Design Sprints: The Experience Innovation Process that Powers Doing
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Design Sprints: The Experience Innovation Process that Powers Doing

June 4, 2020

Jenna Levine

Preparing, planning, and executing a successful design sprint isn’t easy (especially remotely) — so we’re here to help. 

Getting your stakeholders to make a critical decision can be paralyzing. After spending weeks researching and strategizing, you find yourself in back and forth conversations discussing everything besides the final decision you need to move forward. So, how do you avoid analysis paralysis and encourage “less talking, more doing” among your senior leaders? 

Enter: The Design Sprint. 

Popularized by Google Ventures, the Design Sprint process was created to help tech companies bring stakeholders together to design, prototype, test concepts with consumers, and align in five fast-paced days. Today, the idea of “sprints” isn’t just for tech companies — it’s an effective way to evolve the traditional workshop into something that helps cross-functional teams make critical business decisions together. We frequently run sprints for:

The core idea is that, rather than spending time on one (potentially bad) idea, the sprint helps teams generate many ideas and immediately take action on the best of them. By testing with consumers early, you vet and align on the best concepts so that you can focus on what matters most moving forward. 

Want to learn more? Here’s an example of what a 5-day sprint might look like — and how you can leverage ideation and different sprint types to power innovation in your organization.

DAY 1: EMPATHIZE

Why: Day 1 is all about building empathy for the consumers you’re trying to innovate for. By getting into the minds of your users, you’ll understand and be able to anticipate their needs, motivations, and desires — sparking more relevant and impactful ideas. 

Steps: 

#1. Research Share-out. Start the day by sharing out relevant consumer research findings — either from previous related projects or from a prior workstream — to spark discussion identifying the consumer’s needs. We’re Jobs To Be Done junkies, so we’ll typically use this framework in our research share-out as a foundation for the empathy workshop activity.

#2. Empathy workshop activity. After the research share-out, empathize with the consumer using workshop activities like Journey Mapping, Empathy Mapping, or Abstraction Laddering to tease apart the functional and emotional needs.

 Tips:

  • If you have personas or a segmentation, bring representations of those key groups to the sprint. Hang these personas around the space or, if you’re doing a sprint virtually, have them easily accessible in a digital whiteboard space like MURAL. This will make “who” you’re innovating for more real and top of mind for participants. 
  •  If you don’t have primary research, you can still empathize with consumers by hypothesizing what their needs and pain points are based on secondary research (and then test them later on with consumers on day 4). For example, find common themes from company and product reviews, blog posts, social media, case studies, and trend reports to inspire hypothesizing. 
  • Share an active listening guide with workshop attendees to help structure their thinking while listening to the research share-out. A long presentation can lead to an off-topic discussion, so share the empathy workshop activity ahead of time, keeping their thinking focused and relevant.

DAY 2: DEFINE

Why: Once the needs of the consumer are internalized, you need to define how your brand can uniquely deliver on these needs (aka, identify your point of differentiation). What about your company, brand, or product offers something different or new than the existing solutions today? What brand equities or experiences can you deliver on (and others can’t) that make you unique in solving these needs? What new opportunities can you create that help alleviate pains, but remain genuine to your brand?

Steps: 

#1. Differentiation brainstorm. Discuss why your brand is fit for delivering on each consumer need identified during day 1, by brainstorming new and existing experiences that would make you credible in doing so. 

#2. Value proposition statements. Explicitly define how your new innovation will meet the needs of your consumers, by turning the differentiation brainstorm into concise value proposition statements. For example, provide a framework for workshop attendees where they can fill in the blank: “Our new product/experience will help our consumers [insert need] by [insert solution alleviating pain or amplifying gain].”

Tips:

DAY 3: IDEATE

Why: By day 3, your team will be eager, excited, and hopefully inspired to finally ideate solutions. At this point, you have the basis for your ideation session — you’ve determined what your consumers need and why your brand can uniquely deliver on it. Now you need to determine how that can be accomplished. 

Steps: 

#1. Define a successful concept. Begin day 3 by aligning as a group on what makes a successful concept, grounding the attendees in how they should be developing their ideas.

