What is a “design sprint” and why should it matter to your business, idea, app or product development?
Imagine you have an amazing app idea? Maybe you’re a project manager or a designer, at a large company, tasked with expanding company’s product line? Perhaps, you are a founder of a funded startup that is looking to grow from MVP ( most viable product ) to a full feature V1 of your product? All of these scenarios have one thing in common and that is RISK. Risk of uncertainty, risk of failure, risk of missing the mark or target audience, risk of spending tons of money, time and effort into building a product or realizing idea that is just not received, as well as, you would have hoped. This risk paired with tight budgets and finite time often results in abandonment of ideas or delay of production.
Nobody wants to spend time and money and effort on something that will not be received well. Heck. I have been there a few times in my life. In the past, we’ve built apps and websites by pouring sweat, tears, time and thousands of dollars into creating something, while dreaming of becoming the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. But when you launch, it is nothing but crickets. You start freaking out, bombarding your friends, colleagues to join your platform and few do but that is as far as it goes.
What’s next? If you are persistent fella like myself, you just dust yourself off and try again, with better knowledge. Or you can just give up and proclaim that business of entrepreneurship is simply not for you.
But what if I told you there is another way? A smarter way!
“When this baby hits 88mph, we’re gonna see some serious s**t!”
Yep, I am talking about time travel people. No you will not need a DeLorean or Flux Capacitor. Having a weird older Doc friend, might be helpful, but also not a requirement.
I am talking about Design Sprint, folks! With design sprint, you can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments. Design sprint process reviews ideas for products that are in early design or development stages – when changes are still less risky and cheaper than later in the process. It delivers solutions by focusing on the feedback of consumers early on before design process fully begins.
Basically, you will get to see how people will react to your product before you even make it!
OK, but what is it actually?
Design sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers. Design sprint allows you to shortcut the endless-debate cycle and compress months of time into a single week. Design sprint gives you clarity about your business goals which means that you can make better decisions in less time by focusing on solutions instead of problems . Design sprint will help speed up product development cycles and get products to market faster than ever before and with real consumer feedback is already in place.
It was developed at Google – Google Ventures by Jake Knapp. Jake began running design sprints in 2010. Here we are 11 years later and it is still a best hidden secret of the industry. But bigger companies have caught on early onto this ideas and used it as their superpower for rapid growth. Companies such as Nest, Slack, Flatiron Health, etc….
I am very sad that small business owners are not exposed to these opportunities yet. Here at BeCurious Studio, we aim to change it. There is no reason why small businesses can’t reap the amazing benefits of the design sprint, same way as large tech and corporate companies already do.
In the past year alone I have noticed a significant interest rise about the design sprint.
What does the design sprint process looks like?
Borrowing the descriptions straight from the GV’s sprint book here is what your full five-days week of doing a design sprint will look like:
Day 1 – Monday’s structured discussions create a path for the sprint week. In the morning, you’ll start at the end and agree to a long-term goal. Next, you’ll make a map of the challenge. In the afternoon, you’ll ask the experts at your company to share what they know. Finally, you’ll pick a target: an ambitious but manageable piece of the problem that you can solve in one week.
Day 2 – After a full day of understanding the problem and choosing a target for your sprint, on Tuesday, you get to focus on solutions. The day starts with inspiration: a review of existing ideas to remix and improve. Then, in the afternoon, each person will sketch, following a four-step process that emphasizes critical thinking over artistry. You’ll also begin planning Friday’s customer test by recruiting customers that fit your target profile.
Day 3 – By Wednesday morning, you and your team will have a stack of solutions. That’s great, but it’s also a problem. You can’t prototype and test them all—you need one solid plan. In the morning, you’ll critique each solution, and decide which ones have the best chance of achieving your long-term goal. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll take the winning scenes from your sketches and weave them into a storyboard: a step-by-step plan for your prototype.
Day 4 – On Thursday, you’ll adopt a “fake it”philosophy to turn that storyboard into a prototype. A realistic façade is all you need to test with customers, and here’s the best part: by focusing on the customer-facing surface of your product or service, you can finish your prototype in just one day. On Thursday, you’ll also make sure everything is ready for Friday’s test by confirming the schedule, reviewing the prototype, and writing an interview script.
Day 5 – By Friday, you’ve created promising solutions, chosen the best, and built a realistic prototype. That alone would make for an impressively productive week. But you’ll take it one step further as you interview customers and learn by watching them react to your prototype. This test makes the entire sprint worthwhile: At the end of the day, you’ll know how far you have to go, and you’ll know just what to do next.
