A design sprint is a five-day design process to help answer key questions in a project. Developed by Jake Knapp, it eventually gained recognition at Google Venture where its development continued at dozens of start-ups. Today, many years later, there is even the concept of Design Sprint 2.0, which shortens the process to just four very intensive days.
Design Sprint is not magic, it just works
Design Sprint is not a magic recipe for all design problems. Although this term is on the lips of many designers it is not a typical ‘buzzword’. The Design Sprint was created to test an idea in five intensive days, just that or just that. The implication is that the Design Sprint is a precise tool used in specific situations. Design Sprint is great for complex problems such as finding out how users will use a new tool or how they will find their way around a new process. If we want to improve an algorithm, for example, and are looking for ideas on how to write it faster then it is better to go for a different design framework.
The greater the challenge, the better the Sprint
In the context of the Design Sprint it is said that the greater the challenge the greater the benefit of such a sprint. By following a simple pattern of “fake it until you make it” we create a prototype that “fakes” the experience of “interacting” with the target product. For example, instead of creating a complex chatbot, how about testing a chat with users where there is a real human on the other side just faking the chatbot’s answers? This type of a solution has been tested many times before and each time it allowed a prototype to be tested at the conceptual stage, many weeks, months, or even years before it saw the light of day.
Example of Design Sprint usage
The American Savioke robot was built with hotels in mind. It was expected to do relatively simple things: bring and take away items ordered by hotel guests such as water or champagne. At the time, however, there were no similar solutions on the market. The team already had some prototypes of the robot, but wondered how people would react to it. Spending a few hundred thousand dollars on mass production did not seem to be the safest idea. Questions that were asked at the team meetings included how tall should the robot be, should it have a personality? will people understand how to use it? Can the robot cope in a crowded lift or during a ride in a hotel lobby?
It was decided to ask for help from the Google Venture team, who used the Design Sprint process. Within a few days, it was possible to create a robot personality based on and test the idea on the target guests of the chosen hotel. Design Sprint saved millions of dollars by validating the idea months before mass production began. Some time was also spent refining the prototype based on the findings of the sprint.
Design Sprint not only for start-ups
The Design Sprint can also be used for day-to-day projects such as website design. In the workshop, we go through all the steps of the Design Sprint to develop key screens e.g. the home page or more complex mechanisms on the website. The Design Sprint is a certain design framework that simply allows us to arrive at certain solutions faster in a structured way and sometimes helps us find completely new paths for product development. Such a five-day sprint is especially useful when we have a problem with something in the project, it doesn’t always have to be a problem with innovative technologies, it can also be a different perspective of the team on the same solution.
Design Sprint step by step
Before we go into a brief description of each step of the design sprint, it is important to remember that nothing dies in nature. For the Design Sprint to be successful we need to understand that it’s a full 5 days of work and each day focuses on specific activities. There is no time for distractions like emails and phone calls. A sprint gives a lot but also requires the full attention of team members.
Team in Design Sprint
Roles within the team are key to making the Sprint a success. Such a team is often referred to as the great seven, as each specialist has some sort of ‘super power’ needed to succeed in the sprint. The team consists of:
- Decisive person – that is, the person who can make the binding decisions during the sprint. They will decide in due course, among other things, what will ultimately be designed and tested.
- Marketing expert – the person who plans communication and marketing strategy.
- Funding expert – who knows where the money comes from and how it is spent.
- Customer expert – someone who is on the front line with customers and knows their real needs and problems.
- Technology or logistics expert – everyone needs someone who takes a sober look at solutions. Such a person should know what is possible to do or deliver.
- Design expert – someone who understands a company’s visual communication. This is often a graphic designer or art director.
- Adventurer – If a project has stalled over a design dispute about the best solution, it’s better to invite both sides to the table. An adventurer is a person from that ‘other’ camp who had a different idea about product development. This person will often ask pertinent questions and help you understand the wider context of the project.
With a dream team in place, we can move on to the individual days of the Design Sprint.
The first day of the sprint gives us a better understanding of the purpose of the sprint. We start with a short meeting where we talk about the idea of Design Sprint and discuss each of its steps. Then we agree together what the aim of the sprint is, and everyone must understand this aim in the same way – we leave nothing to guesswork. Usually, these first half hours of a sprint are crucial. Neglecting this part will mean that every day we move further and further away from the solution and frustration within the team will grow.
The main “product” of the first day is a map showing the process we are dealing with. This could be ordering a pizza or a more complex problem such as the process of assisting surgical operations. Every solution ultimately serves man, so at this stage it is not the technological complexity that matters, it is the problem we are trying to solve. We focus on drawing out the steps performed by the people we have specified, often called process actors (left side of the map).
A simple example of the pizza ordering process. Source: own elaboration
When creating a map, it is a good idea to invite experts to check whether the map you have drawn reflects reality. Questions are bound to arise during discussions with various experts. To avoid disrupting the sprint we write our questions in a short form starting with “How can we…” This way, we immediately change our question to fit the angle of our project and cut off some unnecessary speculation.
