Design sprints drive software success. Here’s how to instill great UX in your apps without sacrificing delivery speed.
By Fatos Berisha Ph.D.
October 6, 2015
Good design is always good business. Sounds like something you’d read in a modern design magazine, but in fact it was IBM President Thomas Watson Jr. who said it, almost half a century ago.
What’s even more surprising is that our industry is only now realizing the obvious corollary: that great design is the real true differentiator of digital/tech products. The biggest splashes are invariably made by organizations that integrate design into every product right from the beginning. Their products delight the users, they outsell run-of-the-mill ones, they are easier to support and maintain, and most significantly, they are excellent for the bottom line. Just ask our friends at Apple Inc.
But designing the right product to win in the marketplace remains as hard as it ever was and competition is now fiercer than ever—your great design basically needs to be ready by yesterday morning because by yesterday noon you’re just another “fast-follower”…
So is there a quick, versatile, and robust methodology or framework able to eliminate failures and delays caused by badly or even un-designed products? One that will succeed most of the time to elevate your solutions above the mundane and the mediocre? And that will regularly reward your teams and your customers with truly excellent digital products?
Well, there might be. Enter the design sprint.
Five Steps to Better UX
The “design sprint” is not entirely novel—its key strength comes from combining some of the best concepts and practices of Design Thinking, Agile, and Lean amongst others—but it represents an important innovation in digital product design. It was developed at Google Ventures (GV) and its most common high-level definition is: “a flexible product design framework that serves to maximize the chances of making something people want.” This is what they say at GV:
(With design sprints) we shortcut the usual endless-debate cycle and compress months of time into a single week. Instead of waiting to launch a minimal product to understand if an idea is any good, teams get great data from a prototype. The sprint gives these companies a superpower: the ability to build and test nearly any idea in just 40 hours.
The other critical strength of the design sprint framework comes from its intrinsic flexibility. While no design process is one-size-fits-all, the design sprint process can be easily modified to meet the needs of different projects, in different stages of completion, for various types of organization. It can be shortened to a couple of days or extended to a couple of weeks; you can run with it in a small office with just three or four other people or in a large conference room with 10 to 15 participants and stakeholders.
“OK, I’m interested, how do we actually do this?” I hear you say. By executing a five-phase intensive process where the results will set the direction for a product or service and answer critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers. The five phases are most commonly known as:
- Understand: Bring the working team to a mutual understanding of the problem to be solved.
- Diverge: Look at potential solutions and generate as many ideas as possible.
- Converge: Pick a direction to prototype and test with users.
- Prototype: Simulate the selected solution with just enough detail to allow adequate testing of the assumptions the team has made.
- Test & validate: Test the prototype with real users and learn which ideas worked, which didn’t, and what to do next.