3 Practical Insights for your first Design Sprint

Things to think about when planning a design sprint

The 5 day Design Sprint is an exercise in tackling questions around any big issues a company might be facing. The idea is to quickly iterate into the potential future of what a product ‘might’ be like and validate this with real people. Influenced by techniques from IDEO’s Design Thinking open-source mindset, the focus is testing the desirability of solutions for these issues first and foremost.

Within any innovative solution there is a matrix we can use to predict its success:

• Feasible  —  Technical Factors

• Viable  —  Business Factors

Desirable  —  Human Factors


1. It’s a matter of multiple perspectives

It’s crucial to involve people from all aspects of the customer experience to better understand their perspective. Be it the head of experience, desk operator, developer or designer  —  everyone has a part to play. The common misconception with being involved in a Design Sprint is that you have to be a ‘designer’. Different perspectives are what will help you innovate in ways a designer can’t do alone. Each person in the room has different experience and insight into the business and the users. Todd Kelley, partner from IDEO, advocates that everyone has the power to think creatively  —  it’s about how we create an environment to unlock those ideas.

Remember you can’t be wrong about what you perceive or observe and as the team will have different skills, and will be observing different opportunities. When incorporating a mixed group to conduct intercept interviews,  an engineer might observe the speed at which the user progresses through a prototype; a designer might observe the body language being expressed, and the operations manager may see the potential business opportunity first hand. How that same story is retold to a group after that insight is the most important part of getting a deeper understanding of the user’s problem. These alternative perspectives will inspire your team to think differently on how to solve that problem with the user.

2. Learn quickly and cheaply

It’s all about speed  —  seeing a theme yet? You’ve got 5 days to spend your time wisely. Your team’s skillset will always differ, therefore decide on an approach that works for them. Low-fi prototyping with paper, pen and a clipboard is a crucial step before you hit the tools.

Don’t underestimate the power of a 3inch by 3inch sticky piece of paper. The reason you’re handed a sharpie and a little post-it note, and not an A4 piece of paper and a pencil is to communicate ideas quickly and roughly, not spend an hour sketching a photorealistic hand holding an iPhone to demonstrate your new app idea (rolls eyes at every designer). Sketches help you remove the attachment and ego of generating ideas. Get comfortable with moving forward  —  every idea is worth capturing.

When it’s time to bump that prototype up the fidelity scale, how are you going to keep up the pace? Choose when to do this and your tools wisely. Digital collaboration tools like Abstract for Sketch or even Dropbox Paper will make a big difference, especially when iterating quickly within a design sprint. The recent addition of Sketch Prototyping lets our team push mobile prototypes to anyone’s device which gives us the power to quickly test something that feels tangible in front of our users.

3. Buy-in and collaboration

Facilitating big teams isn’t easy, especially if the people involved aren’t familiar with the concept of human centred design or don’t see the immediate benefit: “How is this different to sending a survey?” is something often asked. Enter the power of story telling  —  I’m constantly reminded of my first Design Sprint at Auckland Zoo, thinking about what I perceive as their user’s problems and a good solution in contrast to talking to and observing real people. Intercept interviews are probably the hardest part of a design sprint to get right, but are the most valuable. Have a read of IDEO’s 6 tips to unlock meaningful conversation to better prepare yourself.

When you’re in a room with a lot of people with a range of ideas, there will always be times where topics go off on tangents because of other motives. This is ok  —  you may not often get these chances to hear insight from these people, but are they addressing the problem we’re here to solve? Having a Parking Lot is a great technique for acknowledging these problems to help you move forward. This should be a dedicated space where you can park ideas of value that don’t directly contribute to your design sprint’s mission statement.

Tip: Utilise collaboration tools like Dropbox Paper and Slack to keep everyone in touch with how the week is progressing and chime in at their own leisure.

Start innovating

Use these three insights to start practicing the importance of an open mindset throughout your first Design Sprint. Think about where your time is best spent and the benefits of co-creation, cross-functional teams and the importance of diversity.