There’s what happens, and then there’s the story of what happens. An Army maxim is that “first reports are always wrong,” and I’ll testify to its truth. The first report that crackles over the radio is almost always too garbled and hurried to act on. The truth takes time to sort itself out, but most events generate a host of immediate decisions and trigger a blizzard of secondary reports, so one cannot wait too long. Once the dust settles, a final summation is required and the “Information Operations” (“IO”) campaign begins. That’s a coordinated effort to make sure everyone has a common understanding of what took place.

A storyboard is how the Army summarizes significant events. Imagine a one-page Powerpoint slide packed with as much relevant information as possible. All white space disappears as maps, pictures, text boxes, graphic symbols, timelines, diagrams, and analysis are compressed into one relatively easy to comprehend slide. The completed storyboard then constitutes the de facto official record of the event. Longer reports may get written, but probably not—there’s just not enough time, and events pile up rapidly. The pressure to quickly produce an accurate storyboard is intense, and every staff has one or two officers who are expert at it. To illustrate, I’d make a storyboard that covers a trivial aspect of my life, such as “what I eat in a typical day,” but, as always, time is short. Perhaps though it is not so hard to picture what a storyboard looks like, if one just considers the possibilities.

The analogy of storyboards to a well-designed webpage is clear, but they remind me most of a feature that used to be a staple of sports pages in my early youth: full-page drawings of a stadium or sports arena, say Yankee Stadium or the Boston Gardens, adorned with lots of text-boxes and arrows pointing out significant details and aspects of the venue’s history. I used to stare at those elaborate, oversize cartoons for hours, basking in the flow of pleasingly-transmitted information.


2 Responses to “Storyboards”

  1. j Says:

    I’d love to see a storyboard, army-style, of what you eat in a day. I’ve been going to a group called VizThink – for visual thinkers – and they’de eat that stuff up. The graphic recording, not what you eat in a day.

  2. Chris Brown Says:

    Hey Pete,

    Fascinating stuff! Your “Storyboards” entry sounds like Ranajit Guha’s “Prose of Counter-Insurgency” as revised by Jean Baudrillard!

    You should make your next blog entry a storyboard!


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