Storyboarding vs. Prototying - What's the Difference?

I'm interested in how everyone would define "storyboard" and "prototype".  Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things, but with the many conversations here about storyboarding vs. prototyping, I'm getting the feeling that sometimes people are really differing more in the name they give to what they do, and less in what they're actually doing.  So I'm  just curious about what people see as the differences between the two. 

8 Replies
Alexandros Anoyatis

Hi Sheila,

I personally separate these two terms.

(Very) simply put, storyboarding is a description of your content slide by slide mostly in writing (usually done in Word).

Prototyping is the visual representation of what your course will look like, maybe with some simplified concept of functionality included - usually done in Powerpoint (*sigh) or Storyline itself.

There's also the concept of wireframing which sits somewhere in the middle of the above two.

Just my 2c,

Sheila Bulthuis

Interesting...  It's been a long time since I've seen "storyboarding" done entirely in Word.  I usually see it done in PPT or Captivate (or now, in Storyline), using the Notes section for notes about what the ID has in mind for interactions and images, and with the content very simply built out on the screen. 

I myself think of storyboarding the way I've seen the term used in advertising - a visual "mockup" or simple approximation of what the eventual output will be, with explanation of the "dynamic" parts (audio, animation, etc.).  More similar to what you're calling prototyping.  But I think some people call it storyboarding and some call it prototyping...

This is probably a good reminder that it's a bad idea to use these terms with clients, since not everyone defines them the same way!

Alexandros Anoyatis

Clarification : Storyboarding includes images too, but usually they are static representations whereas prototyping does not.

To me all three processes are useful and can be used in a case by case basis, even if SL prototyping appears to be the most straightforward of the three. All three also have their disadvantages - SL prototyping for example does not make it easy for evaluation/review during development (exactly because your final deliverable will be a Storyline file).

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Sheila: Good point, Sheila: "rapid prototyping" is going to mean zippedy-do-dah to a client. Maybe a "rough version of the courses key slides/activities is more apt."

When I "rapid prototype" I build a rough version of the course's key slides, narration and all. I then go back to the client and ask what they liked and what they didn't. (At this point, I'm faster in Storyline than PPT.) I'm not sure it saves time, but it does give the client a better feel for my vision.


To me, story boards exist in the relm of planning while prototypes encompass the space between the template and the final course (and might even include robust templates).

Or maybe another way of stating this is that the storyboard represents a content/course outline while prototypes are more a proof of concept &/or proof of content during the creation journey.

Bruce Graham

For me - all of the above.

Also...(some would say a little clinical and self-serving?) - I think there is currently another psychological dimension that freelancers and others can exploit here...

When I am bidding for work, or talking about my approach, starting a discussion on rapid prototyping when "storyboarding" is mentioned allows me to disrupt the expected sales process and start a set of thoughts and expectations in train that usually differentiates me from others. There is an element of "risk-reward" to that, but hey...that's the life of a freelancer.

I explain what I do in terms of a "Spiral Model of Rapid Prototyping" in terms of 3-D printing technology (futuristic and "exciting" in many minds), which brings a whole different dimension to the game over "storyboarding", which many people think of in MS-Word (staid and dull in many people's minds). Starting very fast and going round and round and round and round and round and closer and closer and closer to the centre - WHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!    is a lot more exciting (IMHO) than talking about linear storyboarding

It always gets attention - and I have found that clients LOVE the concept. It excites.

Credits for the pitching and disruption tricks from 2 ex-bosses - Oracle's Larry Ellison and the wonderful mind of Jon "A Serial Entrepreneur" Craton.

Steve Flowers

I separate the two as well. I think of storyboarding as mapping / blueprinting, while prototyping is more doing / testing. Bruce's approach combines mapping, doing, and testing. Depending on the client and the scope of the output, this is a fantastic approach.

I've worked with some clients and some larger scale projects where the mapping while doing / testing wouldn't work as well as a more structured separation of the two. Some sort of mapping is required for larger projects. Once that's done, spiral "doing / testing" can work. For stuff requiring a lot of legal / compliance review, I've found it's less work to be rigorous in planning rather than bouncing. The mapping while doing approach also requires an engaged client willing to stick to scheduled reviews. This planetary alignment can make the spiral development approach a joy for all involved