What Are Design Sprints? How to Do Them Right [With Examples]

Dayana Mayfield

Agile Product Development

Design sprints are designed to clarify problems and make or break their solutions.

If your product idea isn’t good enough to thrive in a competitive market, you want to know.

If the design is bad, you want to know.

If the technological risk is too great, you want to know.

All of these questions (and more) can be answered if you create a design sprint with the right collaborators, tools, and processes on board.

In this guide, we’re pulling the back the curtain to share some expert advice from our own experience running design sprints for Fortune 500 executives and first-time SaaS founders.

Learn more about our expert design sprint services and see real examples of our prototypes and deliverables.

What’s in this guide:

What are design sprints?

A design sprint is a 5-phase process created by Google Ventures for validating a digital product like a mobile app, SaaS product, or another type of software. The goal of any design sprint is to align stakeholders around a common problem, review all potential solutions for solving that problem, select the best potential solution out of the options, prototype it, and share it with real users for feedback.

Through this process, the solution is either validated or invalidated. If it’s validated, the team will continue to iterate on the prototype until the design for the version 1 of the product is decided upon. If users invalidate the concept, the team can create a prototype for one of the other solutions identified during the workshop, or abandon solving that problem altogether.


Why are design sprints important?

Design sprints are important because they give teams a chance to get aligned and validate their product idea before they invest in development.

This can ultimately save money and ensure that the team is building something that will actually drive revenue for the business.


7 benefits of running design sprints

Design sprints offer a ton of valuable benefits, that are all intertwined and related.

Companies that use design sprints can expect to:

  1. Satisfy real customer demands - No guessing. No hoping. No assuming. Your team can be sure that you’re building something that customers actually want. This strengthens your relevancy as a brand, ensuring your company will be successful in the future.
  2. Align all stakeholders - You can also use design sprints to get stakeholders on the same page. You’ll have to agree on the nature of the problem you’re solving as well as the best approach.
  3. Validate before you build - With a design sprint, you’ll be able to validate your product concept before you invest in high fidelity prototypes and product development. This can save your business hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  4. Minimize business risk - Companies that perfect their product validation processes minimize business risk in terms of failed investments, brand risk, PR risk, employee turnover, and more. The tighter the validation, the safer the company is internally and externally.
  5. Launch minimum viable products - When you get really good at design sprints, you simultaneously get good at launching MVPs. Your team will need to narrow down different solutions into strategic MVPs that have the minimum feature set required to solve the problem.
  6. Drive revenue faster - By launching validated MVPs, you’ll be able to drive revenue for new products much faster compared to companies without clear validation processes and checks in place.
  7. Systematize your product ideation process - A design sprint offers a clear framework to follow. When you systematize your process, you improve employee satisfaction and maximize collaboration. This creates a healthier, more creative, and more efficient work environment.


3 main challenges of running design sprints

Design sprints aren’t necessarily easy to run, especially if you’ve never done it before.

Beware of these common pitfalls:

  1. Not having the right collaborators on board - You’ll need to have UX experts, technology experts, and access to real users. If you don’t have all of the right people on deck to validate a clear product idea, then you might get a false positive (which can lead to major business risks).
  2. Running them in-house - It’s difficult to run a design sprint without an outside perspective. Your team is used to working with each other in a certain hierarchy, and some people might be too willing to deflect to their higher ups. Assumptions and easy agreements can be costly.
  3. Getting real user feedback - You might be tempted to skip over the testing and validation phase in your excitement to launch. Make sure that your team is investing the time and energy required to find target users and run user testing sessions.

How to run a design sprint: The 5 key phases

The design sprint process runs smoothly from one phase to the next.

Here’s how to organize your team around clear validation steps.

How to Run a Design Sprint

Phase 1. Understand

The first step is to understand the problem that you’re solving.

What happens during the Understand phase

During the Understand phase, team collaborators should throw all their knowledge on the table.

What problem are you trying to solve?

How do users currently solve this problem?

Why is this problem worth solving?

How painful is this problem?

In our case, this usually involves our client sharing all of their knowledge around the specific problem, market, and target audience. We also ask a ton of questions to pull as much information as possible and we research the opportunity independently before the ideation workshop.

real design sprint workshop

Tips for the Understand phase

It’s important to keep the energy up and not let this part of the workshop drag on so that everyone has lots of creative energy for coming up with solutions later. Keep the conversation tightly focused. Discuss different elements of the problem and move on quickly, making sure not to get stuck in side conversations.

Use post-it notes and whiteboards to visually save all of the details shared.

If possible, invite a target user to sit in on this part of the conversation only. Ask them to describe the nature of the problem and share details on why they need it fixed.

Phase 2. Sketch

Next, you’ll work together to sketch different solutions for the problem you’ve outlined.

What happens during the Sketch phase

Consider this phase a big brainstorming session. Come up with solutions and draw them out so everyone understands the ideas.

You can sketch on paper, or have your UX designer open up a Figma document and sketch out a rough concept of the product that everyone is pitching.

design sprint product idea sketch

Tips for the Sketch phase

You should come up with 2 to 4 different sketches, or at least a few options for feature sets.

This will ensure that your team is being creative and open-ended during the sketch phase. You want to throw lots of options out there and not feel limited or pressured to come up with the perfect idea right away.

Phase 3. Decide

During this phase, you’ll make some calls and place some bets.

What happens during the Decide phase

You need to decide which product ideas or feature sets you’ll move forward with for the testing and prototyping stage. You’ll need to consider what your minimum viable product should include.

Now’s the time to whittle down features to the absolute minimum needed to solve the core problem.

