Imagine this: a boss has a great idea for a new financial product. He gets his team on board and they get to work designing and building. Five months later and it’s finally released. Everyone is convinced it’s going to be a hit, after all it’s such a good idea and they worked so hard on it. No such luck. The product is a flop and disappears into the ether along with the many other failed products that came before it. Months of hard graft came to nothing and the company are now in financial dire straits. It was a risky move to make, but could they have reduced their risk from the start?
Absolutely! Enter the design sprint.
What's a design sprint?
The original design sprint was created by GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, the venture capital arm of Alphabet, Inc. As investors in startups their role is to provide expertise and support to ensure their success. In 2010, GV design partner Jake Knapp started running design sprints internally at Google, before working with the rest of the GV team to develop and refine the process to what we know and love today. Jake even wrote a book about the process, Sprint, a very useful book if you want to try out a design sprint in your own company.
Design sprints are a five day workshop in which key players and experts come together to answer their critical business questions by working both individually and collaboratively. The aim is to build knowledge together, gain insight into everybody’s viewpoint, identify specific problems and create a solution that fixes it. The end result is a prototype for a website or app which proves or disproves initial assumptions and research via usability testing.
It’s beneficial to have a mix of experts in the workshop in order to get a broad view of the business needs and potential obstacles. This could be a CEO, customer facing expert, strategist, anyone who has a unique view of the business and a stake in the product. One person is given the duty of Decider, the one who has the final say. This responsibility is usually given to the product owner as they are the biggest stakeholder.
A design sprint can’t exist without a facilitator. That’s where we come in. Our sprints are facilitated by designers who have a lot of experience, approximately 30 sprints between two designers in less than three years with 16 companies of varying sizes, and they’re only the ones we can remember! The bonus of having a designer as a facilitator means you gain more expertise in the form of user experience and user interface. Where we differ from the original design sprint in which everyone makes the prototype, it is the facilitator, who has spent two days getting to know the business, who designs the prototype.
The benefits of design sprints
There are many benefits in doing a design sprint. Here is a list if you’re trying to convince your boss they need design sprints in their business.
Quickly prove or disprove assumptions: whether you have thoroughly researched or not, there is so much value in proving your assumptions and findings are correct. There’s nothing more disheartening than thinking you’re right and pouring all your efforts into a project only to find out months later you were wrong. A design sprint gives you that validation in a week, it’s a no-brainer.
Enthusiastic and holistic teamwork: when taking part in a design sprint, your team members understand the goals, they’ve made contributions and decisions together during the workshop, and they have a stake in the product at the end. Any discrepancies in opinions are ironed out during the process to form a fully aligned team.
A tested and refined user experience: although the group have a basic idea of how the product should work, no one knows whether the user experience is effective till the prototype has been tested by real users. From feedback it is clearer whether the user knows what they are doing and why, and if the product is solving the problems identified at the start of the sprint. This makes refining the user experience a quick and simple process.
A solid foundation for development: a high-fidelity prototype which has been tested with real-world users and refined to suit their needs is a great foundation to build upon. It can be added to and used as a catalogue when software development begins.
Saves money: creating and testing a concept in a week rather than building a product for months makes financial sense. If it turns out to be a bad idea, only a week has been lost.
The design sprint process
Down to the nitty gritty. Although it follows the general format of Jake Knapp’s design sprint, the Eden design sprint condenses the first three days into two, resulting in a more streamlined and fast-paced process. We find many clients have a difficult time dedicating three days to a workshop, and this revised format makes it easier for everyone with busy schedules to get involved.
Step one: Building knowledge
No one in the workshop knows everything about the product. By sharing individual points of view, everyone has a unique insight into everyone else’s role in the business, their past experiences, their concerns, and what the product is really about. It’s interesting to see people who have worked together for years learn something new about their colleagues. Not only is it useful for the job in hand, it helps people to understand and empathise with others, and look at the business from different angles to their own.
Everyone makes notes before setting long term goals and what specific problems need to be answered during the session. All goals are voted on, and the one with the most votes is the winner. N.B. sticky notes and sticky dots are a design sprint’s best friend.
Now it’s time to map out the journey. This involves creating a loose user journey of the product. The main problem identified earlier should fit somewhere within this map. For instance, ‘How might we create a simple and fast checkout process’ would fit within the purchasing part of a map. Matching the problem to a part of the map helps everyone understand what they need to focus their efforts on in the next step.
