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Storyboards: What Clients need to know

Don’t skip this crucial step before starting your next explainer video. No, really!

So just what is this storyboard thing?

    1. Storyboards visually map out the sequence of events of the video in static comic book-like panels.
    2. Probably you know this already from movies – here’s the Pixar team explaining it.
    3. They also don’t have to look a certain way. Sometimes they’re really sketchy. Sometimes they’re high fidelity.



Some sketch boards created for a past project. These would then be built up into more refined boards like those shown right.

Field Lens Story Board

Field lens story board

Why is it important?

  • It’s a way of planning before executing.
    Similar to wireframes for web design & apps or architectural renderings for buildings. Fail to plan – plan to fail.


  • Changes are much easier.
    At this stage it’s quicker and cheaper to make drastic changes here than after animation has started.


  • Low risk idea generation usually leads to better ideas.
    When the time to adjust is low it’s less risky to, well, take some visual risks. Since change at the storyboard level is easy, it also prevents one from getting too attached to the first idea that pops into your head, which usually isn’t the best one.


  • It’s a good way for you to be involved in the production process.
    Some clients feel like since they’re not “visual people” they have nothing to offer the visual aspect of the production but we’re all visual people, and getting more so (check out this infographic if you don’t believe me). Besides, the true test of the effectiveness of the video is whether the target viewer “gets it” not “visual experts” like us. So sending samples, references, ideas of good metaphors particular to your industry are all very helpful to the production team.


  • They’re a really good way to vet your production team
    First red flag: they don’t do storyboards. Blasphemy! I know, but we’ve had to play “pickup” after a studio that jumped straight to animation before.
    Second red flag: they don’t listen to you. The 1st step in any video project has to be a kick-off interview where we get to know the main goal of the video, the call-to-action, and most importantly who we’ll be talking to. That means we need to mine your brain for all that information. Missing this crucial first step increases the chance that the script and eventually boards are way off message. In addition to a comprehensive customer profile, your production team should know what ideas you might have for specific visuals. We advise being open to suggestions, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to say no if something feels wrong, and be concerned if they don’t listen. No one knows your customers better than you do. So if the production team sweeps all your visual ideas aside, they should have some really good reasons for why their substitutes communicate the core message better, and you should agree with them.

When do you start?

After the script is finalized, approved, done! Not before. Why? Well the story is primarily told by the script and enhanced by the visuals. It’s inefficient to start planning if there are still changes happening to the backbone of the video. Design, movement, sequencing decisions are made based on flow of the story, so if phrases are changed it could disrupt the entire metaphor in the visuals.



What kind of feedback is important?

Are these the right visual metaphors?

Are the graphics / characters communicating what you want? For example, a gun and a bullet could say “war”, “violence”, “crime” or “defence” or be completely inappropriate depending on the context. So make sure the visuals are supporting the goals of the video rather than competing or even striking a note that’s slightly off-message. When we were working on an explainer about the stories of Afghan women for the Bush Institute, we originally we used a coat-of-arms emblem with an AK-47 and rocket launcher to represent the military oppression of the Taliban. To us the imagery said “dominance” but to the client, and target audience, this could’ve been read as “stable government” in a subtle way seeming to endorse or legitimize them. Something we wouldn’t have known without the deep collaboration with the client.

Taliban Emblem from story board

Guns and Rocket launchers may seem innocuous but they carry heavy metpahorical weight.


How’s the timing?

Is there enough time for each scene or on screen text? It’s easy to underestimate how long it takes to “take-in” a visual. Usually takes longer than we think, so make sure there’s enough time to register the main message of a key visual. This is where the expertise of the production team comes in because it’s only after doing a few dozen of these do you have a gut sense of how long it takes to resolve a transition or zoom in a camera. For on screen text, we recommend reading the script out loud and timing it for yourself to make sure.


How do you feel about the script now that the whole piece is coming together?

I know I said it’s best to have the script finalized before now but sometimes seeing the script visualized gives a better sense of how the narrative is taking shape so script TWEAKS aren’t unusual even at this stage. The voice over hasn’t been recorded yet – there’s a reason we wait until we have approved storyboards – so small adjustments here are expected. And now is the time to make them!


Hopefully this has raised some useful points to consider and has underlined the value of storyboards as you look into the process of creating an explainer for your product or service. And since, according to HubSpot’s 2016 stats, shoppers who view video are 1.81X more likely to purchase than non-viewers, you might just want to add video to your marketing plan. Just remember, doing storyboards will make the process better and faster and more cost-efficient. It’s not often you can get all three of those in one!

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.


One thought on “Storyboards: What Clients need to know

  1. Don says:

    Great article. Thank you for putting this together. It gives us insight as to what we should provide to a client. It also gives me, a teacher of future storyboard developers, a rubric to give students feedback.

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