Using a Design Sprint to get to the core of what is vital, faster

What is a Design Sprint and Should You be Running One?

There has been a lot of buzz around the idea of design sprints. But what is a design sprint, and should you be running them?

Let’s begin by looking at precisely what a design sprint is.

A Design Sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers.

In many cases, this translates into a way to define and kick off some form of digital project, although Google Ventures has used the technique beyond that field.

Google has created a highly structured five-day process with activities defined for each day, to help participants come up with actionable solutions to their projects. A typical design sprint runs as follows:

  • Monday: The group works with experts across the organisation to identify the ultimate goal of the sprint and map out the challenge for the week. Is it to reduce bounce rate? Increase conversion? Identify the problem clearly.
  • Tuesday: The team starts exploring a variety of solutions by looking at sources of inspiration and sketching various approaches that they could take.
  • Wednesday: The group looks at the solutions explored on Tuesday and decides which ones have the best chance of fulfilling the target for the week. The team then expands those sketched solutions into storyboards.
  • Thursday: The group turns the storyboards into a working prototype designed to mimic the final approach and have it ready for testing.
  • Friday: The final prototype is shown to prospective users and its viability is tested.

The whole process is highly interactive and user-focused. In short, it embraces many of the principles of design thinking to produce something tangible with which everybody can agree.

The benefits of design sprints

Design sprints are being widely adopted and with good reason. When organisations approach them in the right way, they have the potential to be very beneficial.

For a start, they break the pattern of committee-based decision making that is so prevalent in many companies, and moves away from detailed specification documents. Instead, design sprints encourage collaboration through making. They are an excellent way of bringing together varying stakeholders and helping them work towards a shared vision.

As a result, sprints are an approach adopted by many agencies when working with new clients. They help the agencies get to know the key players involved, and ensure that everybody knows what they are going to build. Unlike a specification document, a design sprint helps avoid misunderstandings about what the final deliverable will be.

Design sprints also encourage original thinking through experimentation and iteration. Because of their focus on sketching and prototyping, it is possible to explore ideas that would typically be rejected by the company out of hand.

But probably the most valuable benefit of design sprints is that they introduce stakeholders to the importance of validating ideas with real users.

Should you be running design sprints?

The answer is a definitive yes. But that doesn’t mean you need to be using design sprints all the time.

Because of their popularity right now, design sprints have started to be seen as somewhat of a silver bullet, but that isn’t the case. They are merely another tool in our arsenal.

When we have a well-defined problem to solve and access to the right stakeholders, a design sprint can prove invaluable. But in other situations, we might be better off running a customer journey mapping workshop or carrying out a collaborative wireframing exercise. It’s about using the right tool for the job.

That said, there are some lessons we can learn from design sprints that are applicable in a far wider variety of situations

  • Favouring collaboration over debate: Too many design decisions are made in meetings, when teams would do better to make decisions by creating something together.
  • Involving stakeholders: We often exclude stakeholders for fear of them undermining what we want to achieve. But by including stakeholders, we give them a sense of ownership, and that increases the likelihood of them buying in to the solution.
  • Prototyping and experimentation: Avoid spending too much time writing specifications.Instead, explore ideas through prototyping and experimentation. Visualise solutions rather than defining them.
  • Always testing with users: Embedding testing with users into the heart of your workflow should be fundamental to any digital project.