The best thing about this whole journey is that there is no pass or fail mark. Every design sprint is a success because it provides you with the feedback data about your idea. Most of the times you will use that feedback to improve the product in the design stages. Other times you will use this feedback to completely pivot the direction of your business. But in all instances you would have saved tons of effort, time and money and will now use this feedback to design something truly desired!
You will literally SPRINT the design!
Design sprint variations
Now, there are many variations of design sprints. Think of this as more of a dynamic framework rather than a must-follow process. While the exercises themselves are pretty much, more or less the same, design sprints vary in duration, days and time allotted for each exercise. This is not like the IKEA manual but more of a guide to help you and your team to focus, increase your decision making ability. This decision making ability stems from the fact that there are no distractions present. You only focus at the task at hand.
Practicing design sprints, and implementing the design sprint thinking into your organization will help you increase productivity and creativity of your team. You will never run another meeting the same old boring way. Adopting this facilitation and voting approach to problem solving will turn any yawn-inducing, hour long meeting, into a productive workshop, with a solid outcome.
We have done variations of sprint that range from 1 day long to 3 day to 5 day and in some cases we had to even allow more time to prototype and test. But the results always come pouring in in the most exciting and unexpected ways.
The true genius behind these design sprints is its’ simplicity. I mean really. It is so basic and rudimentary that after getting introduced to a design sprint, you just sit in awe and wonder why the hell is this not the ABC of every business and product design process? All you really do is allow yourself the time to be creative in a very gamified experience. I mean really truly creative. Simply by focusing on 1 single problem at a time. Forget the social media, phones, twitter, phone calls…leave all that BS distraction at the door and just focus on solving a problem and creating.
Ideology behind design sprint
Design sprint ideology stems from design thinking methodology – to design and solve with purpose. Be empathetic towards your user and the problem you are solving for them, but also test and collect feedback early on so you can continue to constantly improve the product, the process and your business.
It seems like this should be the cornerstone principle of any innovation or business entity but in truth it rarely is.
However, more and more large organization, that are deeply rooted in tradition ways of doing business are now taking note of this methodology and trying to implement it not only into their product building ideation but also into their teams operations.
Changes are usually hard , but not this one. This one is a blessing.
The change towards design thinking and design sprint is a rather refreshing one. It does not force you to heavily invest into restructure of your team hierarchy or introduction of any expensive software. It is more of a simple productivity hack that can be easily integrated to your routines.
At the end of the day the only thing design sprint requires is a pack of sticky notes, a whiteboard, a timer and some dedication and tunnel focus from your team. That is it!
Personal design sprint story
We are currently spearheading an internal, self initiated project, that deals with fitness. As we were prepping for the design phase and execution we had a meeting and had difficulty figuring out or agreeing on a set of features we wanted to include in the initial release.
This felt like the perfect time to run a design sprint to help us identify some of the key problems and solutions for the upcoming design phase.
We did not even spend the entire 5 days of running a design sprint but just a quick 1 day design sprint that included interviews with some key experts and few target audience members has helped us produce and test a prototype with about 40+ intended users of the app. All of this done before we even started any design efforts.
Solve big problems
Have we not done that early on, we would have probably spend the next 3-4 weeks designing what we felt was needed all the while packing the MVP product with tons of features. But only in few days we have learned so much new information and ways of looking at this , that simply would not be possible otherwise. Not only did we eliminate some key features that we were sure of but we also pivoted some of the key flows.
All of this was done through a test of a prototype that contained only 12 screens.
Work smart, not hard by prototyping and testing ideas
Having this 12 screens prototype paired with a feedback of 40+ individual intended users as well as the insights from the experts we are now ready to design an entire application. But this precision of data and having already tested the most crucial flow of the app we are able to cut down the entire design process by roughly 40%
40% Saving is worth a lot more
It is a game changer for a lot of large companies that constantly deploying new innovative ideas, while it could be a necessary life line for small companies that are betting everything on a release of one single idea. Design sprint can be a crucial step between do or die.
How to get started
If you want to learn more about this incredible phenomenon you can pick up a sprint book written by Jake Knapp, you can find it here
If you have additional questions you can visit our website and schedule a consultation
Final thoughts on design sprints
I can’t speak for everyone, but to me this is a single most amazing concept that I have encountered. Impressive enough that I have shifted our entire agency business model to revolve around it.
It allows me and my team to be super productive. I have never seen a team perform at such peak level as we currently are by using the sprint framework.
It helps our us and our clients challenge our initial thoughts, it helps us understand the product, the environment, the audience so much better. It forges quick and deep connections between an idea and a user, because the user helps us shape it.