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Why might a team consider conducting a design sprint?

In this post we look at design sprints and their importance in helping teams to design great products. However, the benefits of design sprints don't stop at product design…

Written by

Robert Hufton

Director & UX Consultant

So why might a team consider conducting a design sprint?

As a leading UX and Conversion Rate Optimisation agency we have completed hundreds of design sprints that have provided many valuable insights, enabling us to design and build better products for clients. In our combined professional experience at Higher Ground, the main objectives of a product design sprint are to:

1. Align a team around an idea or vision via an inclusive, co-creative process

2. Conceive of all user journeys for a new app or service that doesn't yet exist

3. Solve challenges and make quick decisions through rapid problem solving

4. Produce a prototype to test and validate assumptions with targeted users


Ask yourself these 5 simple questions in relation to your current product, team and problem: if you answer ‘yes’ to all 5 questions, you might benefit from a chat with us at Higher Ground about a design sprint tailored to your needs.

1. Do you have a specific problem that needs a solution? 

2. Is the problem complex with no immediate resolution? 

3. Do you need a cross-functional team to collaborate? 

4. Is the problem worth investing time and resources in? 

5. Do you need to be innovative for a changing market? 

Some background to design sprints 

Design Sprints are a method employed by teams across the world to rapidly solve complex problems: maybe to design a new service or application, overhaul an existing operations system or even create a new business plan. 

Agencies may use a design sprint to flex their big agency muscles by inviting teams into their offices and feeding them fancy ideas and frothy frappe-lattes, however, even in this Covid-changed world, running an effective design sprint and working collaboratively to solve big problems and find workable solutions can still be perfectly performed from your kitchen, home office or local cafe.

Google has their own set of specific design sprint methodologies and approaches. There are many approaches to delivering a design sprint. At Higher Ground we like to take each situation at face value and adapt the sprint to suit. 

For instance, Google advises using sketching sessions called Crazy 8s in a design sprint. But these fail when you are designing software applications for desktop. Our UX Consultant, Rob, has even worked on wide screen applications for 2000px wide monitors: situations requiring - as you could imagine - an entirely different approach.

In this post we talk about why and how design sprints work, then move on to how to make a design team lean and effective. As a UX agency we have ran many design sprints with our clients that have given successful results.

“The ‘greatest hits’ of business strategy, innovation, behavioural science, and more: packaged into a step-by-step process that any team can use.”

Jake Knapp: Sprint


“The sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without building and launching”

A few design sprint falsehoods

“I don't need a design sprint - we know what this new app needs to do - just give it to the designer to work out.”

This statement, I believe, is incorrect and misguided. Collaborating on new ideas in the world of digital design is essential. But the process doesn't need to take up huge amounts of team members’ time and resources.

While some large agency design sprints can take 5+ days to carry out, often the more effective design sprints can be performed in only 1-2 days with a lean team of 4-6 people. You might think that sounds a lot. But believe me it’s time well spent, helping you to decide which direction to go. defining core ideas and safely testing new or adapted products, services or apps without fear of failure or attracting any negative business impact.

What are the main benefits of running a design sprint?

  1. Gather and harness amazing ideas from brilliant people
  2. Develop something new and unique… don't copy... create!
  3. Eliminate bias with focused, collaborative decision making
  4. Discover better solutions to complex business challenges
  5. Solve a whole range of problems using a versatile system

Gathering amazing ideas from brilliant people

One of the biggest benefits of holding design sprints are to uncover amazing ideas from brilliant people. During most design sprints we hold short 30 min sessions for HMW (How Might We) & LTG (Long Term Goals). These initial discovery sessions are to glean ideas from people. Using key stakeholders from different business areas helps to take in and consider a wide section of the target audiences.   

