A design sprint is a process for solving UX design challenges through team collaboration, rapid prototyping, and testing the idea with users.
While the term is often used loosely to describe a short, targeted collaborative product design session (or series of sessions), it’s actually a somewhat formal process that is intended to help cross-functional teams to arrive at a product-focused solution that is tested and ready for deployment.
Design sprints are typically intended for solving time-sensitive issues, such as:
- Developing a new product
- Adding new features or extensions
- Revising an existing design within a short amount of time
The Design Sprint Process
The design sprint was initially formulated at Google by Jake Knapp , who then worked with hundreds of teams to refine and polish the process.
A traditional design sprint typically takes around five days, so you and the team need to set a schedule that everyone can agree on. However, you’re free to have a more flexible timetable depending on the team’s other work priorities.
There are five main steps in a design sprint:
- Understand: Identify the problem and pick the area you want to focus on
- Ideate: Generate and explore different solutions
- Decide: Choose a solution and develop a testable hypothesis
- Prototype: Create a realistic prototype
- Test: Get feedback from real users
Since you’re working on very strict time constraints, team members should have a design sprint outline containing the objectives of each phase and how much time you have to complete each goal. For example, an entire day may be set aside for design sprint ideation, or maybe only half of a day.
If you still have time, you can bring in a facilitator to run the design sprint. They can guide the team throughout each phase to ensure the following:
- Everyone participates in discussions
- Meetings stay on-topic
- The program stays on schedule
- The design sprint’s progress is properly documented
Typical Flow of a Design Sprint Week:
- Monday: The team starts by reading over the client’s needs, along with data about the audience, value proposition, and competition. They receive or create metrics to determine when the project is completed successfully. They choose their goal for the week and create a map of how to get there.
- Tuesday: The team rapidly brainstorms a variety of solutions to the design challenges in front of them—without judgment—searching for inspiration, and sketching ideas along the way. (They can still come up with new ideas on later days too.)
- Wednesday: The team evaluates the ideas they created. They might vote for the ones they like the most using a limited number of stickers or paper dots. Once the top ideas are chosen, the team starts to develop those more in storyboards.
- Thursday: Team members create a prototype or multiple prototypes together. The goal is to make them testable by the next day. Some types of projects can be prototyped by remote team members.
- Friday: The team gets a small group of target users to test out the prototype(s). Team members ask these users questions that draw maximum useful information from them. Different team members can work with different testers simultaneously to be efficient. Answers from testers can help improve the final product or push the team in a different direction.
Should You Be Using Design Sprints for Your UX Work?
Design sprints are meant to be an intense, highly creative process for product teams.
With a limited amount of time to complete the goals of the sprint, team members are able to commit their entire focus on ideating, rapid testing, analyzing feedback from real users, and ultimately making progress on new, innovative product ideas.
You can learn more about the components of a design sprint, and how to run the process with your team, by reading Jake Knapp’s book: Sprint.