The previous day’s sprint was generally spent setting up and organising our knowledge. On the second day we focus on finding solutions. On the basis of the sketched map, we select the element of the process that we will try to improve. This could be, for example, the process of placing an order. We then move on to a simple exercise where we share inspiration from, for example, our competitors’ websites or solutions from other industries. Each team member will have approximately 3 minutes for each inspiration they wish to share. From these inspirations, we will then take their best parts and try to use them in our idea. It’s important to remember that not all inspiration has to be about graphics; a story told on a page, a cleverly used mechanism, or intuitive navigation can also be inspiring. The next exercise is already sketching solutions divided into 4 stages:
1. Taking notes of the information gathered so far (e.g. answers to the question “How can we)
2. Coming up with very preliminary concepts
3. Sketching in 8 minutes, 8 very quick sketches of our ideas (the exercise is called “Crazy 8s”)
4. Work out the details to the most promising idea.
After this exercise, each team will probably have piles of cards presenting some ideas for solving the problem. Below you can see the result of the crazy eights exercise for the pizza ordering process.
Crazy Eights. Based on the mock-ups from this exercise, we create more detailed sketches. Source: own elaboration
On the third day we will first have to deal with discussing all the ideas for a solution. For this reason we create an “art museum”, i.e. we stick all the solutions next to each other on the wall in a visible place and give each person time to go through the ideas and look at them calmly. By the way, we give everyone small stickers that will serve to mark the places that seem particularly interesting and interesting on the selected sketches. This is how we will create a kind of heat map showing special places of interest.
The next step is for the authors of the sketches to come forward and talk about them in a few sentences or answer the team’s questions for the sketch. After these short discussions, we will try to choose the most promising ideas this time giving each team member bigger stickers. Everyone has a maximum of 1 such sticker symbolising a “super vote”, the decider has 3 such votes with their initials or just a different colour. After this exercise and thanks to the ‘super voices’, it should now be clear what will go into the prototyping and testing phase. If the team was unable to reach a decision unanimously, we ask the decision-maker to do so. In doing so, it is important to remember to take only as many sketches as can be created and tested in such a short time. At the end of the day, we draw a scenario that helps us understand the context of use of our solution and plan a prototype or study. For example, we assume that a user will be in a situation where they need to buy a product quickly from an online shop because they are purchasing while waiting at a tram stop.
On that day we focus all our efforts on building a prototype. It is important to involve the whole team. A creation person can prepare the right interface elements, someone else the text, and yet another person the real proposals of products, including their prices, if of course we are talking about some kind of shopping process. Throughout day four a prototype is created, which on the fifth and final day of the sprint will be tested with users.
The Goldilocks principle
In Design Sprint there is no room for more advanced prototypes, we have to choose more accuracy (Hi-Fi) and less material to test or more sites to test but less accurate in their representation (low-Fi). Either way, the prototype should be ready within 8 hours. Of course, there are exceptions to this, sometimes prototyping starts as early as day three, but it is important not to disrupt the sprint as its main strength is to validate an idea very quickly. Although it’s tempting to drag it out for another day or even a week, it’s not worth it; the refinement of prototypes can already be dealt with in the traditional design process, provided that the concept is accepted by users.
This is the last day of the Design Sprint, which involves observing, during testing, the reactions of users to the prototype created. During the tests, the whole team individually writes out their conclusions in the form of short notes, which are discussed after each test already in the group.
If everything went well then at the end of the week we already have a tested idea and can decide if we want to deepen our knowledge in the next Design Sprints or if we already have enough information to complete the project and plan the work for a longer time.
When do we use Design Sprints at Fabrity?
At Fabrity we always carefully select the tools for the project. We first match the tool to the project and never the other way around. The use of Design Sprints always produces excellent results but sometimes it is simply ineffective for smaller-scale projects. Undoubtedly, one of the areas where this approach fits best is in the design of digital products and services. The Design Sprint allows us to effectively find answers to many questions and, even more importantly, it allows us to largely eliminate the risks associated with implementing usability disasters.
We often suggest to our clients to use Design Sprints also in the following situations:
- Undertaking new major projects where it is necessary to make sure that all participants in the project have a coherent picture of the work and the results to be achieved. For example, a new service or application for a selected group of users
- The need to gain ‘focus’ in an ongoing project. We are sometimes approached by companies whose IT projects are not performing optimally or who are in a difficult situation due to work overload or a break in cooperation with another service provider. Then we suggest launching a Design Sprint to re-synchronise the teams supported by our specialists and to set goals and test ideas.
- When we want to creatively explore new opportunities to improve the customer experience in some existing process. The Design Sprint works well as a structured process for generating new ideas.
If you are curious about how you can use the Design Sprint process in your organisation please email us. Our specialists will help you prepare your sprint and plan the next steps in the process.