The Design Sprint – What is it and How to Run One Effectively?

Created by the team at Google Ventures, the Design Sprint is a well-established product development framework designed to help teams swiftly learn, create, test solutions to complex problems. This article will dive into the detail of this five-day design framework, providing essential insights, an overview of the best practices and practical tips to help you run your successful sprint.

What is a Design Sprint?

Popularised by Google Ventures the Design Sprint is a framework used by product teams to identify, validate ideas and develop solutions for complex problems through prototyping and testing with users in five days. A short and focused approach, the sprint can help you create structure, align cross-functional teams through collaboration, mitigate risks, minimise time and money wasted building products that don’t bring value.

Each day of the Design Sprint has a specific purpose and goal that leads to the next day’s work, which we’ve outlined below;

Overall Photo
  • Monday – Identifying and mapping out problems. 
  • Tuesday – Sketching out ideas and solutions.
  • Wednesday – Deciding area of focus to turn ideas into something testable.
  • Thursday – Creating a prototype.
  • Friday – Testing prototype with users and gathering feedback.

Using Jake Knapps book “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days” as a point of reference, in this article we’ll go into greater detail on what activities you’ll need to do at each stage

Should You Do a Design Sprint?

When conducted in the proper context, the Design sprint can bring significant value. The video above perfectly summarises when a sprint might be the best solution to a problem your facing.

Getting started

The secret sauce to a smooth, efficient and successful design sprint lies in proper organisation and preparation beforehand. This section will cover the essential things you should prepare and the people you should include when conducting a design sprint for yourself.

Preparing for a design sprint

a brown table with six marker pens cellotape blue and red dot stickers scissors post it notees and the design sprint book
  • Time – A design sprint takes place over five days, so make sure you notify all participants so they can clear out time from their calendars in advance. However, if you have limited resources, it’s worth trying the design sprint 2.0. A remix of the original design sprint spread over four days, which doesn’t require the complete team from start to finish. 
  • Do Your User Research – You’re going to be asking and answering some critical questions about your users during the sprint, so make sure you’ve done the research and have a good understanding of their needs, motivations, goal and behaviours beforehand.
  • Location – The design sprint is a collaborative, visual and interactive process in which participants conduct various activities, from ideation brainstorming, writing, sketching, prototyping and much more. To ensure the flow of creativity, make sure you do it in an open place with ample space for people to move around, ideate and write comfortably.
  • Stationary – Make sure you have plenty of paper, whiteboards, pens, post-it notes (3X Packs per person), dot stickers, pens, pencils and whatever else you may need. 
  • No Digital Devices Rule – To ensure everyone remains focused, have the team leave their mobile phones and laptops outside in a locker. If necessary, keep one laptop in the room just-in-case.
  • Other Equipment – A stopwatch comes in handy for any timed exercises such as the Crazy Eights brainstorming techniqueA camera is also beneficial for documenting the design sprint process for your portfolio, or to create case studies that showcase how you work.
  • Beverages and Snacks – The design sprint can be draining, so make sure to stock up on fruits, snacks, coffee, tea, and water to keep the squad fuelled and hydrated throughout. Try to keep things healthy.


Who should join the design sprint?

Who Should Join the Design Sprint

A good design sprint team should consist of a diverse set of participants from various business functions, each of whom, with their expertise, can bring a different view and perspective to help create a more well-rounded solution to a complex problem. As a general rule of thumb, to help keep things under control and allow all participants an equal opportunity to share their ideas, your design sprint should have no more than eight people.

Typically these include;

The Decider – People often think this has to be the CEO or a senior VP, which is so far from the truth. In short, the person who takes this role should have the best experience and insights concerning the purpose and problem you’re trying to solve with the design sprint. So it could be a team member from the customer experience, engineering, marketing and even sales team.  

