Design Sprints

The Design Sprint originated at Google Ventures in Silicon Valley. It’s a hypothesis-driven, short-cycle design process that reduces risks, cuts through inertia, and allows customer-centric product development.

The name “Design Sprint” might be confusing at first, depending on your understanding of design. To get it out of the way right at the start, a Design Sprint is not just for designers. It’s a week-long process for cross-functional teams to identify big, complex problems and come up with innovative solutions. At the end, the solutions are tested with real users to get you clear feedback.

In short, Design Sprints replace analysis paralysis and guesswork with an experimental, creative mindset that leads to clarity and progress.

What kind of challenges can a Design Sprint solve?

  • A startup might use a Sprint to shape and validate a new, innovative product’s value proposition to ensure product/market fit and decrease time-to-market
  • A product team might use a Sprint to define and test ideas for new features before committing time and resources to build them
  • An enterprise might use a Sprint to align teams and to improve internal processes
  • A brand might use a Sprint to test marketing and product ideas

What are the outcomes of a Design Sprint?

  • Alignment on a goal that serves a North Star for the team
  • Decisions on the most critical problems to solve
  • Ideas from the team how they might be solved
  • A prototype of the most promising idea
  • Feedback on the prototype from a group of users

What does a Sprint Week look like?

Frame the challenge

The best use of a Sprint is to work on the biggest, most complex and most unclear challenges. At the beginning of every Design Sprint, the team explores the problem space and aligns on a focus area.

For teams, this alignment and clarity is extremely valuable, because it creates clear priorities among the many problems they are facing.

The key challenges are then framed in a standardized way that doesn’t prescribe a solution. As a result, the group can create a more diverse range of ideas how to solve the problem.

Generate solution ideas

Then, every participant in the Sprint creates their own, individual approach how the problem might be solved. The entire group will quietly sketch and map out their individual ideas. However, the ideas don’t need to be fully detailed, and the sketches don’t have to be pretty. The important thing is to get the idea across as clearly as possible.

From this mass of ideas, the group picks one or two thatchave the highest potential to solve the challenge. By focusing on just one or two ideas, it’s possible to spend more time to work out missing details, and map out how to turn the idea into a prototype that can be tested.

Build a prototype

Now that you have decided on an idea, it’s very important to test it. Otherwise you miss out on a valuable opportunity to learn if you are going in the right direction.

Likewise, just describing the specs of an idea to users isn’t enough, as the potential for misinterpretations is too high.

So, to get useful feedback on your idea, you turn it into a prototype. It should look and feel very close to what the real product might look like.

At the same time, it should be simple enough to test it as soon as possible. At this point, you still don’t know if your idea is valid or not. To avoid a waste of time and effort, the prototype is created quickly, within just one or two days. It entirely consists of interlinked images that look like the interface and frontend of an app, product or website.

Tim Hoefer creates an interactive prototype during a Design Sprint

The ideal prototype is interactive and looks real and refined enough to make your testers forget that they aren’t dealing with a real app or website, and give you a mass of insights and critical, but useful feedback.

At the same time, the prototype is simple enough to be able to create it quickly, and focuses on the most important features and key user journeys you want to get feedback on.

Test your ideas

At the end of a Design Sprint, you show the solution prototype to a group of testers in qualitative interviews that yield you valuable insights.

Each of the testers is recruited to match your target market’s demographic and background and is interviewed for up to one hour long while they interact with the prototype.

Once you show a prototype of your ideas to people from your target group, everything becomes a lot clearer and the next steps become a lot easier to plan.

This feedback can be utilized to iterate and improve your solutions, prioritize a feature roadmap or sharpen the value proposition.

Tim Hoefer shows a prototype to a user tester during a Design Sprint

What happens after a Design Sprint?

  • The feedback is used to iterate on the solution in a second Design Sprint week, where you remove things that weren’t relevant, improve or add parts that were missing and double down on ideas that performed well
  • You can prioritize features on a product roadmap, according to effort and impact
  • The value proposition of the product can be sharpened, based on customer feedback
  • You can use the prototype and user feedback to pitch your idea to investors or get buy-in from internal stakeholders, or to brief your development team

Would you like to know more?

I have run successful Design Sprints for multinational enterprises like American Express and Daimler, tech companies like Google and Twitter, to startups like N26 and Zero. Whatever challenge you are facing, I am happy to have a chat. Also, if you would like to know more about me, click here!

I am a Product Design Director at AJ&Smart. We design award-winning products, consult on digital innovation and also offer training workshops for designers, entrepreneurs and companies.

If you would like to know more about our service offering or just want to chat, please get in touch.