Design Sprinting, you’ve probably heard of it once or twice. It’s popular. But how does it work? When should you consider working in a design sprint? What is it about this method that makes it so successful?


The Design Sprint comes from a movement called Design Thinking. It’s a process in which one wants to understand users and challenge and define assumptions. It’s about redefining problems and creating innovative, crazy, creative solutions. These solutions materialize into working prototypes that you can test. When a result has been achieved, and an idea has passed this test, it’s time to implement it.

“Design sprinting, or innovation sprinting, is a set process of 2-5 days, in which clear goals and results are set.”

David van Delden Creative Director

Many mix up the Design Sprint and Design Thinking, which is very understandable. They’re quite alike and use many of the same principles. The main difference: Design Thinking is a broader movement, which is never linear. While the Design Sprint is a five-step process which uses principles from Design Thinking.

Let’s break that down a bit more.

Design thinking is about empathy.

Design thinking prioritizes the user’s needs and takes a human-centered approach. It’s about observing how people interact with their environment and how this could elevate your product, service, or business. The main difference with design sprinting here is the focus on empathy and really trying to understand the user. There are five steps in design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

It’s a non-linear, iterative process. You can juggle the steps up, do them simultaneously, or more than once.

The problems are solved differently, always with the user in mind. The major focus in design thinking is about making things that are appropriate for people. With this kind of thinking, the problem isn’t always clear cut. Therefore, design thinking is a lot about discovering if your challenge is the right problem. If you want to solve an issue, you might want to find the core, finding fundamental issues, instead of trying to find a solution to a superficial problem. When those core issues have been found, it’s not just a matter of coming up with solutions – it’s about testing, learning, adjusting.

Design thinking is a continuous process, learning and changing.

Because many problems are not within the expertise of one designer, it’s important to invite other experts into these five steps. A fresh set of eyes, perspective and expertise. Next to the experts, bring in the people who are in direct contact with the challenge, problem, or whatever it is you’re trying to solve. They are probably already working on it, or have an idea how to solve it. This is where community-driven design comes into play, a subset of human-centered design.

What is a Design Sprint?

The Innovation/Design Sprint was ‘invented’ by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, authors of “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”. The method has been used by many high-profile companies. An Innovation Sprint, or Design Sprint, is a 4-5 day approach that aims to validate, prototype and test an idea. Each day has a clear goal and set plan of proven activities and assignments to spark creativity. Ideally, the sprint team consists of 5-7 people, all with different fields of expertise. As a result: you have a set of people with unique experiences, backgrounds and expertise. Because of this – your idea will be tested to the max.

The Design Sprint is most effective when the problem is right. When you can really dig deep into a problem and come up with a sound solution. Devised and advised by a diverse team of unique people from different backgrounds.

In just five days, an idea can transform into a Proof of Concept.

Day one is about understanding the problem. With that, try to understand the users, your role, competitors, and anything that has something to do with your idea. The second day will be about sketching possible solutions. Now that you’ve got a good grip on the problem, you can think of a great solution. Try to think as broad as possible, as out-of-the-box as possible. Come up with crazy, weird, but genius solutions. Next, it’s time to decide on the third day, and delve deep into the chosen idea. It might help to draw, storyboard, and visualize the solution because the next step is prototyping. Build an inexpensive version of the solution, to test it with real users. That’s the last, and maybe most important, step. When receiving feedback from the people you’re building for, you immediately know whether your product, service, or business will be valid.

When should you consider doing a Design Sprint?

When you think you have a brilliant solution to a problem, have a business but it doesn’t flourish just yet, when you want to explore your target audience better, when you want to think outside the box, when you want to explore outside your comfort zone, when you want to gather useful information on your idea, and so on and so on. There’s no clear-cut reason why you would not try a Design Sprint. It’s extremely efficient and productive. And moreover, it has been proven to ameliorate co-creation among colleagues.

Pros & cons

You won’t suffer from: random assumptions about users, endless debates with stakeholders, a sense of cluttering, disappointing results because you haven’t tested your product, service, or business.

Design Thinking and Sprinting sounds like a holy grail, a great solution to almost all problems. However, not everyone is a fan of design thinking. Some argue it’s too good to be true, that thinking doesn’t convey action. Some argue that design thinking is nothing new, design certainly covers everything design thinking has to offer?

Good design will automatically be led by a form of native design thinking.

Whether or not it has been around for longer, conveys action or not, or just what great designers have been doing for centuries: design thinking helps us observe and gain a deeper understanding of the target audience. It helps us question assumptions, problems and implications. When regarding design as a way of thinking, it allows us to think differently – out-of-the-box. When you have the intention of improving products, services, or processes, it pushes us to ask significant questions and challenge assumptions.

Conclusion

The main difference between Design Thinking and Design Sprinting is the focus and its desired outcome

Design Thinking can be used at any time, anyplace, anywhere. It’s about empathy, finding the core problem – divided into five phases that can be used in any way and in any order. You should use this when trying to find the ‘right’ problem.

The Design Sprint is used as a method. A clear-cut pathway to come up with a solution in the form of a working, testable prototype. To go from an idea to a Proof of Concept, based on real feedback from users.

Both methods are putting the user in the center, emphasizing finding the right problem, and trying to come up with a fitting solution. 

Our advice? It’s always useful to use design thinking, it’s always great to work in a design sprint. The results will amaze you.

This is how we use the Design Sprint method with Clients.

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Want to know more about design sprints?

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