Design sprints are a time-efficient way to get all of the important ideas and information out onto the table. They help you tackle any problem—from problems with your company's design to brainstorming solutions for business challenges or even personal goals. Design sprints work because they're tailored specifically to creativity: instead of sitting in front of a blank canvas, you're given a problem to solve or an issue that needs addressing.
In the design sprint process, there are five steps: framing, ideation and prioritization (idea generation), prototyping (to test solutions), usability testing (for feedback on prototypes), and customer validation for market fit. The time frame is about five days for a design sprint, so it's perfect if you're short on time but need to get in some good work.
Design Sprints started at Google 10 years ago, and over a decade became the way Google creates and innovates. Since then, the concept of design sprints has started to spread outside of Google, and businesses everywhere are starting to see the benefits.
Over time, Design Sprints also evolved and adapted to better respond to the different business needs and organizational goals. As a result, there are various ways to categorize Design Sprints. For example, based on duration (5-day, 4-day, 3-day sprint, or even 2-week sprints) or some specific method or technology (AI sprints, Talent Sprints, Green Sprint, Voice Sprint, etc.).
At Imagination Media, we think outcomes are the most relevant criteria for categorizing design sprints.
The outcomes can be grouped into five categories:
- Product Design Sprint - used to prototype, test, and validate new product ideas;
- Strategy Design Sprint (or Innovation Sprints) - for strategic innovation initiatives with a time limit of six weeks or less;
- Organizational Change/Transformation sprints - that are focused on changing an organization's strategy or culture.
- Brand Design Sprint - used to clearly define the company's brand vision;
- Business Design Sprint - for companies who want to change or evolve their business models to leverage the organization's core strengths.
"The design sprint process is built around the idea that creativity and innovation happen at an accelerated pace when you set aside a designated time for it." - Ivona Namjesnik, Branding Director at Imagination Media.
To get the most out of design sprints, you need to use them at the right time and be willing to adapt for the best possible outcome. For example, if you're looking for creative solutions related to your company's products but don't have much time, it would make sense to run a Product Design Sprint instead of an Organizational Change/Transformation sprint.
What Do You Need For a Sprint?
To run a successful sprint, you need to assemble the right team:
- Facilitator - usually someone from outside of the problem area. The person in this role will lead and guide everyone through each phase of the sprint process. They'll also be responsible for keeping track of time and ensuring that all tasks are completed on schedule.
- Designer - this person will work with the team to generate ideas, plan and sketch solutions. They'll also be responsible for making any prototypes that are needed during the sprint process.
- Product Owner (or Project Manager) - usually someone from inside of the problem area who has detailed knowledge about your product or company's strategy. The product owner's role is to keep the team on track, make sure that all tasks get completed and help everyone understand what's needed for the final prototype.
- Tester - this person will work with the designer to implement solutions into prototypes and then run a usability test. Participants are asked questions about how they're feeling while interacting with different features and answering questions about their experience with the product.
The team members listed above are required for a successful sprint, but you may need to add additional expertise depending on your needs. For example, if you're looking to create an AI-enabled product or service, then it would make sense to have someone from that field involved in the design process.
Apart from 4 to 6 people from your company, plus a skilled Imagination Media team, you also need 5 days and one clearly defined challenge or critical problem.
What Happens in a Design Sprint?
A typical design sprint will be broken down into five phases:
- Planning - this is when everyone on the team works together to determine what needs to be done, why it's important, and how they're going to do it. The facilitator or product owner serves as a coach in this phase while also ensuring that all the necessary tasks are completed.
- Scoping - this is the phase where you'll work to define what your problem actually means and answer questions like: Who will be involved? What tools do we need? How much time should we set aside for each of these phases? The team works on defining success criteria in this phase so that they can measure the success of their project.
- Prototyping - this is where you'll create a prototype and test it with users to see if it solves your problem. The designer will work closely with other team members on an iterative process that helps generate ideas, analyze them for potential problems, then turn those ideas into prototypes so they can be tested.
- Feedback - This is where the team comes together to evaluate prototypes with users, testers, and other stakeholders in order to get feedback about what works well and how you can improve your prototype. The information from this phase will be used later on when developing a final solution for the problem at hand.
- Launch/Iteration - during this phase, the team will work together to determine what needs to be launched or modified. You'll also evaluate whether you need a follow-up sprint and decide how long it would take for your new product/service/strategy to launch successfully.
When to Run a Sprint?
The framework can be used anytime an organization needs to answer critical business questions, when a project is stuck or when big problems don't have an obvious solution.
Design Sprints can be applied in a multitude of use cases, to:
- encourage innovation and creative thinking,
- test out new ideas before they're implemented on a larger scale,
- improve teamwork and communication skills,
- test market hypotheses or
- to create prototypes of products.
When not to run a Design Sprint?
There are a few cases when you shouldn't use design sprints. For example, if you're trying to solve an existing problem that has already been solved or, worse yet - a simple problem with no clear solution, then the sprint may not be worth your time and effort. Also, if there's disagreement within your team about the problem, then it may be better to spend time defining the goal of talking about how you're going to solve problems with your team instead of diving into a sprint.
What are Design Sprint Benefits?
Design Sprints can provide you with many benefits, including:
- increased creativity and innovation - because everyone is working in the same space together to solve a problem, it's guaranteed that they'll be thinking about new ideas or different ways of solving your issue. This will lead to more creative approaches than if people were trying to work on their own, and the process will help you identify what works best for your business.
- improved decision-making - because everyone is working together to break down a problem into smaller pieces and come up with possible solutions for each piece, it's easier to make decisions about which solution might be worth trying. This can also lead to quicker decision-making because there's a clearer understanding of the problem, what needs to be done and why it matters.
- increased focus - since Design Sprints encourage team members to work together in order to solve problems and produce new ideas, they can help improve motivation levels for those who are less engaged with their jobs or have lower morale levels.
- increased productivity - since the framework helps you tackle a problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be tackled simultaneously or consecutively in order to produce an end product with less effort and time than would have been required otherwise. This is especially helpful when team members don't work well together because they'll feel more empowered to work on their own tasks without feeling stuck.
In the end...
Design Sprints are a great way to solve problems, make decisions and encourage creativity. If you're looking for a problem-solving framework that will help your team work better together - or if you have big questions about what the best course of action is for your business in terms of products/services/strategy, then Design Sprints are a great way to get there.