The power of design sprints for prototyping ideas

Design sprints are one of the most powerful processes for answering critical business questions in a rapid and collaborative way.

Whether you’re struggling to innovate, need to validate your ideas, want to build a business case or identify new opportunities, they allow you to maximise your impact in a short amount of time.

What is a design sprint?

Design sprints are time constrained periods of activity, often just five days and five stages, that allow teams to test and validate ideas, particularly when bringing new products or services to market.

My best work happened when I had a big challenge and not quite enough time.

Google Ventures Sprint, by Jake Knapp

They were popularised by Google Ventures and they draw on elements of design thinking, behavioural science and the agile development process. While different elements have developed for different purposes, all design sprints combine business strategy, interdisciplinary collaboration, rapid prototyping and user testing.

How is a sprint typically structured?

At Maido, we offer a range of sprints targeting unique business cases but they all follow a consistent structure. This tried and tested process is used to help turbocharge the discovery process.

1. Understand–Capture information from experts within the organisation and your target audience. This allows you to define the problem being solved or opportunity being assessed and set your criteria for success.

2. Diverge–Develop a range of possible solutions to the problem you’ve identified, through a combination of ideation and inspiration exercises that allow you to investigate all possibilities. At the midpoint of the sprint, your group needs to decide which of the solutions should be progressed. Storyboarding can help to demonstrate how this might occur.

3. Prototype–Create a prototype to shortcut the development process for a product or service. For this, we use tools such as InVision, Flinto and Principle. These enable us to create an interactive experience that is real enough to test, without the technical investment.

Goldilocks quality. Create a prototype with just enough quality to evoke honest reactions from customers.

Google Ventures Sprint, by Jake Knapp

How is a sprint typically structured?

4. Validate–The last and most crucial fifth stage is to test your assumptions and prototype with real potential users; a process that Maido has a lot of experience with and understands the importance of learning and iterating.

While this structure might seem simple, the simplicity is its best feature. It means that design sprints are flexible enough to be used across all manner of customer and business problems.

When do sprints work?

At Maido, we offer a range of sprints adaptable for your unique business need. Whatever your specific requirements, the sprint format can be a great way of injecting some proactive design thinking into existing teams.

This approach is particularly useful when you want to spark new ideas and develop new processes or realise and validate existing ones. If you’re thinking even bigger, design sprints can also be the catalyst your team needs to gain market share, compete with rivals or even disrupt an entire market.

The best sprints are used to solve important problems, so we encourage you to pick a big fight.

Google Ventures Sprint, by Jake Knapp

The point is not that a design sprint will necessarily achieve all of these things but they will move you much further along your path in a much shorter time than other approaches allow. Brands such as Netflix, Nintendo and Mulberry, who have worked with us on design sprints have benefited from this.

That’s because they’re specifically designed to be efficient, saving time by prototyping and testing something tangible without having to build the entire product or service. This speed to market can help you leapfrog others who are stuck on the discovery stage, so you see return on investment more quickly.

Not only that, sprints have the added benefit of aligning stakeholders. They bring interdisciplinary teams together around a shared understanding of customer needs, business operations and a clear direction for the future.

How can I do one?

If you have an idea to develop or a business problem that needs solving, there are various ways we can help.

At Maido, we’ve run successful design and research sprints for lots of brands across a range of sectors, all with their own specific business or customer challenges.

To find out more about the different options, take a look at the types of sprints we offer or contact us and we’ll guide you through them.