Tips for the Decide phase

Don’t just make decisions arbitrarily. Make sure that all of your decisions are tied specifically to the problem at hand and solving it in as straightforward a way as possible.

During this phase, you’ll also want to involve a technology expert and other business stakeholders who can help your company make important decisions around what is feasible from both development and financial perspectives.

Phase 4. Prototype

Next, you’ll need to create something that you can show to real users.

What happens during the Prototype phase

During this phase, you’ll create something that you can present to users in user testing sessions.

Your best bet is to make a low fidelity prototype like this example. The UX looks similar to what the finished product would be, but without all of the design elements in place.

low fidelity prototype example

Tips for the Prototype phase

Don’t spend unnecessary time perfecting the logo, fonts, or colors so that you can source feedback quickly.

Only create prototypes for the most important dashboards, screens, and features.

Phase 5. Validate

Now it’s time to show your creations to real users and record their reactions.

What happens during the Validate phase

During this phase, you’ll conduct user testing sessions either in person or remotely. Show your prototype to users and have them click through the screens. Record the entire sessions so you can save all of their feedback.

Tips for the Validate phase

Allow users to explore the product on their own and ask questions about how it works. You’ll learn more this way then if you explain everything first, because the nature of their questions will reveal their overall understanding of your solution.

After they explore your product, ask users questions about whether they’d use the product, switch to it from their current solution, if they’d be willing to pay for it, and what they would be willing to pay. Remind them that you want honest answers.


What do you need to run a design sprint?

To run a great design sprint, you’ll need all of the right collaborators and plenty of uninterrupted time.

C0llaborators:

  • Workshop facilitator - An expert design sprint facilitator will know how to source input from everyone involved and keep the conversation moving at a steady pace.
  • Decision maker - This is typically the startup founder, CEO, or executive in charge of making the final call on the product.
  • UX expert - You’ll want one to two design thinking experts who will turn the product vision into a modern design that users will immediately understand.
  • Technology expert - The tech pro will be able to advise the rest of the team on what’s possible and which product options will be the most costly to build.
  • Customer advocate - If the decision maker or other collaborators involved aren’t super close to the customer, you’ll want to invite someone with intimate knowledge of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Materials:

  • Virtual or physical whiteboard
  • Post-it notes or virtual whiteboard annotation
  • Uninterrupted workshop time (often a full day, or a few half-days in a row)

Prototyping and customer feedback:

Once you’ve created a very rough sketch of the final product, you should have a small group of target users you can show it to. Collect their feedback on the feature set, whether or not it will meet their needs, and if they’d be willing to transition to your solution and pay for it.

You should then be prepared to create a low-fidelity prototype using Figma and deliver it to your users for another round of feedback.


5 best practices for design sprints

Follow these expert tips to ensure that your design sprint successfully validates or invalidates your product ideas.

1. Come up with a list of sprint questions to answer

Before your design sprint, come up with a list of questions. For example: Will people use our software vs doing it all mentally? Or, Is this problem important enough to {target audience}?

This helps make the conversations around product validation clear and concise. You work towards answering these questions honestly.

sprint questions answered

We like to make a separate round of questions during our next iteration so we can drill down even further into validated ideas or fix issues with invalidated ideas.

2. Develop high fidelity prototypes for more accurate user testing

While low fidelity prototypes are great for getting something put together quickly, they’re not as easy for users to understand. The colors, fonts, and other UX elements that make up a high fidelity prototype ensure that users intuitively understand your product.

This makes the feedback you collect more accurate, so consider creating a high fidelity prototype for a second round of user testing after you validate the low fidelity version of your product design.

high fidelity prototype dashboard example

3. Create a highlight reel of user tests

It’s important to share user feedback with all stakeholders, even ones that weren’t part of the design sprint process.

We recommend creating a highlight reel with snippets of feedback from a variety of users, so that stakeholders can hear from users in just a few minutes. This helps stakeholders connect your decision-making and final calls to real feedback.

4. Write a list of clear next steps based on the sprint

At the end of the design sprint, come up with a list of recommended next steps based on the success or failure of the prototype.

This way, the team has clear actions to take to either move forward with the project or shelve it and learn from it.

design sprint example of recommended next steps to take after the sprint

5. Get an outside perspective

When in doubt, you should always get an outside perspective.

Because design sprints need to pull together different ideas, solutions, prototypes, and users, it can be a challenge to run them in house. A design sprint offers a new way of working together, and you don’t want to fall into basic manager-staff relationship patterns.

It’s very hard to do a design sprint effectively in house. You need a specialist and a different perspective. DevSquad is very strong in facilitating these discussions, and the Design Sprint is clearly one of their core capabilities. - Darren Cho, Senior Director of Product at ADP Ventures

Consider hiring a workshop facilitator and/or development team that can help you organize the workshop, develop prototypes, setup user testing, and ultimately answer your sprint questions.


Validate your product idea with DevSquad

Work with DevSquad to get expert guidance for your design sprint.

At the end of the process, you walk away with:

  • Clear sprint goals
  • Answers to your big validation questions
  • Video highlight reel of user recordings
  • Access to all user recordings
  • User feedback wall
  • High-fidelity prototype
  • Next steps to take

While Google Ventures organizes a design sprint into 5 days, we’ve found that 4 weeks is a better approach for most businesses.

4 weeks gives us time to research your market, run collaborative workshops, develop a low fidelity prototype, validate it, turn it into a high fidelity prototype, and collect user feedback again.

the remote design sprint process

Learn more about our expert design sprint services and see real examples of our prototypes and deliverables.

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