We regularly use design sprints to help clients to accelerate design, unblock problems and investigate new ideas. We’re big fans of design sprints when done well. However …

Chris How
Chris How
29th August 2019

… we also find there are some common misunderstandings about the technique pioneered by Jake Knapp and the team at Google Ventures.

During UX London Jerlyn and I ran a Design Sprint 102 workshop. As part of it, we tested 5 myths we often hear by getting people to run to different sides of a room to show if they thought a statement was true or false.

We discovered there was little consensus in the attendees’ answers.

So which side of the room would you go to? For each of the five myths below do you think the statement is true or false?

Chris running a design sprint workshop in a large glass room at UX London
Chris and Jerlyn running the Design Sprint 102 workshop at UX London 2019

Myth 1: Design sprints only work for digital products

Answer… False

Design sprints are delivery medium agnostic. If you have a business challenge that you want to give focus to by exploring, creating and testing possible solutions then a design sprint can be a valuable approach.

We’ve used design sprints to reimagine a Council’s omnichannel service delivery, to redesign billing information (including the paper version) for a utility company, as well as on many digital products.

In his Sprint book, Jake Knapp talks about using the process for making and testing a new chocolate bar. Ex-Clearleftie, Cennydd Bowles has an [ethical design sprint] (https://www.cennydd.com/ethical-design-sprints) to shape policy and procedures.

The size and nature of the design problem are more important than if the solution is digital, physical or a mix of both.

Myth 2: Design sprints are a cheap 
way to do quality design work

Answer… False

It’s easy to see the appeal to business decision-makers in the strapline from the Sprint Book. Who doesn’t want to ‘Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days’.

In organisations where there is a perception that design takes too long and innovation is costly then a design sprint may appear to be a silver bullet.

However, design sprints can be incredibly wasteful if you don’t focus on the right problem. Afterall they involve a lot of concentrated time from a team of skilled people.

The true value in a design sprint is in exploring new possibilities and learning quickly the ones that offer value to pursue further and the ones to let go.

Myth 3: You can test your prototypes
 with whoever you can find

Answer… True but …

The final day of the design sprint is set aside to test your ideas. This is where you learn what is useful and desirable for the intended audience.

Our top tip is to build as little as you can to learn as much as you can. Aim to be prototype ready not production ready. It’s okay if your artefact for testing is held together with sticky tape and string.

When it comes to who to evaluate your ideas with always test with people who belong in the space you are exploring. Shortcuts in recruiting lead to a shortfall in insight.

When testing for usability you can get away with a less strict recruit. When testing for desirability and validating user needs then make sure you research with people who’ll use your product or service.

Myth 4: Design sprints are a great way to show your organisation the value and benefit of design

Answer… True but …

As fans of design sprints, we certainly advocate using them as a low-risk and relatively low-cost method for exploring potentially high-value ideas.

We have many examples of design sprint successes both in developing new products and services but also in engaging stakeholders in the value design and design thinking offers.

However, it is easy for teams and stakeholders to become addicted to the energy and excitement a design sprint generates. There is often a danger that this leads to becoming blinkered to other design techniques.

Design sprints are best as a kick-starter but lack the rigour to deliver fully considered products or services.

Myth 5: A design sprint is a 
 five-day long process

Answer: False

The length of a design sprint is not fixed. We have taken the principles of a structured rapid design process and applied it to projects ranging from four days to three weeks. The semi-official design sprint 2.0 outlines, as a headline at least, a four-day process. Although it shrinks the week by a day by moving some activities into pre and post phases of the design sprint.

There seems to be an arms race going on to see how quickly you can run a design sprint. If you search on Medium you’ll find articles on running a one-day design sprint, topped by the five-hour design sprint that gets superseded by the three-hour version before another article trims this to a two-hour process. At some point, you don’t have space and time to explore possibilities but merely to badly execute your first obvious ideas.

Be careful of speed design. Design sprints are best to address tricky challenges with a degree of divergent thinking. If the business challenge you face is worth investigating then it needs enough time to figure out and to play around with some design alternatives that move away from just obvious and safe solutions.

Interested in design sprints?

Find out more about Design Sprints at Clearleft with a collection of our thoughts and resources to help you get more from this valuable and often misunderstood design technique.