People invited to contribute should be highly relevant and useful to the project. Attendees should be a mix of process experts and end users. We usually invite or suggest the attendance of the following people to our design sprints:

  • The Decider. They call the shots. Whether that’s the CEO or business owner, they should be involved in the discussions since their decision will influence the design sprint objective and the final product outcome
  • A Facilitator. The time keeper who will keep track of progress during the design sprint and ensure that everyone is playing their part. They need to remain unbiased when it comes to final decision making 
  • Marketing & Sales. The person most skilled at crafting your company’s messages and who will be responsible for selling the product solution
  • Customer Service. The person who interacts with your customers regularly and truly understands who your users are and what they need
  • Design Lead. They design the product and help to realise the vision
  • UX/UI Designer. They are in the best position to explain what can be built and delivered and act as a conduit between ideas and technology
  • Financial expert. They can explain how much the project will cost and how much the company can expect to receive in return (ROI)

By using a broad range of participants you get the best chance of gathering great ideas and achieving solid, usable outcomes from people with differing views and objectives. Often this leads to additional design solutions because in complex apps there is always a huge range of end user areas to consider.

What’s the LTG goal or objective?

At the start of the sprint, you need to set a long term goal or LTG. This should keep everyone moving in the same direction. Once established, it’s important to turn the goal into actionable items by rephrasing problems into questions.

What are your users’ pain points?

After you’ve defined your long term goal and sprint questions, start by mapping out your customer journey. It’s important to understand who your customers are, so conducting user research in advance is vital.

What is empathy mapping?

Empathy mapping helps to identify any key themes and problems affecting your users based on their actions, behaviours and feelings captured throughout the user research and expert interviews.

What is a customer journey map?

Customer journey mapping helps to visualise a customer’s end to end experience with your product or service. This allows the design sprint team to narrow down a broad challenge to specific targets for the sprint outcomes.

What is a swim lane diagram?

Combining the Empathy map with the Customer Journey map will create a Swim Lane diagram. This diagram serves to create a heat map of the problems that exist within each step of the customer journey.

How might we turn problems into opportunities?

The ‘How Might We’ or HMW method is used to turn existing problems into opportunities. For example, if the problem is that “users struggle to know what service option to choose”;  then the ‘How Might We’ could be “how might we help a user better understand the differences between our services and which service would most benefit them?”

Develop something new and unique… don't copy... create!

As a User Experience Agency we know another huge benefit of a design sprint is creating something unique rather than copying other projects or designs. It’s too easy to steal from another app, rename it and copy the whole thing… but it’s far more likely to fail as the original company that designed it has far much more knowledge about the specifics and moreover it’s been tailored for a different, specific audience. 

Stakeholders and owners of the project need to understand that making a bespoke product for their particular user-base is the only way to go and by commissioning a design sprint they will be distilling the long-term goals of the project and these create specific user stories which help it become a unique and desirable product with a valid target market and clearly identified user.

A further benefit of running a design sprint is that the collaboration process is great fun! It brings people together to explore ideas that would not have happened in isolation.

What is the 4 step sketch?

The four-step sketch method encourages a design sprint team to create solutions in an effective manner whilst iterating on each variation along the way.

  • Notes. Start with twenty minutes to take notes of the goal, opportunities and inspiration you’ve collected earlier on.
  • Ideas. Spend another twenty minutes drawing out rough ideas to form your thoughts.
  • Crazy 8s. Take your strongest solution and sketch out eight different variations of it in eight minutes, known as the ‘Crazy 8s’ exercise.
  • Solution sketch. Draw a detailed end to end solution for the problem in the next thirty minutes or more.

By bringing people together we can explore all the ideas and prioritise which ideas are the most important. Collaboration helps to nurture a unique, brand-specific, inclusive platform which also creates a sense of community.

Collective decision-making processes enable happier, healthier and more productive teams, creating a stronger direction going forward. Quite often you will find that in the design sprint many interesting and important notes arise which can be saved and used for later purposes such as sales messaging, customer support or help tips on the resulting app.

Solve wide ranging problems using a quick, versatile system

There are many benefits to using a design sprint: from animating a promotional video to restructuring a project team. For example, you can use them to sketch out a new project; design a prototype; create a marketing strategy; develop a shared vision or plan a product development process. All improving your Conversion Rate.

When traditional efforts and brainstorming sessions run out of fuel and the results prove tame and ineffectual, a design sprint may be the boost you need to surge ahead of the pack and carry you past the finish line in pole position.

If you would like to find out how a design sprint could help you discover a product's potential or even work on a new solution for your website or existing app, talk to Higher Ground today.

We apply lean, effective and innovative UX & CRO, designed for success.

Useful resources

Here are a few design sprint links we think are excellent.

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