Step two: Inspiration & sketching
At this point everyone knows what the problem is and where it sits within the user journey. Lightning demos involves everyone taking out their laptops or phones and looking for inspiration to help solve this problem. The subject matter could be the same as the product, but more often than not it is a product or service from another industry. The aim is to have two or three bits of inspiration to present to the group at the end.
Hopefully everyone has been inspired and are starting to formulate ideas in their minds as to how to solve the problem. Next comes the fun part! The sketching section is split into four parts: notes, ideas, crazy 8s and the final concept sketch. From the array of notes stuck on the walls, the group individually develop their own ideas. The final result is a concept sketch which aims to solve the problem identified earlier. The sketches are anonymous and should be easy to understand, without any help from the sketcher. They are stuck up around the room ready for viewing.
Step three: Decisions & storyboarding
After having a thorough look at and discussion about the sketches, voting takes place and the winning concept(s) are taken forward to the final stage of this group process, storyboarding.
The storyboard is essentially a wireframe of the prototype. Together the group formulate the storyboard, using the winning sketches to build a clear picture of how the prototype will work. It should only focus on the problem being solved, any links to other pages not discussed in the workshop will not be made at this point as they are not important to the journey.
By the end of the day there should be a fully formed storyboard, ready for the facilitator to turn into a high-fidelity prototype. Everyone is usually quite tired at the end, but exhilarated by what they have managed to achieve in a couple of days, and so they should be!
Step four: Prototyping
It’s time for the designer to work their magic. Over the course of two days, they take the wireframes and create a high-fidelity prototype ready to be tested by their user base. In the original design sprint, the group who created the storyboard together go on to make the prototype, but we have found leaving the designer to take the reins most effective for everyone. Once it’s finished, the client gives it the once over for any small changes, then it’s ready for testing.
Step five: Testing
According to Jakob Nielsen and Tom Landauer, they conducted research which showed by testing with 5 users they could uncover 85% of problems in a product. Therefore only a small selection of real-world users should be acquired to test the prototype. These are usually done in controlled conditions, though we have done guerrilla testing on the streets with great results.
The aim of performing a user test is to collect actionable insights. The insights should be collated and prioritised in a report with suggested changes and a summary on general findings. As well as listing issues that need addressing, it is a good idea to list positive comments made during testing. They show what delighted users and can be just as insightful.
The end result is a detailed report which the business can take and make decisions on. If the product appears to have legs, updates to the prototype are made and further testing carried out to ensure the original issues are resolved.
There you have it! A detailed prototype that answers critical business questions, started and finished within a week. This is a brilliant foundation to carry the product forward into development. The team all understand what the needs for the user are and how the product answers them. Because they worked together to come up with a solution, they will be fully aligned and committed to the success of the product.
It works, here's the proof
We have run a fair few design sprints, all with fantastic results. As we are focusing on financial products specifically, here are a few examples of projects we worked on and how the design sprints shaped them.
The Fund Management Centre (FMC)
The FMC allows investors and advisers to buy, sell and manage funds. The goals during the design sprint were for it to be as simple as possible to use for the investor and to be self-service. In order for this to be true the group realised including journeys and functionality users were already familiar with could help investors quickly become accustomed to the fund buying process. As a result, some individuals took inspiration from e-commerce sites by introducing a basket and checkout. These elements proved popular and made it into development.
Signal Invest is an online portal which allows investors to quickly buy shares and clients to receive real-time updates on the progress of Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). The goals set during the design sprint were to get investors through the process in under 5 steps whilst keeping it simple for all types of users, with the ability to rebrand the solution for different IPOs. The outcome was an easy to use, modern platform which became the biggest investment trust IPO on record.
Not only are design sprints a quick and cost efficient way to test a concept, restricting the time spent on developing the idea inspires creativity and enthusiasm throughout the team. They are a sure-fire way to get everyone taking part on board, and quickly resolve concerns individuals may have.
One more thing...
This summer we are partnering up with Fintech North and running a one day sprint competition. There are 24 places available and the group will be randomly split into three teams. The winning team gets their storyboard turned into a fully functioning prototype. Keep your eyes peeled for more details, coming soon.
This post contains affiliate links, more specifically the link to the 'Sprint' book.