Running a Design Sprint

As a User Experience Designer, I have used Design Thinking methods on a daily basis for many years – user interviews, observations, user journeys, scribbling, ideation sessions, prototypes, and user testing. Most projects lasted for a longer period of time, and only during pitches we were forced to go at a very fast pace. I have heard about design sprints – a five-day process to ideate, prototype, and test an idea – many times before, and while I am familiar with the different exercises I have never conducted a condensed five day workshop following the process of Jake Knapp’s book. I guess I was the perfect candidate for the Design Sprint Munich meetupwhere the participants work on a sandbox project to try out this methodology.

How did it go?

We decided to work on a new feature for Freework, a mobile timetracking application for freelancers. Different to the process in the book, we conducted every day within three hours over the course of two weeks, since we were all doint this as a side project next to our day job. While certainly it makes a difference, if you do five full days in a row, this procedure helped us to get a feel for the flow of the process. We started with the first day on a Friday night, to work on the goals, customer journey, the user and expert interviews, the HMW (“how might we”) questions, and the voting on our design challenge. On Saturday morning we re-grouped and started with the lightning demos, followed by the “crazy eights”, and the detailed scribble. In the afternoon we voted for the winning solutions and started to build the storyboard for the user test.

Day 2 - Inspiration through lightning talks

Day 2 – Inspiration through lightning demos

We build the prototype using Sketch and Invision. For the user test, we applied for the usability testing dinner in Munich, another fantastic meetup, where different start-ups or companies show prototypes and the participants get to test the different solutions one after the other (I think next time I will apply as a participant because this time I did not get to see a lot of the other solutions).


Day 5 – Testing the prototype

What did I learn

  • Lightning demos are really useful to get the creative juices flowing: I really liked the lightning demos, because this format allows you to get a quick glimpse into different similar or related solutions. It is not about copying other solutions, but to understand and compare the underlying mechanisms, why they work well, and how these mechanisms can be used within our solutions.
  • The definition of the problem is the most difficult part: Choosing the design challenge is what was the most difficult thing. On the first day you spend a lot of time on exploring the problem space and during this process a ton of possible design challenges come up. When overwhelmed with a lot of possible problems to work on, the natural tendency is probably to focus on what you already know. However, I think it is also helpful to go beyond the obvious challenge at this point. Otherwise you could just pick the problem the client suggests and start the sprint on day 2. How well you work on the design challenge on Monday sets the tone for the week and lays the ground for the success of the entire sprint.
  • It is about the idea, not about the prototype (or even a product): I facilitated the user testing session on Friday, and during this event, it became clear to me that it was easy to find the flaws in our prototype but much harder to get feedback on the general idea of our concept. A design sprint is not the right tool to build a product fast. It is about creating and testing ideas.
  • More focus through less discussion: For me the main difference to other approaches and definitely a big plus for the design sprint, was the strong role of the decider. As AJ&Smart put it in one of their videos, a main principle of the design sprint is “together, alone.” The design sprint takes advantage of having multiple creative brains in one room, but minimizes discussion by appointing a decider. While in other brainstorming sessions, the discussion is the most draining part and rarely delivers any useful results, during the design sprint you simply make a decision and stick to it. This helps so much to profit from combining different ideas, but to keep focus and speed up the process at the same time.

More resources on design sprints:

  • A short intro to the process and the book can be found on the Google Ventures website.
  • The book’s website also contains a list of tools, checklists, and a couple of videos on the process.
  • If you are looking for tips and tricks on facilitation or the different exercises, you have to check out the AJ&Smart Youtube Channel, where they share a lot of their practical experience with design sprints.

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