What Is Storyboarding And Why It Matters In Business

A storyboard is a linear sequence of illustrations used in animation to develop a broader story. A storyboard process is now used also in business to understand and map customers’ experience and enable the growth of the company using that process.

What is storyboarding?

Simply put a storyboard is a sequence of illustrations whose aim is to visualize the critical moments of a whole story.

That isn’t a new tool in animation. Indeed storyboarding was popularized by Walt Disney Studios during the 1930s.

Storyboarding is critical in animation as it enables to develop of the broader story.

Indeed, the developers of content would use storyboarding as an inexpensive way to build content to see if it worked before doing the entire production.

Thus, storyboarding, as used in animation, has a few key elements that make it so useful:

  • An inexpensive way to visualize a story before it gets developed in full.
  • Visualize a whole story with a minimum amount of information.
  • A quick and dynamic approach to visualize an entire story.
  • The ability to capture the critical emotions at each sequence.
  • A way to present and pitch a story before it could get produced.

Storyboarding, which has become a best practice and process in the movie industry, is now also an essential process in business; let me show you why.

Storyboarding in business can help in many other cases:
  • Uncover customer experience.
  • Align on a longer-term vision.
  • Pitch a broader project idea.
  • And more.

In this case, we’ll look at how Airbnb has been using storyboarding to uncover hidden patterns for its customers that enabled the further platform scale.

Empathize with your customers

As Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and CSO at Airbnb pointed out on Sequoia blog

Creating a great customer experience is the highest priority at Airbnb and something that we’ve made a big part of our culture.

Storyboarding then helped Airbnb executives and employees to understand its customers deeply.

Empathy and being able to feel the emotions and moods of customers throughout the travel experience enabled Airbnb to map it at best.

Map the customer journey

One thing that’s really helped is a storyboard we created that depicts the different steps someone goes through from the time she first hears about Airbnb to the time she leaves post-visit feedback. We have 15 pictures that cover the guest journey and 15 more that show the journey for the host.

Nathan Blecharczyk also pointed out how this storyboarding process needs to be done from end-to-end.

From the customer first hears about your product and service up to the time she/he has consumed it. 

Understand where you’re missing out

What the storyboard made clear is that we were missing a big part of the picture—the offline experience—that’s an even more meaningful part of using Airbnb than booking a property.

Thus, this process enables the company to uncover steps you were missing out on.

Each of those steps you were not covering or providing value will become an essential ingredient for a great customer experience.

However, it is essential not to get bogged down in too many details.

Select only the meaningful moments

We started brainstorming what our storyboard would look like. We started with a list of many, many moments, grouped like ones together and refined them down into a concise set. If you have too many moments on your storyboard, it’s worthless. Fifteen seemed comprehensive yet manageable.

As pointed out by Nathan Blecharczyk on the Sequoia blog, it is crucial to map at first only the most significant moments.

That makes the process manageable and actionable.

For instance, Airbnb had mapped fifteen key moments in its storyboards. 

Build a roadmap around those pivotal moments

We then had a roadmap for figuring out what a customer expects in each of those situations, what we were doing to meet those expectations and where we had an opportunity to create a “wow” moment.

Once those key moments get uncovered, it’s time to offer a great customer experience by providing value to your customers in those faces.

Airbnb likes to define those moments when the value is provided at best as a “wow” moment.

Thus, it has to be turned into a product roadmap.

Uncover the gaps and fill them up with a “wow” experience

We noticed a lot of gaps. It became our number one priority to fix those areas where we weren’t doing what the customer expected of us.

What’s a valuable “wow” moment?

Imagine in Airbnb’s case the case of a guest arriving at a host’s house and, without even knocking on the door, finding the guest with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the arrival of the guest (this is an exaggerated example as some people might not like this welcome).

But the point is the storyboard enables you to develop a deeper bond with a customer, to improve the experience at each potential step.

Airbnb neighborhood guides case study

One example of one of the projects that Airbnb has implemented as a consequence of using storyboards is the “neighborhoods guides” section available on the platform.


With storyboards, Airbnb understood all the questions travelers had before, during, and after traveling.

Therefore, Airbnb came up with the neighborhoods guides:


So that for each city, people could find answers to questions related to the things to do in the city.


And also look at all the possible things to do in each neighborhood.

This helped Airbnb guests to find all the travel-related answers they might have before reserving the trip.

Those guides are so granular to unlock critical information for each neighborhood, almost like you had a local, giving you all the suggestions  you needed to have a great trip:


Key takeaways

  • Disney popularized storyboards in the 1930s to develop stories before the production of movies
  • Storyboards became a best practice in the movie industry world as a way to craft compelling stories before producing expensive movies
  • Now storyboards get used in business for several purposes. Airbnb used it to enhance customers’ experience
  • During Christmas vacation back in 2011, Chesky, Airbnb co-founder found out about the storyboarding technique, and he implemented it within the company to map the three key processes (host, guest, and hiring process) for Airbnb.
  • Those storyboards got transformed in actions within the service. One example is the “neighborhood guides” that Airbnb developed to give all travel-related answers to its users.

Related Business Frameworks

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Business Competition

In a business world driven by technology and digitalization, competition is much more fluid, as innovation becomes a bottom-up approach that can come from anywhere. Thus, making it much harder to define the boundaries of existing markets. Therefore, a proper business competition analysis looks at customer, technology, distribution, and financial model overlaps. While at the same time looking at future potential intersections among industries that in the short-term seem unrelated.

Business Scaling

Business scaling is the process of transformation of a business as the product is validated by wider and wider market segments. Business scaling is about creating traction for a product that fits a small market segment. As the product is validated it becomes critical to build a viable business model. And as the product is offered at wider and wider market segments, it’s important to align product, business model, and organizational design, to enable wider and wider scale.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Four-Step Innovation Process

A four-step innovation process is a simple tool that businesses can use to drive consistent innovation. The four-step innovation process was created by David Weiss and Claude Legrand as a means of encouraging sustainable innovation within an organization. The process helps businesses solve complex problems with creative ideas instead of relying on low-impact, quick-fix solutions.

History of Innovation

Innovation in the modern sense is about coming up with solutions to defined or not defined problems that can create a new world. Breakthrough innovations might try to solve in whole new way, well-defined problems. Business innovation might start by finding solutions to well-defined problems by continuously improving on them.

Read Next: Airbnb Business Model

Read also: Business Strategy, Examples, Case Studies, And Tools

Read Next: Lean CanvasAgile Project ManagementScrumMVPVTDF.

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