The Facilitator – This person is responsible for all the pre-sprint preparation, keeping everything on track during, and proper documentation of all activities and decisions post-sprint. Ideally, a facilitator should be confident, organised, and understand the problem, but provide a non-biased view when deciding on the solution. 

The Marketing/Branding Beast – The words and language in your product messaging are equally as important as the product itself. So it’s essential to have a wordsmith who can provide some insight on the best way to approach this and help craft a message that both informs and captivates the people you’re building the solution for. 

The Customer Experience Champion  Day in day out, this person has to deal with customer queries and problems. With this in-depth understanding, they can bring invaluable insights to help you build consumer-centric solutions to a complex problem.

The Designer – This person is responsible for translating the various perspectives and thoughts from the collaborative brainstorming and ideation into tangible working prototypes that adhere to UX design principles. 

The Tech Wizard– Another critical person in the design process, the developer or techie, is responsible for bringing stakeholders from a land of fantasy to understand their solution ideas reality and feasibility within a time-scale. Without this person, you can spend a full five days building on an idea that may have zero chance of coming to life.

The Numbers Person – Although known by many as the killjoy, this person provides expertise and feedback on a solution’s financial feasibility based on the project budget and the potential ROI of executing said ideas. Choose someone with a balanced view of economic realism and product idealism because they can kill creativity if they’re too focused on the bottom line.


Day 1 – Monday – Understand, Define & Map

Day 1 Monday Understand Define Map 1

AM – Set Long Term Goal 

Why are we doing this project? Where do we want to be in six months, a year, or even five years from now?

To set yourself up for success and ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page, start the design sprint by setting up a long-term goal that encompasses your company’s principles and values. When it comes to goal-setting, encourage optimism and deep thinking by asking participants questions such as those outlined above. Once finalised, write the long term goal on a whiteboard so it’s visible throughout the process. 

Example Long Term Goal – Travel Booking App – To become the trusted platform that millions of people turn to for finding and booking their dream holidays in a time and cost-efficient manner. 


AM – Create Sprint Questions 

What questions do we want to answer in this sprint? To meet our long-term goal, what has to be true? Imagine we travel into the future, and our project failed. What might have caused that?’

So you’ve kicked things off by setting an ambitious long-term goal; now it’s time to cut through the fluff to identify the underlying assumptions of a goal and rephrase them into questions which you’ll answer during the design sprint. Ask probing questions such as those outlined above to get the team thinking on the right tracks and weed out any assumptions. These should help you create sprint questions, which once you have a few in mind, you should write down on a separate whiteboard. 

Example Sprint Questions – Travel Booking App

  • Will people trust our platform? 
  • Will customers come back to our platform?
  • Will travel operators want to work with us?
  • How will we aggregate all the information and data?
  • Can we reach millions of people? 


AM/PM – Map it Out

The next step involves mapping out a user’s journey as they navigate your product. A vital part of a design sprint, the map provides a visual breakdown of a product’s complexities, showing the various components and how they fit together. You’ll use it later on in the afternoon to identify and understand any issues and problems users face and later on in the week, where it serves as a guide for both the sketching and prototyping process. 

Best Practices

  • Left-hand side: A list of all the key individuals and customers. 
  • Right-hand side:  The end or completed goal
  • Middle: A flowchart, including all the essential steps individuals take to reach the end goal.
  • Keep it Simple: The key here is to map out the vital steps, a couple of words and arrows pointing between each one. Don’t go too deep.


PM – Ask the Experts 

By now, you’ve decided on a long-term goal, created sprint questions and a map detailing a user’s journey navigating through your product. The next step involves interviewing experts from several disciplines to get feedback on the information you have, what you’re missing and suggestions on what else you should include. These sessions should last between 15-30 minutes.

Ask the Expert’s – A Step by Step Guide

  1. Get Everyone Up to Speed – If you’re interviewing an external expert, it’s crucial to spend the first 2-3 minutes getting them up to speed with the sprint details by reviewing the long term goals, sprint questions and map. You don’t need to do this if the subject of an expert interview is a sprint participant.
  2. Tell me everything – At this stage, you ask the expert to tell you everything they know about the challenge you’re focusing the sprint on.
  3. Ask Questions – After getting an overview, dig deeper by asking the expert more specific questions such as; “Can you find anything on the map that’s incomplete?”. “Have we got anything wrong?”. “What opportunities do you see?”. “Are there any sprint questions you’d add?”. The key here is to gather insights, so use terms like “Why?” and “Tell me more” to extract more in-depth information from the user. 
  4. Make changes – You’ve now got some new insights, so go back to your whiteboard to adjust your maps, long-term goals and add extra sprint questions. Don’t feel bad about chopping and changing; ensuring accuracy is the main goal here.


PM – Taking Notes – “How Might We?”

You must keep notes throughout the expert interviews to ensure you don’t miss out and capture all insights. Instead of writing in notepads, get all sprint participants to take notes using the “How might we” technique. This technique involves rephrasing problems identified by experts to “how might we” questions. The goal is to help focus the participant’s thoughts towards the opportunities and challenges, not just the problem itself.  

HMW – A Step by Step Guide

Phase 1 – During Ask the Expert Session
  1. You hand all sprint participants a stack of post-it notes and write the letters HMW on the top left-hand side. 
  2. When the expert gives any insights you think are noteworthy, rephrase them as a question and write them down. 
  3. Peel off the post-it, set it aside, and repeat. 
Phase 2 – After Ask the Expert Session – Categorisation
  1. After the expert interviews, ask all the participants to stick their post-its on a wall/whiteboard in no particular order. 
  2. You then ask them to come up with categories to organise each post-it under. This exercise’s primary purpose is to get the participants to read all the post-it notes, not necessarily the categorisation. So make sure you spend no longer than 10-12 minutes doing this.
Phase 3 – After Categorisation – Prioritising HMW’s
  1. Give two dot stickers to all participants and 4 to the “Decider”. 
  2. Get them to review sprint questions, long term goals
  3. Ask participants to, in silence, review the HMW’s and add the dot stickers to the ones they feel are most relevant.
  4.  Remove the post-its with the most dot stickers and place them in appropriate positions on your map. 


PM – Choose Target Problem to Focus On

Your final task is to pick one target customer and one area to focus the rest of your sprint on.

How to Decide?

Ask the Decision Maker – As mentioned earlier, the decider has the final call on which target customer or problem will become the primary focus for the rest of the design sprint. The activities you’ve done throughout the day should give them sufficient information to make an accurate decision.

Straw Poll – If the decider needs assistance, you can ask each participant to write the customer and event/problem they believe to be most important. Count up all the votes and leave some to discuss any significant differences in opinion. 


Facilitators Task – Scouting Users for Testing

Although you’ll be testing a prototype on Friday, it’s essential to start scouting for users to participate. As a facilitator, you should assign somebody or take on the responsibility for this. In the design sprint, Jake Knapp shares a whole host of tips on how to approach this. 


Day 2 – Tuesday – Ideate & Sketch

Day 2 Tuesday Ideate Sketch Solutions 1

Yesterday, you defined a challenge and selected a target area to focus on. Today, you’ll spend the morning researching/ideating solutions and the afternoon creating sketches that will help guide the team in deciding which part of the problem to focus on(Wednesday) and prototype a solution for (Thursday).


AM – Remix and Improve 

You’ll spend the morning researching and ideating solutions to the challenges you defined yesterday. You only have limited time, so don’t try or expect the team to develop novel solutions. Instead, to get some inspiration, look at how existing products tackle particular challenges, which you can then remix and improve.

Lightning Demo

The lightning demo is an informal ideation technique in which you ask design sprint participants to create a list and review some existing products or services to get some inspiration for building your solution.

Step 1 – List & Narrow Ideas 

You ask participants to research and create a list of products that could inspire solutions. They DON’T have to be in the same industry and could even be an internal company project that someone is already working on. The key is that they bring valuable insights. Before moving onto the next stage, get everyone to narrow down the list to their two best ideas and put them on the whiteboard. 

Example – Travel Booking App – Say you’re looking to simplify the search and discovery process. You could potentially list products like Spotify and Amazon that are outside your industry but do a great job facilitating this. 

Step 2 – Three Minute Demos

At this stage, you’ll ask each person to present their ideas to the rest of the team. You’ll get hit with a-lot of info in three minutes, and most won’t be relevant. So before the demo, ask presenters the golden question, “What’s the big idea here that might be useful?” to keep things on point.

When they present, remember always to be taking notes of the big pertinent ideas on a whiteboard to help keep track and rejig your memory. Once everyone has presented, you should end up with an array of ideas you’ll prioritise in the afternoon before you start sketching.

Should you divide the problem?

Typically, the problem you’re trying to solve with the design sprint will have multiple components. So it’s crucial that when sketching solutions, you cover each of these areas effectively. To ensure this, split the sprint team into groups and assign each one to sketch solutions for a particular part of the problem. Although your putting people into groups, the sketching process is an exercise each person should do independently.

Example – Travel Booking App – Say you’re looking to simplify the discovery and booking process. This problem has many components, from the search phase, browsing phase and then the booking phase. So you’ll split the sprint group into three, with each one focusing on a particular part of the problem. 


PM – Sketching

You’ve spent the morning ideating and getting some inspiration for solutions by doing research and lightning demos. Now it’s time to add details to your solution ideas by putting pen to paper and sketching them. Please remember, the team will critique your ideas, not how good your drawings are, so feel free to draw boxes, stick figures and whatever else you think is relevant; the key here is that the team should get the gist of what you’re trying to propose purely by observation.

The Four-Step Sketch

As outlined in Chapter 9 of the Design Sprint, The Four-Step Sketch is a technique that breaks down the sketching process into four sequential steps to make it more organised and efficient.

Step 1 – Notes – 20 Minutes (Notes) + 3 Minutes (Review)

To refresh their memory, give participants 20 minutes to walk around, review and take notes from the long term goals, sprint questions, map and lightning demos dotted around on whiteboards. Once participants have jotted some notes down, ask them to spend 3 minutes circling the ones they feel are most important and relevant for the challenge in mind.

Step 2 – Ideas – 20 Minutes (Ideation) + 3 Minutes (Review)

Using your notes for inspiration, it’s now time to start ideating and jotting down rough ideas of potential solutions. You can doodle, write, create diagrams, stick figures and pretty much anything you want. The key is to put pen to paper and start documenting any relevant ideas that come to mind. Remember, you’re the only person who will see these, so it’s not about making things perfect and pretty. Even sketching a horrifically thought out idea can be a catalyst to help create the ideal solution down the line.

Like the previous stage, give individuals 3 minutes to review and circle the most promising ideas you’ll then refine at the next stage.

Step 3 – Crazy 8’s – 8 Minutes (60 Secs Per Sketch)

Although the name Crazy 8’s suggests otherwise, this phase is not about coming up with more wacky ideas. The purpose is to start refining the most promising ideas you selected in the previous stage into more reasonable solutions. Like the earlier stages, no-one will see your crazy eights sheet; its primary function is to serve as inspiration for creating a solution sketch. Don’t try and make things look so prim and proper; write headlines, create stick, figures and doodle. Whatever inspires you. 

  1. Fold an A4 paper three times to get eight squares. 
  2. Choose an idea from the previous phase to focus on
  3. Create eight variations of this idea, one per square, and spend no longer than 60 seconds on each sketch. 
  4. If you can’t think of anything new for your chosen idea, go back to your ideas sheet, choose another one and repeat the process
Step 4 – Solution Sketch – 30 Minutes

You’ll now refine and add details to your most promising idea to create a solution sketch. Unlike the previous stages, you’ll be sharing the solution sketch with the sprint team for critique on Wednesday, so it must be easy to understand for others just by observation.

The challenge/problem you’ve chosen to focus on yesterday will probably consist of multiple steps and screens. Instead of a single still, it’s best practice to present your solution sketch in a three-panel storyboard format. Typically used for films, this technique helps people better understand and visualise the user journey. 

Best Practices
  • One per person – You’ll review them tomorrow, so for the sake of being both efficient and effective, make sure each participant puts all their efforts into creating a single solution sketch.
  • Make it self-explanatory – The team will walk around and review all solution sketches tomorrow, so make sure they’re easily understandable through observation. 
  • Anonymity is key – To remove bias and ensure fair review tomorrow, make sure you DON’T put the creator’s name on the solution sketch. 
  • Use writing – Instead of using “lorem ipsum”, write down actual text on your solution sketch to make it appear more authentic and understandable. 
  • Add a catchy Headline – Your name won’t be on the sketch, so a catchy title can help others identify and understand its big idea.

Day 3 – Wednesday – Decision Time

Day 3 Wednesday Make Decisions and Storyboard

You should now have a stack of solution sketches from yesterdays afternoon session. Unfortunately, you can’t prototype everything, so this morning you’ll stick them up on a whiteboard to decide which ones to proceed with. After selecting, you’ll spend the afternoon creating a storyboard that acts as a skeleton for the prototyping process.


AM- The 5 Step Decision-Making Process

Step 1 – Art Museum

Before anyone arrives on Wednesday morning, as the facilitator, you’re responsible for sticking all of the solution sketches on a wall, ensuring they’re evenly spread out and ideally in chronological order. Once everyone arrives, you’ll kick things off by asking them to walk around and review all the solution sketches. This exercise aims to familiarise participants with solution ideas, so ensure you give them a fair amount of time to observe, understand, and absorb the sketches’ information.

Step 2 – Heat Map

Participants will have formed their own opinion and understanding of the various solution ideas after seeing the sketches. Although it may seem logical to do so, DON’T allow participants to start explaining, deliberating and debating their ideas at this stage. Instead, you ask them to highlight the good parts of the solution sketches in silence. 

How it Works
  1. You hand each participant some DOT stickers
  2. Ask them to walk around, observe a solution sketch and place dot stickers on what they liked, with two or three dots next to the most exciting ones. 
  3. Ask them to add any additional notes in the form of post-its, which you’ll place above the headline of the relevant sketch
  4. Get them to move onto the following solution sketch and repeat the process. 

Step 3 – Speed Critique

Now you’ve got a “heatmap” of DOT stickers clustered around specific points on a solution sketch; it’s time for a structured team discussion to understand the “why” behind people’s choice and make notes of the most promising ideas. 

How it Works 
  1. Assign a scribe who’ll be responsible for taking notes of the essential parts, points, words used and most promising ideas from the team discussion.
  2.  Set a three-minute timer and huddle around a specific solution sketch
  3. As the facilitator, your role is to narrate the sketch and call-out those “BIG IDEAS” with more than two dot stickers. 
  4. The team should call out any “BIG ideas” you’ve missed
  5. The scribe should take notes relating to the “BIG ideas” on post-its and place them above the relevant points on a solution sketch. 
  6. The team will review any concerns and questions. 
  7. The creator can now explain points missed, clarify any misconceptions and answer any questions. 
  8. Repeat the process with the following sketch

The speed critique aims to decipher the details and help create a shared understanding of the big ideas from solution sketches. You’re not deciding which idea to prototype at this stage.

Step 4 – Dot Voting – Straw Poll

Now everyone understands the big ideas within the solution sketches, it’s time to decide which one (or two) to select for prototyping. As mentioned earlier, the decider makes the ultimate decision; however, you have a room full of people with expertise in various fields, so it is beneficial to get their input. You can do this via a straw poll. 

How it Works
  1. Each team member gets a dot sticker.
  2. You briefly cover the long term goals and big ideas.
  3. You Set a 10-minute timer
  4. Each person privately chooses the idea they think is most promising
  5. After 10 minutes, each person places their choices at the relevant point on the sketch, and one-by-one gets the chance to justify their reasoning. 

Step 5 – Supervote

Now it’s the decider’s turn to make the final call on which ideas to prototype and test. Unlike everyone else in the team who got a single vote, the decider gets three, with each dot sticker labelled with their initials. Once they’ve voted, you separate the solution ideas they place their stickers on from the rest under the winner’s category. Those without any votes go under a separate “maybe later category”.

Sometimes there is more than one decider, and depending on how they vote, you can end up with a conflict in the number of super-votes per solution idea. In this situation, you can rumble to decide.

Step 6 – Rumble – Optional

  • Prototype Both – Instead of deciding between one or the other, you can prototype each one and do an A/B test. 
  • All in One – If the solution ideas have some crossover, you can merge them to create a super solution sketch.


PM – Time to Storyboard

You spent the morning shortlisting the most promising ideas from the solution sketches for prototyping. However, before you start building, it’s essential to organise and piece together these solution ideas into a cohesive story by creating a storyboard. The storyboard will detail the users’ journey from discovery to performing a specific action/outcome and all the other elements in between. Helping you identify any issues, answer critical questions and optimise your ideas early on, so you don’t waste time creating prototypes that don’t flow and fall apart in testing.

Step 1 – Choose an “Artist”  

Despite the title, these individuals DON’T need any artistic talent. They’ll be in charge of filling in each part of the storyboard, so all they need to know is how to use a pen and write on a whiteboard.

Step 2 – Draw a Grid

You need to draw between 8-15 boxes on a whiteboard, each the size of two paper pieces and evenly spaced out. The artist will be filling each box in, so make sure you keep them a similar size. If you do struggle, use masking tape for lines instead.

Step 3 – Choose an Opening Scene

This should detail how a user discovers your product, the environment they’re in and what they’re doing at the time. E.G. a newspaper article, billboard advertisement, social media and search engines. 

Step 4 – Fill in the Storyboard 

Using your solution sketch post-its for guidance, map out the story by filling out each box in the grid, starting with the opening scene in the top left. This exercise will take up the rest of the day. 

  1. Fill in the top left box with your opening scene and the last box with the outcome
  2. Place post-its of your winning solution ideas in subsequent boxes chronologically relevant to their order within your story. 
  3. If there are any empty boxes/gaps on your grid, only fill them in with sketches if they’re critical to the user flow.


Best Practices

Work with what you have – This is not an ideation session. If a box is empty, turn to your “maybe later” solution sketches for inspo, but don’t waste time coming up with new ideas to fill boxes. 

Don’t go too detailed – Your storyboard is there to guide the people prototyping tomorrow. Please include sufficient information so that they won’t waste time clarifying details tomorrow. 

Never Group Write – The text and UX copy is significant, but trying to perfect it in a group never works. Let the relevant people do this individually. 

Power to the Decider – You’ll have to omit specific ideas from the storyboard, which can cause debate amongst the team. To prevent this and save time, put the power to make big calls in the shot caller’s hands. 

The 15 Minute Rule – On Friday, you’ll spend 15 minutes testing your prototype and 6 minutes getting feedback in customer interviews. So make sure your story follows this timescale. 

Thursday – Time to Prototype

Day 4 Thursday Time to Prototype

Today, you’ll transform the storyboard you created yesterday into a prototype to test with users tomorrow. You only have seven hours, so be efficient, and DON’T spend too long trying to perfect the aesthetics and functionality. The key is to “Fake It” by creating a “Goldilocks” quality prototype that is good enough to give testers a realistic experience of a solution and get genuine feedback. 


Creating a Prototype – A Step by Step Guide 

Everyone has their approach; however, in ChaptEr 14 of the Design Sprint Book, Jake Knapp highlights some best practices learned from conducting hundred’s of successful design sprints. 

Step 1 – Choose the Right Tools

If you’re creating an app or website prototype with multiple screens, use something like PowerPoint or keynote. If you’re making a physical product prototype, use 3D printing and photos to create your product’s rendering. There are so many options; the key is to choose the right prototyping tools in your product context.

Step 2 – Divide and Conquer

After selecting your tools, its now time to split the team into the following roles: 

2 x Makers – Typically, designers or engineers, the makers are responsible for creating your prototypes individual components, such as screen and pages. 

Stitcher – They’re responsible for collecting and combining all the makers’ components into a seamless flow. For this role, you want someone who has an eye for detail, so a designer or engineer is ideal. 

Writer – This person will be responsible for crafting the copy to make your prototype appear realistic. So choose a wordsmith who, through their words, can help the prototype project an accurate picture regarding your product and other essential information to users from the opening scene of your storyboard to the end. 

Asset Collector – This person makes it easier for the creator to create. They are responsible for scouring the web to seek out and build a library of assets such as stock photos, icons and other essential elements.

Interviewer – This person will use the prototype to conduct user interviews tomorrow, so is responsible for finalising a script filled with questions by the play’s close today. 

After you’ve assigned the roles, split the storyboard with each person focusing on a specific area. E.g., you’d pair the maker and writer to create an opening scene that is as realistic and credible as possible.  

Step 3 – Stitch it together

Once they have all screens and assets from other stakeholders, the stitcher is responsible for scanning through and ensuring all the small details are consistent and up to scratch. With errors and issues rectified, the stitchers now combine all the assets to ensure the prototype follows a seamless flow.  

Step 4 – Trial Run

At 3 PM, you should run through the prototype one last time to identify and rectify any issues before the user interviews tomorrow. You only need the stitcher, interviewer and decider to be present for this. The stitcher will give a narrated walkthrough of the prototype to others. While they do that, you’ll cross-reference the prototype against the storyboard to ensure all the details have been included and are accurate.  

Learn more about prototyping

Friday – Testing & Feedback

Day 5 Friday Testing Feedback

Although it may have seemed a stretch at the start of the week, you now have a realistic prototype ready for testing. Today is all about observing, analysing, and asking users questions as they interact with your prototype to get vital feedback, an in-depth understanding of customer’s behaviour, and identify any issues that might negatively impact usability and the overall experience. 


Who does what?

Today, the interviewer will be the only person physically present in the same room as the user. They’re responsible for getting as much information from users by asking a set of strategically selected questions from the script they prepared yesterday. The rest of the team should be in a separate room, closely observing via video link and taking notes of anything insightful from the users’ interactions with the prototype. 

How many users should you interview?

The interviewee recruitment process began at the start of the week, and by now, you should ideally have five people to start testing the prototype with. Why five? Well, according to user research pioneer Jakob Nielsen, on average, 85% of the product’s problems are discovered after just five interviews. So it’s pointless to do more than five, as you quickly reach a point of diminishing returns, and the ROI spirals downwards, which is especially the case in a time-sensitive exercise such as a design sprint. 

AM – The Five Act Interview

In the Design Sprint book, Jake Knapp recommends a structured interview approach known as the Five-Act Interview. Adapted from GV research partner Michael Margolis’s learnings, the five-act system helps the interviewer first establish rapport with the user, making them feel comfortable. So they’re receptive to questions and more likely to share honest personal background information and feedback regarding the prototype. 

Step 1 – A Friendly Welcome – Before jumping into probing questions and the prototype, start with some small talk to make the interviewee feel comfortable. Once they’re relaxed and seated, you should brief them about what the interview will entail, ask them if it’s ok to record the interview, and, if necessary, get them to sign a legal document beforehand.

