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Design sprint process explained

The complete guide to design sprints

Design sprints are a unique five-day process to understand, ideate, decide, prototype, and test products, designed by a former Google ventures design partner Jake Knapp. Its aim was to expedite product creation, implementation, and launch to the hands of the customers. 

During these five days, through a collaborative effort between teams, ideas are validated, and all significant product challenges are addressed through prototyping and intensive testing of all ideas directly with the customers. 

Finally, it leverages customer feedback in perfecting and implementing the best product outcomes.

Although several iterations of the design sprint exist, like Google’s sprint framework, this article specifically focuses on the traditional design sprint and how to implement the ideal product design that matches rising customer demands.

Why are design sprints important?

Development sprints don’t place a focus on identifying, defining, and understanding problems. 

Instead, performing dev sprints typically follow conducting these assessments first using the design sprint methodology.

Design sprints are essentially a design thinking approach that acts as sprint zero in the product development cycle, where teams begin the sprint by performing all the foundational research required. 

Teams can devise internal hypotheses using the research derivatives to enable high-level design and information architecture. It is worth noting that sprint zero work is critical and enables the subsequent sprints in the design lifecycle. 

Every low-level design and asset creation happen during the preliminary stages of the sprint. All created assets typically occur parallel with the developers and are kept ready to enable development teams. 

The importance of design sprints is undeniable, especially when you realize that they are one or two sprints ahead of dev sprints and others.

What do you need to run a design sprint?

Accurately following the design sprint methodology will not achieve the desired results if you fail to assemble the right team suited to carry out role-specific tasks that need addressing during the five days.

design sprint team

Based on individual project requirements, building the ideal team requires organizational members to hold expertise in the following integral roles:

Decider

Decision makers are the driving force behind any successful endeavor. A decision maker’s primary role is to decide and drive the design team toward achieving all goals to produce successful outcomes. 

Often the decider comes in the form of a CEO, top-level management, or managing directors.

Facilitator

For the design sprint to work, it must be under strict time constraints. The facilitator acts as the timekeeper, making unbiased and difficult decisions to ensure the design team stays on track to achieving the day’s target within the predefined timeframe.

Marketing expert

The marketing expert is essential for driving product value and reception. A product is meaningless if it fails to generate enough traction from potential customers. 

They achieve this by plotting a course to determine the best design route for maximum customer reach. 

Marketing experts plan and devise the marketing strategy while maintaining the brand and product image with the customers.

Customer service

Today, stellar customer care defines how customers perceive brands and their products. Customer service teams assist the design sprint processes by collecting real-world product-specific feedback. They are instrumental in achieving excellent outcomes while identifying pain points faced by customers during their product journey.

Design expert

Design experts are a critical part of the design sprint where their designs are integral to turning the business’s vision into a quantifiable reality.

They craft the product to best suit the customer’s requirements based on the feedback and research inputs from other roles, such as marketing experts and customer service.

Tech expert

For the design teams to create successful outcomes, they need to know their design’s technological boundaries and limitations. 

The primary role of tech experts are to gauge and convey the design capability and capacity of the business in real time to the designers engaged in planning, building, and implementing products.

Financial expert

In the end, all excellent product design boils down to money. In most business cases, the success or failure of a product enables the potential of future product designs or improvements on existing products. 

The financial expert calculates and provides the stakeholders with the cost to create and implement products and their corresponding ROI projections. In numerous cases, financial experts have helped identify the need for rework and cost-cutting in product design when the expenses don’t justify the returns.

5 Phases of Design Sprint

5 phases of design sprint

Defining and performing a clear set of goals, tasks, and targets for all five days without delay is crucial to the sprint’s success. If any of these steps suffer roadblocks that extend the completion timeframe to the next day, the design sprint will fail to achieve its target effectively. 

Let us take a closer look at steps one through five of the design sprint to understand why they hold such importance.

Day 1: Understand

Day one should begin with identifying the problem that the product aims to solve. To effectively achieve this, it is vital to set a fixed long-term objective for the sprint. 

Establishing the purpose behind the project on day one helps design teams do three important things:

  • Accurately plan what design areas to focus strategically on 
  • What aspects to keep on the back burner to best achieve the long-term goal. 
  • Aligns the design teams and stakeholders toward focusing their efforts and striving to achieve common goals. 

Upon deciding on the plan, teams must convert all obstacles and assumptions into sprint questions to understand how to concisely address and mitigate every obstacle. 

For instance, if the goal is to create a platform where customers can seamlessly log on and share their user experiences, you convert this goal into a sprint question asking, “Are customers facing any roadblocks between logging in, typing their feedback, and clicking submit?” 

