How to host a successful design sprint

Solve digital problems by holding a product design sprint - Jonny Evans of Degree 53 explains how.

Hosting a design sprint brings speed and efficiency to your design process

As a design and build agency, we pride ourselves on creating products that are not only beautiful, but that also provide fantastic user experiences. By taking a user-centric approach to the way we tackle our customers' business problems, we ensure appropriate focus is given to the end-user throughout.

So often companies spend an incredible amount of time and money designing and developing a product that is ultimately not fit for purpose. It may fail to meet the business needs of the company or the needs of the users. A Product Design Sprint can help to remove elements of risk from client projects and therefore can avoid costly redesigns or change of directions further down the road.

We offer our clients a way to validate their assumptions and test new products in a fast and cost-effective way; product design sprints. These are a highly effective way of shaping new products and identifying solutions to existing problems. They also help to reassure clients that their product is on the right path; bringing greater clarity to a project right from the outset.

What are design sprints?

Made popular by Google Ventures (the venture capital arm of Google), product design sprints are invaluable for new businesses or existing companies looking to design/redesign a website or refine a digital product.

It's an intensive week aimed to help gain an understanding of what the product is (or should be), to brainstorm ideas and features, to decide on which ideas/features to explore, and then finally to prototype and test these concepts with real users.

It allows learning that would traditionally take months of work, in just a single week, ensuring that valuable time and money isn't wasted on something that might not work.

The process

Before you start the sprint, you'll need to make sure that everything is prepared. You'll need a room (ideally a large boardroom with lots of whiteboards) and supplies such as sharpies, post-its, paper, blu-tac, and stickers.

Make sure you have plenty of whiteboards, stickers and Post-Its handy!

Finally you'll need to make sure you have the right people in the room. From the client side you'll need a product owner and a couple of stakeholders. You don't want any more than five, but you do need to make sure that key decision makers are in the room.

Your internal team should probably consist a UX expert, a tech expert and a facilitator who is able to steer the group.

Day 1: Understanding and defining

First you need to understand the problems you're trying to solve, and identify your goal. Discuss ideas, analyse competitors and review analytics.

Define what the client and the team want to focus on, and then you can begin on the main user journey.

Day 2: Diverge on your own

Break up the overall user journey and start focusing on the little issues that can make a big difference, solving problems identified in day one.

Everyone will have different solutions, so work individually, quickly creating sketches and notes with different ideas on. Don't get hung up on one specific idea – the key here is getting as many different options on the table as possible.

Day 3: Decision time

This is perhaps the most important and difficult day, as it's now time to make decisions on how a prototype will look. With lots of ideas in front of you, it's time to review, critique and choose which elements to take to the next stage.

Have the whole team vote for the best options by using stickers to identify favourite features and a favourite overall design. Then, construct a new storyboard with the agreed concepts and UI interfaces to act as a blueprint for tomorrow.

Day 4: Building a prototype

With a storyboard agreed upon, the UX designer gets to work on creating a working prototype for user testing. As there are just a few hours to work with, the prototype is not meant to look pretty, be branded or function perfectly.

A rough mock-up maximises time, getting the most important parts of the design in place for users to review, without wasting effort on something which could end up being scrapped.

Day 5: Test and review

Crunch time is here, as we turn the prototype over to real users to get their feedback. We have a test rig that allows us to record the testing and share it with all the stakeholders, so they can see what real customers think of the product and design and watch how they interact with it.

The validation or critique these users provide is insightful and invaluable.

Why it's beneficial

The whole process is fast and efficient, which means resources aren't wasted.

With everyone involved in the sprint, from our own UX team to the CEO of the client company, we know that the everyone is aware of what's going on and has had the chance to share their own opinions and ideas.

There are no bad outcomes from a design sprint

There are no bad outcomes of a design sprint. Within just five days, we have a working prototype, with real user feedback. We can get criticisms and constructive feedback from the users, without going through a lengthy product launch.

As Jonathan Cleaver, CTO at Sofaworks said, "By following this process, we will have saved a lot of time, money and resources by only working on the right things. Degree 53 did a fantastic job steering us through this process and I can't wait for our customers to enjoy the end result."

Designs sprints are now a process we use successfully with a number of our clients and we recommend you try them too.

Words: Jonny Evans

Jonny Evans is a Senior Designer at Degree 53, a design agency based in Manchester, UK.

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