A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.
Understanding a design sprint
Design sprints were initially developed by Google Ventures to help start-up businesses address and overcome challenges.
Over time, the process has evolved into what Google suggests is a “greatest hits of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more – packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.”
As the name suggests, design sprints aim to find solutions to problems quickly. This is achieved by following a proven schedule over five days. In the next section, we’ll take a look at each section day in more detail.
The five days of a design sprint
Design sprints are highly collaborative and experimental with a focus on the end-user. The approach is based on design thinking, which advocates a human-centered approach to innovation and rapid prototyping.
A typical design sprint follows this basic structure:
On the first day, the challenge is clearly identified and a strategy is devised for the rest of the week to overcome it.
Who is the end-user and what are their needs?
The sprint team brainstorms potential solutions and sketches various solutions that may have merit.
From the list of solutions created on Tuesday, the team selects those that have a realistic chance of solving the problem by the end of the week.
Then, each sketched solution is turned into a storyboard.
Storyboards are turned into working prototypes that are ready for testing.
On the last day, prototypes are shown to key stakeholders and tested for viability.
Strengths of the design sprint process
Aside from the obvious speed in which a viable solution can be found, design sprints also break from outdated, committee-based decision making prevalent in many organizations.
By de-centralizing the design process, design prints encourage stakeholders with a variety of perspectives to come together and work toward a shared vision.
Strength also lies in the focus on sketching and prototyping. Both allow sprint teams to explore creative ideas that might otherwise be rejected.
If the final solution is not viable, sketching and prototyping is an effective means of reducing the cost of failure.
Design sprint 2.0
Design sprint 2.0 is the most updated and semi-official version of the process.
Several changes have been made to the updated version, including:
A four-day process
To increase efficiency, procedures have been shortened or streamlined.
Perhaps counterintuitively, steps have also been added to increase efficiency.
In the updated version, the full sprint team only needs to attend two days instead of five.
This makes it easier for stakeholders to clear the required time in their schedules.
Optimization for app development
Design sprint 2.0 is a faster and more aggressive approach to prototype testing.
As a result, it is well suited to modern rapid app cycles where speed is a priority.
If required, tech businesses can also run both versions of the sprint simultaneously or perform consecutive 2.0 sprints.
Airbnb Case Study
Airbnb has a long-standing tradition of using design sprints and storyboarding to make key decisions.
Indeed, Airbnb emphasizes design and UX as core components of its value proposition.
This became even clearer when back in 2020, Airbnb called it “The New Normal,” the ability to incorporate storyboarding and design sprints within its UX development process.
As Airbnb highlighted at the time:
“In the spring of 2020, a global pandemic quickly changed the rules for how we live, work, relax, and travel. Airbnb, like many businesses, had to pivot its priorities to meet the needs of travelers and hosts who had a new set of behaviors and constraints.”
In order to enable guests and hosts to feel comfortable throughout the pandemic, Airbnb launched a “cleaning protocol.”
Airbnb called this form of design sprint as “service design:”
Airbnb highlighted five principles to this:
1. Tame the complexity by making it tangible
This can be done by creating the first artifact in the form of a blueprint, which helps simply the understanding of the problem at hand.
2. Identify the biggest friction points to focus your design
As the Airbnb’s team highlights some key questions to ask in this stage are:
- What’s the biggest pain point for our core audience?
- What point in the journey causes the most drop-off?
- What’s the biggest pain point for the on-the-ground staff that enables this service?
- What is the most “expensive” part of the process?
3. Get curious about how your audience is already adapting to this challenge
You can start this process by identifying the key pain points to design for.
Often, as the Airbnb team highlights, your customers might already be solving these in their own way.
Thus, this will give you a headstart in understanding whether you can incorporate these learnings into the product.
4. Identify short-term milestones that support the long-term vision
Here it’s critical to balance short-term wins with immediate impact with the long-term vision.
This tension between short-term wins and long-term vision helps establish a successful collaboration between operators and strategizers.
5. Consider content opportunities at every level of your service
Another key element is of crafting content that can enhance the UX.
- A design sprint is a four or five-day process for testing a new idea through the creation of a prototype for actual users.
- Design sprints were originally developed by the venture capital arm of Google as a way to foster creative collaboration toward a shared vision.
- In design sprint 2.0, the five-day process has been shortened to 4 days with more logical and efficient steps. Key stakeholders are also required to be present for less time, thereby increasing the chances that a sprint will accommodate scheduling demands.
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