Future State Storyboards

A future state storyboard visually communicates the aspirational experience provided by a product or service. The visual medium of storyboards provides a narrative that is easy to communicate and highly memorable. This makes them ideal for communicating the aspirations of a product or service to stakeholders without getting bogged down in the details.

Blink creates future state storyboards at the beginning of projects to summarize the aspirational goals of a product or service that can be used to achieve stakeholder consensus. Future state storyboards can also be valuable for selling a vision to executives and others in an organization that may influence the success of a product. Future state storyboards can be especially powerful when paired with other artifacts that identify and expose current pain points with a product or service, such as customer experience journey maps and customer experience benchmarks. The juxtaposition of the current and future states can tell a compelling story that allows stakeholders to empathize with customers and generate excitement about the aspirations of your product or service.

What Is a Future State Storyboard?

Storyboards, which originated in the film industry, are a series of images that take the script off the page (think comic strips). Filmmakers use them to pitch, plan, and refine the story before shooting it.

The UX industry adopted the storyboarding process for the same purposes. Like filmmakers, UX designers use storyboards to communicate their ideas. In a series of images, they quickly show the story of a user interacting with a product. Visualizing the step-by-step use case scenario forces everyone involved in a project to think about the user experience.

A future state storyboard imagines what the ideal experience will be. Usually, it takes fewer steps than the current process does. Because it's focused on the big picture, it's one of the best types of planning tools for UX developers. It gives context to everyone involved in the project and allows them to communicate ideas to stakeholders easily.

Sometimes, you might look at the future state storyboard against a current state storyboard. The goal is to show how things are and how they should be.

When to Use Storyboards

Storyboarding requires you to know who your target customers are and what their pain points are. So, before you can storyboard, you must do your research. First, observe the user interacting with the current product or their environment in the absence of your aspirational product. Make sure you understand the entire user experience in all its steps. If you need to communicate the results of those studies, you might start with a current state storyboard sketch.

Once you have sufficient evidence, you can begin the storyboarding process. It's an early-stage development tool you can use to get everyone on the same page before diving into the details.

How to Use Future State Storyboards

Storyboards for UX have two primary purposes — workshopping and communicating ideas.

When used as a brainstorming tool, storyboards have the power to improve future planning efficiency. In the workshop phase, storyboarding can be a team exercise. Everyone, including UX designers, developers, researchers, and stakeholders, collaborates to arrive at the ideal experience. At this stage, keep the storyboarding process rough and modular. Create each moment in the customer experience on a separate page or sticky note so you can arrange and rearrange them as decisions evolve. Because storyboards are a quick exercise, they're excellent for the pitch-and-critique format. One team member sketches out the concept, then everyone discusses it. When an idea gets rejected or changed, it's right on to the next one.

When the team arrives at a consensus, a more polished storyboard version can communicate that consensus clearly. Ideally, anyone who wasn't in the meeting should be able to grasp the end goal from the storyboard without your explanation. These more presentation-ready storyboards are great for investor pitch meetings. You can also use them to show off to employees or even customers what the future has in store.

Here are four key elements to incorporate into your storyboarding:

1. Persona: The "main character" in your storyboard is the user you're trying to reach. UX needs to be human-centered because we're building for people. Give the character a name and a short tagline relevant to the target customer. For example, Melissa, a working mother of three.

2. Scenario: It helps to have a quick overview of the problem or touchpoint. Maybe Melissa is buying groceries online.

3. Visuals: The meat of the storyboard is the imagery. You must represent every critical moment in the customer journey in its own box. Use low-fidelity sketches without much detail at first. When you refine the idea later, you can add more definition. While you can add speech or thought bubbles as needed, keep the story as visual as possible. The first frame in Melissa's story might show her opening the fridge to find it barren. In the second box, she's on the website adding her kids' favorite snacks to her cart, and so on.

4. Captions: Every square can feature one or two brief bullets to describe the user's actions, environment, or emotional state. Images should communicate the key points, with captions to supplement and clarify them along the way.

Reveal the Future With Storyboarding

At Blink UX, we want everyone who touches a project to have the end-user in mind. Through storyboards, we can help all key stakeholders see their target audience in the ideal state with their own eyes. We also see storyboarding as a powerful way for our clients to look into the future and see how their product will work before we're far into design and development. We'll draw and redraw the story until we've arrived at one worth aiming for. It's one of the many ways we deliver customer-forward results.

Tell us about your current state — or let us investigate it for you— and we'll build a better future together.

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