Business Inspiration
A beginner’s guide to conducting a useful design sprint

These days it can feel like everybody is conducting a design sprint. And it can almost feel like you’ve been left behind if you don’t know what it is. Don’t worry, we’re here to help up the beginners.

Before we dive in, we want to point out just how important it is to understand your users throughout this process. Basing the processes in your design sprint on assumptions or your gut instincts will only give you a limited view of the problem that you are trying to solve with your product or service.

As such, you should go into your design sprint with some solid market and user research. By including the voices of your customers and information on your market, you will improve the effectiveness of your sprint, as well as saving on wasted time and resources even further.


What is a design sprint?

Let’s leave it to the masters — The Sprint Book Publishers themselves — to summarise a design sprint: “The big idea with the Design Sprint is to build and test a prototype in just five days.” (Source)

A Design Sprint is a process during which businesses have the opportunity to validate their ideas and overcome any key obstacles through design, prototyping and user testing.

As Eran Dror accurately highlights, “Design Sprints have built-in exercisesfor talking to experts, identifying challenges, mapping out the problem, and testing your ideas with users. This fairly rigid format has a wonderful side-benefit of fostering curiosity and a discovery mindset even in the most confident or locked-in client.” (source)

The Original Design Sprint

There are currently two versions of the Design Sprint. Whilst we are going to focus on the most recent update in this blog post, since we think it is the most effective of the two, it seemed only right to introduce you to its predecessor.

The original design sprint process looks like this:

On each day you and your team will complete a different set of tasks, from defining key questions and long term goals on a Monday, to sketching product or service ideas on a Tuesday, deciding which of these is the best on a Wednesday, building a prototype on a Thursday and, finally, on Friday testing that bad boy out!

This process has since its creation been adapted and improved to form “Design Sprint 2.0”, which we’re going to cover in much more detail.

What is Design Sprint 2.0?

Design Sprint 2.0 is employed to achieve the same end-goal as a standard Design Sprint, but is condensed into a four day period. It is structured in such a way that the full Sprint team are required for less time, thus making it easier to facilitate and even cheaper to run.

Design Sprint 2.0 is used for product development where there are issues with current user engagement, instances where a business is entering a new market, or for general product and feature design and development, as with the original Design Sprint.

Here is what the revised Sprint looks like:

Getting Started on a Design Sprint 2.0: Preparation and Supplies

Before the Design Sprint, there is preparation that needs to be done:

  • Define your big challenge: What exactly is it that you are hoping your Design Sprint will help you to overcome? Is it that you want to have designed an entirely new product? Are you trying to develop a specific new feature? Get clear on this, or you could waste 4 days on something you don’t really need.
  • Get a Decider: This is the person who make any and all final decisions.
  • Recruit a Sprint team: These are the people that will be taking part in the Sprint, representing your company and all of the relevant faculties within it.
  • Schedule experts: Book in to have the relevant experts on the right days and at the right times for your design sprint.
  • Pick a Facilitator: You will need someone to help you through this process so that you stay on track. Find someone near you to facilitate.
  • Block 5 full days in the calendar: Perhaps the hardest of these steps!
  • Book a room with 2 whiteboards: You’re going to need these throughout the Sprint process.
  • Interview key stakeholders: Don’t go into your design sprint blind. Talk to key stakeholders to find out their thoughts and opinions on what you’re creating during the 4 days.

As well as essential supplies:

  • The Sprint book
  • Timer
  • Whiteboards + pens
  • IdeaPaint
  • Post-its + dot stickers
  • Plain paper + sharpies
  • Masking tape

Doing a Design Sprint 2.0

Day 1: Define the Challenge and Produce Solutions

Defining challenges

  • Expert interviews: Discussions with people who are familiar with the product or service on the client’s side.
  • How Might We’s: This helps to define pain points through brainstorming how a problem might be solved.
  • Defining a long-term goal: The team are asked where they would like to see their work and product in 2 years’ time and what might hinder them from getting there.
  • Map: Identifying a rough target area of the Sprint.

Producing solutions

  • Lightening Demos: Some quick desk research is done, perhaps looking at competition, with fast demos to provide an overview of what each person found.
  • 4-Part Sketching: Initially part of Day 2 on the original Design Sprint, this end-of-the-day activity involves sketching rough ideas of what will be produced and prototyped. This can include doodling ideas and Crazy8’s (8 minutes for 8, 1 minute sketches).

Day 2: Vote on Solutions and Create a Storyboard

Voting on Solutions

These votes can be structured in any of the following ways:

  1. Heat Map Exercise: A process during which people vote on the sketches from the day before, choosing the most interesting.
  2. Solution presentation: Sketches are clustered together and highlighted in solution presentations
  3. Straw poll vote: Everyone votes on one solution
  4. Decider vote: Pick one or two concepts that will be prototyped

Storyboarding

  • User-test flow: 6 Post It notes are used (one for each step of the user’s ideal journey). These are then placed on the wall in varying orders, until it is chosen which flow works best.
  • Storyboarding: This bridges the gap between rough sketches and a testable prototype

Day 3: Prototyping

With a view to creating an experience as accurate as possible for the users during the testing period, several versions of the product are designed and produced.

Day 4: User Testing

With finished versions of the prototypes now complete, these are then put to a group of selected participants to try them out:

  • It is usually recommended to ask 5 participants, plus 1 extra in case someone doesn’t show.
  • It’s suggested that after 3 tests you’ll start to see similar results, and that after 5 interviews with the users, you’ll start to see where things have gone well and where your assumptions were wrong.
  • After the initial few tests, there is then time to address and correct any issues that were found, before the rest of the tests continue.

The Takeaways

Design Sprints, and specifically Design Sprint 2.0, can be a hugely useful way to get inspiration and prototypes flowing in a short period of time. However, it’s important to go into each sprint prepared.

Without the right user and market research, you are basing your sprint on assumptions, as opposed to evidence. This could render your whole 4 days wasted!

So, we hope that this blog post has helped you on the path to Sprint greatness and has prepared you for your journey with it. For more helpful advice, we love this blog post on why your sprints may be failing.

As always, let us know if you have any questions in the comments.