When phrasing your goals to sprint questions, look at every obstacle as a potential opportunity for the design team to solve. 

Mapping the journey to the result with consideration toward your target customers and other integral players is an excellent approach to understanding the problems and the customer. 

Envisioning and mapping the final result at the start allows teams to better collaborate and understand all the steps required to bring the vision to fruition. Lacking a mapped result may, in many instances, drive down productivity as there is strained progression due to a lack of a fixed end goal, jeopardizing the timelines. 

The decider is crucial in pushing this stage forward and ensuring that time utilization is done properly.

Day 2: Ideate

Now that the problem is thoroughly understood, the second day in the design sprint process must focus on design ideas that can mitigate a problem successfully and be valuable to the customer. 

It is paramount that these plans be inked on paper to give design stakeholders a visual idea of the direction they will take during the sprint. 

The day usually begins with a lightning demo or group session with all design stakeholders to share their ideas and inspirations. This timed exercise enables design teams to unlock their collective creativity through visualized representations of individual opinions. 

Remember, when harnessed correctly, the power of the human brain of each of your design stakeholders is invaluable in creating the best outcomes. 

The average lightning demo typically is a one or two hour exercise, with the exception for prolonged periods reserved for more complex products. 

Begin the exercise by allotting twenty minutes each for group members to individually note all the possible opportunities and goals for product development and draw out rough ideas. 

The following ten minutes should focus on creating multiple iterations of each individual’s most favorable product. 

The final thirty-minute stretch should focus on sketching a comprehensive, end-to-end solution based on the designer’s best solution.

Day 3: Decisions

On day three, the key decision-makers go through the various solutions and make a judgment call regarding the product’s direction before they can begin prototyping. 

During this design sprint process, it is essential to know that not all solutions are suitable for creating a viable prototype. Here, the decider should make difficult choices and select the final best solution for prototyping, invariably dropping others. 

It is a good practice during this stage that all design artworks and sketches be visibly placed on the walls to ensure that good ideas don’t go unnoticed when making critical decisions. Value your teams’ opinions by allowing them to vote for their three favorite sketches. 

The final tally of this voting system ensures the decider has a clear picture of the collective views of the teams and can be invaluable in making data-driven decision-making that can increase the likelihood of the project’s success. 

Allowing team members the unique opportunity to critique all sketches except their own provides an in-depth view of each solution’s strengths and flaws, further aiding in the decision-making process. 

Ultimately, making the final product decision lies in the hands of the decider and should not be taken in haste.

Day 4: Prototype

On day four of the design sprint process, the final solution and its design plans must be ready to be prototyped. 

The fourth day’s goal is for the team to create a working and realistic prototype that is an embodiment of the finalized plans. This stage involves drawing all information and plans mapped out in the storyboard thus far to create an early beta version of a product that could be desirable to the customer. 

The prototype must be visually excellent and appealing to the user. This visual success is achievable through employing the right designers, asset collectors, engineers, and writers tasked with collecting or creating all individual components and text, and positioning them together to form the product UI. 

Finally, it falls upon the customer interviewer to devise questionnaires with the right questions that can best derive actionable insights toward achieving the best outcome.

Day 5: Test

The final leg of the design sprint is the testing phase, where customers experience the prototype hands-on. 

Albeit in a small focus group, the preplanned interview questions from day four are presented to the customer and are key to identifying how the product is performing and perceived. 

This stage allows teams to manage and rectify all kinks before being made available to the general public. With the successful completion of this step and the rich feedback provided by the focus groups, teams can iron out all rough edges and design hiccups in the product, bringing it closer to its final iteration, ready for the official launch. 

A good practice is recording the interviews and presenting them to the sprint team to give them a clear idea of what’s working and the significant pain points hindering product performance.

Simplify design sprints with DesignOps

DesignOps recognizes the importance of user-centric design and the value of feedback for designing the best outcomes. 

Teams can achieve realistic results in just a week through the transparency and increased visibility of processes offered by DesignOps on all the sprint stages. 

A good DesignOps platform should quickly and effectively help you plan and implement all five days of the design sprint to devise products ready to move on to further sprints.

Suppose you still feel like you need assistance in implementing a design sprint for your following product, several platforms are readily available in the market that can provide all the essential tools required to create a transparent, collaborative, and productive design sprint. 

Cubyts offers a market-leading designOps platform that aims to help companies orchestrate the best design sprints to increase efficiency and speed up their product development cycle. 

With reduced redundancies and complexities, devising your customer-centric design sprints has never been easier through our design lifecycle management solutions and tools.

Request a demo with us to see how our platform could be the solution you need to streamline and simplify your product design through high-level design sprints.