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Design Sprints. What are they, and why should you try one?

This week-long process for design and discovery is a great way to kick-start your project. Learn about how Design Sprints work, and when you should use them.

It’s hard starting from nothing. 

Here at Pixel Fridge, we’re often approached by clients with an open-ended brief. They’ll know the desired outcome, but are unsure of how to get there. They may even have a rough idea of product features, but no alignment on how they should work.

When planning a design solution there are many factors at play. There are loads of decisions to make, and stakeholders to manage.

Design Sprints are a great way to speed things up, and bring everyone into alignment in a short period of time.

What is a Design Sprint?

The Design Sprint is a weeklong process that works through a design problem. It creates a shared vision of a solution, whilst also validating it with users. 

Design Sprints started at Google as a way to kick-start new business ideas in their ‘Ventures’ programme. Since then they’ve taken the industry by storm. That’s because they’re a highly efficient way to solve big challenges with a short burst of activity.

The process brings everyone together for a week of focused, uninterrupted work. The team collaborates on a series of design tasks. By the end, they’ll have created an initial prototype that’s been tested with real users.

Who gets involved in a Design Sprint?

Sprints aren’t just for the techies. Activities need the whole project team’s involvement, especially in the first couple of days.

User experiences go awry when the right people aren’t brought in early enough. Issues can be raised when it’s too late, and vital knowledge can go untapped. The Design Sprint model gets around this by having everyone involved from the start. 

Team members who would have previously been absent for most of the design process now get a front-row seat in the early phases. Better still, they’re feeding in their unique areas of expertise. 

On the agency side, the Design Sprint team might include :

  • The UX Designer (usually the Sprint facilitator).
  • The project manager.
  • The developer(s).

On the client’s side, team members can vary greatly. It depends on who is involved in the project. Typical participants might include :

  • The client-side project manager / product owner.
  • The project sponsor.
  • The head(s) of department to which the project relates.
  • The content managers.
  • Subject matter & user experts (e.g. customer services representatives).
  • The IT team.

We’ve run design sprints that have anywhere between 3 and 20 client-side participants. It really depends on the project, and how many people will be affected by the solution. The important thing is to include everyone who can add value ; not just the top dogs.

Design Sprints are great way to tackle challenges in a quick and collaborative way

Sticky notes for design sprints
Design Sprints explore new ideas, and bring everyone into alignment over short period of time.

How is it structured?

The Sprint kicks off on Monday, with the whole team working in the same physical space. It’s important to keep this space reserved for the Sprint. You’ll need it. We usually go for a big meeting room, or a break-out space.

The group is then led through an itinerary of different design activities. These include user journey mapping, requirements prioritisation and sketching activities. 

The week begins with mass idea generation, but gradually becomes more focused as things are agreed upon. It all moves towards the all-important end goal on Friday. A working prototype of a single selected solution, that can be tested with real users.

There are a few different approaches to the specific agenda for a Design Sprint, but at Pixel Fridge we like this one :

  • Monday : Define and map the problem area.
  • Tuesday : Collaboratively sketch potential solutions.
  • Wednesday : Choose and refine a single solution.
  • Thursday : Build a wireframe prototype.
  • Friday : Test that prototype with real users.

As the final task on Friday afternoon, we’ll have a retrospective about how it went and what we learned. Then, we’ll decide what to do next. It may be that we develop the chosen concept, taking it into a more detailed design process. Or, we could go back to the drawing board (literally) and develop a different idea.

The important thing is that we’ve set the groundwork for what the solution is. Then, we can start moving the project forward.

Design Sprint Process
The process brings everyone together for a week of focused, uninterrupted work. By the end, we’ll have created an initial prototype that’s been tested with real users.

What if the solution fails in testing?

On Friday, the prototype is tested with real users to get their feedback. If it isn’t well received, that’s not necessarily a bad outcome. 

The short nature of a Sprint significantly reduces the impact of failure. If something doesn’t work, we find out in the shortest possible time. We can then take what we’ve learned from this process, and try something else.

Design Sprints give teams more flexibility to experiment with crazier, more innovative ideas. They get to the right solution sooner, shedding light on what works… and what doesn’t.

Is a Design Sprint right for my business?

The Design Sprint was originally created with tech startups in mind. It’s easy to see why. The process works perfectly to form and test a new product idea. That being said, it works well for established brands, too. Any organisation wanting to try something new. This might be a new feature in an existing product, or an entirely different way of doing things. 

Sprints aren’t here to outright replace the existing design process. There will always be a need for detailed design work. Planning the intricacies of a full experience, and all of the different scenarios & screens that come with it takes time. 

Think of the Sprint as a ‘preview’ of the full project. It lays the foundations, so we can work more efficiently.

A Sprint may not be right for all projects, either. It’s a demanding process, requiring the dedication of the full team all week long. That’s not always easy to coordinate. That being said, when it comes to rapid ideation, Design Sprints are an invaluable tool.

They’re one of the best ways to answer big questions in a quick and collaborative way.

Need help running a Design Sprint?

We’ve planned and facilitated Design Sprints for all kinds of projects, and can help with yours too. Get in touch, and tell us a little more about your product. We’ll help get your idea moving.

Design Sprints give teams the flexibility to trial a left-field idea, without the fear of failure

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