We’ve been huge fans of the Google Ventures style design sprint since reading the early posts about them way back in 2012. We were excited to have Daniel and Jake deliver a design sprint workshop and presentation at UX London 2014, and we were thrilled when Jake’s Sprint Book started popping up in airport bookstores around the world.

For the uninitiated, a design sprint is a week-long collaborative design exercise, aimed at solving a small but well defined problem. A good example could be improving your product sign-up page, although Google Ventures have used design sprints for everything from creating a new coffee website through to prototyping a hotel robot butler.

The process uses a range of common design tools including customer interviews, user journey mapping, paper prototyping and dot voting. But rather than being spread over a typical six-week discovery period, the process is compressed into five days.

The week is broken down into distinct phases—understand, sketch, decide, prototype, and validate. If you’re familiar with the double diamond process, you’ll notice the similarities. By the end of day five the goal is to have iterated through a series of possible solutions, picked a likely candidate, tested the concept on real people, and have developed a strong candidate for further exploration.

Working this way is highly efficient, and a lot of fun. It’s a great way for teams to swarm around a particular design problem. Because it requires a high degree of collaboration, it’s also a great way of exposing your stakeholders to the intricacies of the design process. But design sprints can be exhausting, and they aren’t suitable for every occasion, so they do come with a bit of a health warning. Here are five tips to get the most out of your next design sprint.

  1. Pick the right project. You can get a surprising amount done in a week, but you can’t boil the ocean. Prototyping a simple e-commerce store is possible. Redesigning Amazon from the ground up probably isn’t. Knowing what’s achievable and what isn’t comes with practice, so start small and manage expectations. My recent blog post The Design Sprint Hammer takes a closer look at how to decide - to sprint, or not to sprint?  

  2. Pick the right team. Design sprints provide a great framework within which high-performance teams can excel. But it’s not some magic process and you can’t weave gold out of straw. So pick your team carefully, and make sure there’s a good balance between experienced designers and domain experts. 

  3. Embrace uncertainty. Moving this fast inevitably requires compromise. The team needs to be comfortable working with a high degree of uncertainty and needs to understand that not every problem will find a solution. Stack the deck with people who default to action and have a “yes-and” attitude. Nothing saps the energy and momentum of a design sprint more than the quest for perfect knowledge.

  4. Make a post-sprint plan. There is no guarantee that a design sprint will result in the ideal solution, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket. A good design sprint is the start of the design process, not a Hail Mary pass. Make sure you allocate enough time after the sprint to drive the work home.

  5. Look after your team. Design sprints can be hugely exhausting, so make sure you give your team some space to recoup. Chaining one design sprint after another may sound like a good idea, but it isn’t sustainable. In fact it’s the fastest way to break your team.

In short, design sprints are a great way to break the back of a tricky design problem, as part of a healthy and well-balanced design diet. Understanding what happens after a successful design sprint turns a fun exercise into a valuable tool in your problem-solving toolkit.

Jake Knapp is running a now sold out Design Sprint Workshop in partnership with Clearleft in London on the 7th September - add your name to the waiting list here

If you’d like to run a design sprint of your own, talk to us about design sprint facilitation.

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