#2. Concept posters templates. Using a concept poster template, have attendees brainstorm and detail their solutions based on the value proposition statements identified the day prior. We recommend that the concept poster includes a concept description, reasons to believe, how it manifests through different touchpoints, and an illustration.

Tips: 

  • For a concepting session where designers are not present for rapid illustrations, use a mood board instead to show the general vibe of the concept. Showing a few Google images can be more than enough to get the point of the idea across. 
  • But also don’t be afraid to encourage folks who aren’t skilled artists to pick up a pen and draw. Sometimes even a “bad” drawing can do more to communicate your point than words or pictures ever could. If you want a way to warm people up to drawing, facilitate a “Crazy 8’s” exercise as a warm up. 

DAY 4: TEST

Why: You have a few detailed concepts that are starting to take shape — but are you on the right track? Day 4 is all about testing your concepts early, ensuring they are relevant for your target consumers and exciting for your brand.

Step:

#1. Test with consumers. Qualitatively test with consumers using traditional focus groups, co-creation sessions, or something in between (what we like to call “Bounce and Build sessions”). Use the time with consumers to first set the stage, confirm their needs, and test the team’s hypotheses — especially if secondary research was used on day 1. Once the conversation is contextualized, present the concepts and allow the respondents to react, using activities like card sorting or trade-off / forced-choice exercises to help spark conversation.

Tips: 

DAY 5: REFINE

Why: Finally, you’ve made it! Here you’ll take what you learned from consumers and turn it into action. Day 5’s focus is refining and prioritizing the top concepts, using the consumer insights from day 4 to guide concept optimization. 

Steps:

#1. Present actionable concept feedback. Start the day by presenting the findings from consumer testing with specific action items for improving each concept (including combining and potentially eliminating certain concepts). 

#2. Refine concepts. Using these findings, further refine each concept, adding new details based on consumer feedback. We recommend adding to the day 3 concept poster template, prompting thoughts on experience and messaging principles and concept guardrails. 

#3. Prioritize. Depending on the design sprint objectives, certain concepts may need to be prioritized. A simple group conversation could suffice or the voting feature on MURAL is a great way to anonymously capture the top ideas digitally. 

Tip:

  • Day 5 is one of the most important days for stakeholders to be present, especially if the group will be prioritizing the best ideas to move forward. If possible, ensure all key stakeholders are present and able to engage in the workshop.

We know… planning a design sprint can be overwhelming but thinking through these steps and preparing ahead of time is the key to doing this successfully. Whether working digitally or not, our ability to collaborate, ideate impactfully, and design thoughtful solutions remains the same. So, here are a few parting tips that can bring your design sprint from productive to flawless whether in person or remotely:

  • Remind the audience where you’re going: It’s hard to reconcile on day 1 how your work will feed into final concepting, so use breadcrumbs throughout the sprint to show what you’ve done and where you are going. 
  • Set the right mindset: It’s important to approach design sprints with a “Yes, and” attitude. It sets the stage for constructive conversations enabling more creative ideation.
  • Give everyone a voice: You may have many different attendees through the sprint — from stakeholders to designers to engineers — and it’s important to gain perspective from all parties. Acknowledge everyone in the (digital) room by occasionally asking “who haven’t we heard from” or asking specific attendees for their thoughts.
  • Design sprints are tough and digital design sprints even tougher, but using the right tools make it easily doable: As we approach month 3 of work from home policies, we’ve been able to vet certain tools that make these digital design sprints feasible. For more information, check out our blog post on “Running Collaborative Meetings and Workshops from Home.” 

Preparing, planning, and executing a successful design sprint isn’t easy (especially remotely) — so we’re here to help. 

Kelton’s Experience Innovation team frequently hosts design sprints, helping clients transform their trickiest innovation challenges into tangible ideas in just a few, impactful days. The example design sprint discussed in this blog post is just one approach of many — all of them easily adaptable depending on your business objective. We believe design sprints are just another method for telling human stories, so chat with us about your next innovation project to start planning your next story!

Jenna Levine

Manager, Experience Innovation & Design Research

As Manager, Experience Innovation & Design Research, Jenna is a problem-solving enthusiast with a passion for design thinking. She guides clients in gaining a deep understanding of complex needs...

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