards and educational quicksand, but having seen reactions to similar polemics, I figured I needed to adjust my stance somewhat.

The concept of planning out a highly interactive learning asset has its roots in film-making and – in principle – is a good idea. After all, movies are expensive enough to make without wasting time and film on shots that will end up on the cutting room floor. But the storyboarding process for media is pretty well understood and (I think?) follows some generally accepted conventions so you can(I think?) go from one production to another and make sense of what’s going on.

That hasn’t really been my experience with storyboarding for interactive learning assets. In fact, it’s anything but.

It seems like everyone has their own approach to storyboarding, and each one seems a little bit different. The common threads seem to be that designers are producing a flat document and attempting to capture – in written form – interactivity, inputs, and responses. They key words in that description are: “flat”, and  “document”. McLuhan would remind us about that whole “medium is the message” thing. That’s OK if all you want to produce is Level 1 or Level 2 materials, but when branching is involved, or when more learner control is required, well, that’s where things get interesting.  I know I’m not alone when I share tales with colleagues about SME or stakeholder reactions to storyboards when compared with the actual user experience. In short, something gets lost in translation.

Let’s examine a parallel situation:  For years, car manufacturers developed new models from sketches, concept drawings, and full-sized clay models. When it came time to really sell Execs on the design, there was little doubt as to what the car would look like. I’ll even go so far as to guess that the designers and engineers had enough component familiarity to guess what the ride and handling would be like based on geometry, size, weight, etc.  Now, imagine the design process following what IDs do with storyboards.  The designers provide a long, convoluted document that is challenging to interpret, but is still required for sign-off by various stakeholders before a car can be built.  This document, of course, includes all sorts of specifications and other technical details. When the prototype model rolls out of the shop, the reaction might be something like this:

“well, that’s not what I thought it would look/work/drive like…we need to change a few things before we go any further…”

That, folks, is often what happens with storyboarding for learning.  What’s really scary is that the storyboarding process can take weeks or even months, and you may not even get anywhere close to designing a user interface because you’re still stuck trying to get approval on stakeholder interpretation of flat paper descriptions of a highly interactive experience**.

So…there’s the challenge in the nutshell.

What can we do about it?  How can we get off this merry-go-round?

Stay tuned for part 2…

*  The general trend for storyboard documents is some kind of descriptive, but non-interactive example, usually created in Word or other similar program.

** Assumption being made here is that ADDIE is the process instead of another flexible ID model.


About Mark L. Sheppard

learning geek, lifelong learner, terminally curious, recovering blogger and Ed Tech explorer.

Posted on May 31, 2012, in blog, commentary, Instructional Design, opinion, rant, rapid development, reflection, thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Mark,

    Your last two asterisks indicate the biggest challenge – ADDIE.

    Perhaps if you look at the Agile or Scrum approach to computer programming, you may have models that avoid trying to do all the work up front .

    This is pretty close to Rapid Prototyping for ID but by looking at the way other disciplines take on the challenge you might pick up some extra tips.

    I am not sure that box office films are the best example to follow because of their huge budgets and most independent films I have been involved with have been closer to the Agile approach anyway. Storyboarding a box office film is essentially publishing a comic book and that budget would exceed the film budget for small films.

    Cheers, bob

    • Bob: We’re definitely thinking along similar lines, and I’m going to get into that in the follow-up post. You’re absolutely correct in your comments about media production (and you would know!) My point was more that storyboarding as a concept is well-established there and has some generally accepted conventions. The parallel is also drawn between the more linear output of a film or show and a Level 1 or Level 2 online learning asset that has limited to no interactivity.

      Thanks again for the (always) informed commentary!

  2. Mark,

    I look forward to your next post.

    Yesterday, I got to wondering why Instructional Designers would be so attracted to storyboards used by the relatively linear production of film, instead of moving straight to the tools used by computer programmers, which are much more built for non-linear interaction. My guess is that the technology was first only capable of linear paths and at that point the film paradigm may have got hold. As non-linear instruction came on designers tended to use familiar tools, and while they can work they are not the most efficient.

    Another productive area to look at may be the ‘frontier’ of user interaction design. This is a bit of a wilderness for most programming teams. UIE Brain Sparks is a great podcast on UI design by Jared Spool, a leader in the field.

    Cheers, bob

    • The other consideration is “familiarity”. Many IDs confine themselves to the “design” phase and as such are only comfortable with a limited suite of tools to do so (e.g. Word or equivalent). Not every ID has development capabilities and the associated advanced tool skills.

      That’s not a knock by any means, just an observation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: