Paul Hill by Paul Hill

What is a design sprint – and why is it important?

  • Design Process
  • Design Sprint

Have you ever heard the phrase “diamonds are made under pressure”? 

It’s an analogy that speaks to the role that time sensitivity can sometimes play in just getting stuff done. It’s also the ethos which underpins the concept of the design sprint. 

For companies looking to amplify their digital products in double-quick time, the design sprint might be just their cup of tea. But how does it work, why does it matter and would it help you?

Let’s find out. 

What is a design sprint?

Initially devised in 2010 by former Google staffer Jake Knapp, a design sprint is a 5-day process of rapid product design, taking a product idea from the drawing board to the hands of testers in just 5 days. 

Usually taking place between a Monday and a Friday, the design sprint is designed to progress rapidly through each stage on each day. 

Why? Because the entire design process is stripped back to its bare essentials: what works, what doesn’t, why people like a product, why they don’t. The usual umm-ing and ahh-ing of a long design cycle isn’t present because, well, there simply isn’t time.

The 5 steps of the design sprint

Core to the concept is the 5-stages-over-5-days mechanic 一 but what does this really mean? 

Let’s go through each of the stages:

  • Understand. On Monday, you’ll discuss the problem your product is going to solve and create a map to follow the rest of the week.
  • Ideate. By Tuesday, you’ll bring all of your team’s solutions together and get them down on paper.
  • Decide. Wednesday, you’ll use a structured decision-making framework (like “Sticky Decision”) to choose one solution to bring to life.
  • Prototype. On Thursday, you’ll create a basic prototype of the solution you chose the day before. It doesn’t have to be flashy 一 it just has to work. 
  • Test. Finally, on Friday, you’ll share your prototype with a group of 5 test users and discuss the experience with them in real-time.  

How to set up a design sprint

Facilitating a design sprint is naturally quite an agile, low-impact process, so you’ll need just a few key stakeholders:

  • The sprint leader, such as the company CEO or another decision-maker.
  • Representatives from key departments including marketing, customer support, design, finance and engineering. 

Beyond the core group, you should also follow a few rules:

  • No devices in the room during sessions. This retains focus on the task at hand and eliminates any precious time being wasted.
  • There’s no such thing as a bad idea or a stupid question.
  • Ensure you have a whiteboard with plenty of pens.
  • Give everybody a notebook and pen. 

If you believe in the “fail fast” philosophy, the design sprint might work for you.

Why design sprints matter (and why you should use them)

If your team has ever found themselves locked on the horns of a design dilemma, then it might work for you.

If you’ve ever spent hours in a meeting room agonising over tiny details, then it might work for you. 

If you believe in the “fail fast” philosophy, then it might work for you. 

Want to make your next digital product truly delightful?

At Thunk, we specialise in creating digital experiences for our clients which are impactful, memorable, on-spec, and on-time. Whether you’re looking to streamline product design with a sprint or you prefer the more conventional methods, we’d love to help make your digital dream a reality.