Back for the second year running, Jake Knapp, former Google Ventures design partner and author of the New York Times bestseller Sprint, returns to London to collaborate with Clearleft on a sell-out design sprint workshop. We caught up with him before he touched down in London.

Alis Cox
Alis Cox
12th October 2018

You’re back in London for another of your excellent design sprint workshops. What did you enjoy about the workshop last year? 

Well, I always enjoy being in London, but—and I’m not kissing up here!—I really enjoyed the London audience, who were very raucous, and hanging out with the super friendly folks from Clearleft. So I’m back for selfish reasons really, for a good time!

The sprint that you advocate is five action-packed days - how do you manage to pack so much in?

We can get a lot done in a design sprint because the activities are carefully structured. We don’t work long hours, we work smart hours. However, I can’t tell you that a design sprint isn’t hard work—it’s very hard work. The process is spreading because it works, not because it’s easy!

Your book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days has become a New York Times best seller since it was published in 2016. Congratulations. Please tell us how the book came about?

I created the design sprint in 2010 while working at Google, and began writing “how-to” blog posts about it in 2012. The response was really phenomenal, so that’s what got me and my colleagues at Google Ventures thinking about a book.

You once said “going fast prevents second-guessing”: you advocate speed of idea generation as opposed to long-term thinking - why?

Well, long-term thinking is important of course, but it’s easy to overthink things. Often we can come up with a great solution in the beginning, and we need to make sure we give those early, almost instinctive solutions a fair look without just endlessly refining, iterating and redesigning. Often the most obvious solution is the best one.

The process has been described as “democratising” - as in all the participants have an equal voice - how important is this?

It’s important to hear from everyone on the team, but I actually think it’s dangerous to make product decisions as a democracy. The process is carefully crafted to level the playing field for solutions, and to bring out information from everyone, extrovert or introvert, high status or new to the team. But in the end the decisions are made by a single Decider. So it’s a mix of democracy and dictatorship, just like back home in the USA!

Culturally - what positive effects do design sprints have on existing digital and design teams within existing corporations?

There are many positive effects for team culture. A few are: respect for everyone on the team AND respect for the customer, healthy risk-taking, and escaping the constant reaction cycle to slow down and focus on what’s most important.

Many readers of this interview have been inspired by your approach, but sometimes convincing the powers that be within their own organisations to invest in a sprint can be tough. If you were selling the idea of a sprint into the C-suite of a large organisation, how would you convince them of its value?

After a design sprint, people typically report that the five days replaced six months of meetings and arguments. Anyone responsible for running a business should appreciate that. 

Your new book Make Time has just been published in September this year. How does it differ from Sprint, and what do you hope your readers will gain from your latest tome?

For years, my friend (and co-author on Sprint) John Zeratsky and I have been experimenting with redesigning our own days, even as we were redesigning teams’ days with the design sprints. In Make Time you’ll find our recipe for focusing on what matters every day. It’s a book for busy, distracted people who want to slow down the crazy rush and create space for the things they care about.

Got any other plans when you are in London? Do you have a favourite restaurant or place to hang out when here?

I always try to go to the Science Museum but I might not have time on this trip. For sure a run along the river, and I also love breakfast at Lantana. I know they’re Australian, but I’ve never been to Australia, so for me it’s a very London experience.

If you had to recommend a book by another author right now, what would it be?

For work, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. For fiction, I really enjoyed Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, which apparently is almost nothing like the movie by the same name. It’s short, mysterious, and a little creepy—perfect for Halloween time.

Jake Knapp’s Design Sprint Workshop is taking place on the 15th October 2018 at the Barbican Centre in London. You can also see how Clearleft could help you run your own design sprint.