A design sprint is a 5-day process for solving big problems and testing solutions.
Developed at Google by Jake Knapp, and detailed in his book Sprint, it is a process for getting disparate internal teams together for a short and intense period of learning, ideation, design and testing.
The traditional sprint is held over 5 days, although subsequent iterations have been developed to fit into shorter timescales.
The key stages of the sprint are:
- Map the problem – it is important not be solution-led when starting out on a design sprint. First, we want to understand exactly what the problem is and the challenges that different teams are facing before establishing what successful outcome for the sprint looks like.
- Develop solutions – once a clear picture of the problem has been established, it’s time to start working on solutions. By following a 4-stage process, working individually, a design sprint encourages input from team members who might otherwise be excluded from this stage of a traditional development cycle.
- Decide on solutions – with lots of ideas flying around it is time to narrow these down to one or two solutions to test. This, again, is done using a 4-stage process to ensure everyone in the team gets an equal say and the discussion is not dominated by senior voices.
- Prototype solutions – with a decision made, it is time to mock-up the solutions as low fidelity prototypes. These don’t have to be pretty and neat, but they need to exist so we have something to show to users.
- Test with users – the final, as more important stage of the design sprint in our opinion, is to test the prototypes with users. This is an opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working before any expensive design work has taken place or teams have become too invested in a single approach.
Image: Design sprint 5 day timeline. Image taken from thesprintbook.com
By the end of the week, a design sprint delivers a working prototype that has been tested with users and has buy in from the wider business.
Design sprints can be used to solve all sorts of problems. From the big, like building a whole new website or developing new branding for a product , to the small, like designing a single landing page for a new service or planning a good birthday party! The website, Sprint Stories, is a great place to go for inspiration.
A case study: The Money and Pension Service
The Money and Pension Service were developing a new product to help individuals plan for later life. They wanted to understand what would entice users to engage with such a product and develop a landing page that would be the starting point for interested parties.
The sprint involved members of staff from across the organisation, including designers, product managers and UX folks, with a Web Usability facilitator overseeing everything to ensure schedules were kept and everyone was engaged. Due to Covid restrictions, this sprint was 100% remote, conducted using Microsoft Teams and making use of Miro, a whiteboarding tool, to allow for instant collaboration.
Time constraints meant the sprint was condensed into 4 days jam packed days:
Day 1 – Mapping the problem
A chance to understand the new service and the challenges currently being faced. Representatives from different parts of the business were bought in to give ‘Lightning talks’ that gave the sprint team much needed background to underpin subsequent activities in the week. This information was used to establish a long-term goal for the landing page along with a list of challenges that might be faced along the way.
Day 2 – Designing and decision making
Armed with plenty of information, the team started developing some ideas for the final landing page. By following a 4-stage design process, those unused to sketching were given a confidence boost to try putting pen to paper. These ideas were then narrowed down using a second 4-stage process that ensured everyone in the team had an equal say.
Day 3 – Prototype development
The team disbanded for the third day, with members given specific jobs. Some were responsible for building the prototypes, others for writing content and sourcing imagery and the remainder readying everything for the user testing.
Day 4 – Testing with users
On the final day, 5 target users were asked to explore the two landing page prototypes. During these moderated sessions, the testers were asked to give their feedback on the content and design to establish if they understood the proposition and whether they were inclined to engage. Very quickly, it became clear which aspects of the design did and did not work, allowing the team to agree what to take forward to the next stage of development.
By the end of the week, the Money and Pensions Service had developed and tested two landing page prototypes and been given a clear steer on the further improvements required. All this was achieved in a collaborative fashion and underpinned by user evidence, ensuring the final outcome was robust and fully supported across the business. Not bad for 4 days work!
“As sprint facilitators, Web Usability were instrumental in guiding us through the process and helping our team reach a positive outcome. Their expertise shone throughout the entire process.”
– Decio Manjate, User Experience Lead