Step 2 – Ask Context Questions – No. At this stage, you’re still not going to mention the prototype. Instead, you’re going to use small talk to continue building rapport before smoothly transitioning into personal questions that are insightful for the sprint. Typical questions include; “What kind of work do you do?”. “How long have you been doing that?”. “What do you like to do in your spare time?”. The key here is to keep things conversational.

Step 3 – Introduce the Prototype – Now it’s time to show the interviewee your prototype. But before you do, make sure to tell them;

  • That it’s just the prototype your testing – This lets the users know two crucial things. Firstly, it’s a prototype, so if certain functions don’t work, they’ll understand why. Secondly, you’re not judging them, so they’ll feel more relaxed, behave naturally and give honest answers to questions. 
  • That you’re looking for honest feedback – This gives them the freedom to express themselves. So the feedback you get will be more accurate, beneficial and valuable.
  • That you didn’t design it – You’re essentially telling them the feedback they give won’t offend you. So the feedback you get is more honest and accurate.
  • To think out loud – This will give you that hugely beneficial real-time feedback of their thoughts as they navigate your product. 

Step 4 – Tasks and nudges – Although your only testing, the insights you want to get should be close to reality. To do this, you’ll need to steer the interview with strategic questions that nudge users to perform tasks similar to what they would when using your product in a realistic context. 

Step 5 – Quick De-Brief –  To wrap up the interview, ask some questions to re-iterate and prioritise the critical points mentioned in the discussion. Typical de-briefing questions of a design sprint include; “How does this product compare to what you do now?”, “What did you like about this product? What did you dislike?”


PM – Review and Learn

Source: The Design Sprint by Jake Knapp

While the interviewer was conversing directly with the customer, the rest of the team should’ve spent the day watching closely via video link and taking notes, which you’ll review together at the end of the DESIGN sprint to identify any trends and patterns. 

Step 1 – Get Set Up

Before the first interview, draw a six-column grid on the whiteboard. The far left column is where you list the things you’re testing with this prototype. So it could be the prototype itself, sprint questions, specific parts of the prototype and anything else along those lines. Label the following five columns with the interviewee’s names. Once the grid is ready, give each person whiteboard markers and sticky notes to make notes of any interesting, relevant and insightful observations during the interview. 

Step 2 – Put them up and Find Patterns.

After every interview, ask each person to stick their notes on a whiteboard under the corresponding column. After all the interviews are finished, assemble everyone around a whiteboard and review the notes to identify any patterns. For this exercise, ask each person to; 

  1. Spend 5 minutes studying each sticky note and jot down any patterns they observe. 
  2. Read aloud the patterns they’ve found to the team.
  3. Place all the post-its on a seperate whiteboard and give each one a positive, minus or neutral label based on the sentiment. 

Step 3 – Take Stock and Make Sense

To decipher some meaning and make sense of these patterns, dig out the long term goal and sprint questions you created earlier this week to review. One by one, try and answer each of the questions based on the insights collected today. Although your unlikely to answer each one, you would’ve made some progress. Finish off the day by asking the decider to give their final say on the next steps. 


Final Thoughts

As mentioned earlier, the design sprint can appear time-consuming. Still, after five days of intensive focus, you’ll have created some meaningful solutions to complex problems, prototyped, and ready to expand on further. Plus, a whole host of important lessons to inspire and inform the team for the following steps in the design process. 

  1. Collaboration not Meetings – Teams do a much better job making decisions and creating something collaboratively, rather than delegating from above.
  2. Involving Stakeholders – By applying critical stakeholders from various business functions, you create a shared understanding, give them a sense of ownership and involvement, ultimately increasing their buy-in.
  3. Fast Prototype and testing– Don’t spend too long building the perfect solution. Build quickly, test, get feedback and iterate.

Ijaz K.

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