Storyboards: What Clients Need to Know

By Andrew Davies

Skip this crucial step before starting your next explainer video, and you’re in for trouble. Learn why explainer storyboards are so important. Also, I’ll dive into when to start, and what kind of client feedback matters in ensuring a successful explainer video.

Examples of sketch storyboards and refined storyboards from past explainer videos

What Are Storyboards?

Explainer storyboards act like a comic book for your video, visually mapping out the sequence of events in static panels. Just like Pixar uses storyboards to plan their animated films, you can use them too! The beauty is, they’re flexible. They can be rough sketches or detailed illustrations, whatever works best to get your vision across.

1. Why Are Explainre Storyboards so 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.

Here’s why: 

Changes are much easier

As we pointed out in a previous post, it’s quicker and cheaper to make drastic changes at this stage 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.

Explainer Storyboards offer 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, and ideas of good metaphors particular to your industry are all very helpful to the production team.

The Explainer Storyboard Process is a great way to vet Your Production Team

First red flag: they don’t do storyboards. Blasphemy! I know, but we’ve had to play “pick up” after a studio that jumped straight to animation before. You can read about it in the link below.

Producing a Compelling Animated Tech Explainer for a Software Product

The second red flag: they don’t listen to you. The first 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 excellent reasons for why their substitutes communicate the core message better, and you should agree with them.

2. When Do You Start?

After the script is finalized, approved, and done! 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, and sequencing decisions are made based on the flow of the story, so if phrases are changed it could disrupt the entire metaphor in the visuals.

A client gives storyboard feedback over their laptop

3. What Kind Of Feedback Is Important?

While storyboards might seem technical, fret not! Even if you’re not an artist, you have a crucial role to play. Let’s dive into the feedback you can provide to ensure the animator captures your vision perfectly. This will help us refine the visuals and ensure your explainer video hits the bullseye!

Are these the right visual metaphors?

Are the graphics/characters in the explainer communicating what you want? For example, when working on storyboards for an explainer video on the wounds of war inflicted on our veterans, we learned that a gun and a bullet could say “war”, “violence”, “crime” or simply “defense” 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 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.

storyboards from two of our explainer videos dealing with sensitive subjects like terrorism and child traffiking.
Guns and Rocket launchers may seem innocuous but they carry heavy metaphorical weight. These are the kinds of decisions we need insight from the client to make.

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, this 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 on 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 voiceover 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!

Does this Look Match Your Brand?

Do the characters and visuals match your brand identity? For example, if your brand is playful and fun, the explainer storyboards shouldn’t have a dark and serious tone. Do you have any specific references or ideas for the visuals? Sharing examples of other explainer videos you like or inspiring your industry can be incredibly helpful.

To Wrap Up

Storyboards help us see an explainer video’s story in comic-like panels before it’s made. They’re important for planning, like sketching out a puzzle before solving it. It helps everyone agree on the right pictures and characters to tell the story well. Once the script is finalized, we use storyboards to make sure our visuals are spot-on. We check if the metaphors fit if there’s enough time for each scene, and if the whole thing feels just right.