Use this vital ROI hack to improve your Design Sprints

by Frank Spillers
CEO/CXO @ Experience Dynamics

ux workshop

Summary: Design Sprints miss out on a critical data point that can make or break the value generated from the effort. By spiking your first day with actual user research, gathered before the sprint, you can help ground conversations with an Outside-In design approach. This hack to the Design Sprint method can mitigate against conjecture, something the Sprint seeks to eliminate from the UX design process.

All about Design Sprints- new Lean UX techniques

A ‘Design Sprint’ is a technique first developed and practiced inside Google’s user experience group by Jake Knapp. Knapp moved into a VC role and combined forces with Google Ventures colleagues to operationalize and refine the design sprint method with hundreds of start-ups (read: it’s well road-tested).

The method takes you through a 5-day (or 3-day later as needed) regular method (not a one-off!), for bringing dev and product teams together to ideate UX design. The method is very well documented in the book Sprint. It’s also well sign-posted online with tools, videos and handy checklists (How it works- Design Sprints). In other words, there’s no reason to miss this if you’re serious about Lean UX.

The Design Sprint process is commonly used in UX teams and really works well, from our experience working with large or small teams (8–25 people). At the end of the week you come out with: a unified business approach, a prioritized wireframe; a reality-check from users (Agile user testing is performed on day 5).

What’s to love about Design Sprints

They are a nice Agile-friendly process that marries UX and Agile through close collaboration, shared ownership of UX, and tangible results. The Design Sprint process speeds up decision-making, saving dozens of meetings normally experienced by product and service delivery teams.

One of the things we love about Design Sprints is that they collapse the User Centered Design process into just one week. They also provide a great way to socialize design and business priorities without being pulled into unconscious bias.

Deficits in the Design Sprint model and what to do about it

Practicing the Design Sprint method, we’ve identified some weak spots to Design Sprints. The biggest one, that gets only a brief mention online, or in the appendix of the book Sprint, is the absence of bringing in field research to inform important Day 1 decisions. Instead the focus is on “Ask the Experts” (Day 1 activity) and having a Decider (“C” level or senior executive) assume a make-or-break stance on conflicting or key decisions.

To be clear, this is not a critique of the Design Sprint method. However, decades of experience have informed us that those approaches, whether in a workshop, or a regular design meeting, lead to Inside-Out design (the crazy-making part Alan Cooper alluded to in The Inmates are Running the Asylum book). True balanced and enlightened decision-making in UX occurs by bringing in and being influenced by real user stories, real data from problem-solving in your customer’s lives. In short adopting Outside-In Design organizational habits. The Design Sprint is the logical place to leverage this ROI-enhancer, so this means bring user research to Day 1’s review of personas, journeys and business priorities.

Spike your Design Sprints with Rapid User Research

Bringing user research to your Design Sprint will help re-direct internally biased decisions. This is especially important in organizations that don’t get out to visit with users much. When we refer to Rapid User Research, we mean 2–3 weeks before the Sprint, conduct user interviews, observations, and needs analysis discovery. If you have already done this before you start your Sprint, then you’re all set. Just bring personas and journey maps to your Design Sprint.

A word about User Research: In the Design Sprint method, “user research” is framed chiefly as user testing, which — while important — is only half of the UX enlightenment equation. Field studies are the data source from which personas and journey maps come from, so it makes sense that you don’t “makeup” personas or journeys in your Design Sprint. Keep your data real and your conversations will be more fact-based.

A further hack we have found to be helpful regarding user involvement in the Design Sprint process is to pre-recruit users ahead of the Sprint. If you do some user interviews (even phone interviews can suffice especially for B2B applications), you can schedule users for Day 5 testing. Friday or Day 5 in the Sprint is reserved for user testing. This is where the team attending the Sprint observes the fruits of their rapid prototyping in action with actual users. Design Sprints have you recruit your users on Tuesday (for a Friday appointment). This might be okay for consumer applications or where you know users or have them on speed dial. For B2B or for even difficult to reach consumers, this adds crazy amounts of unnecessary stress to your Sprint. Instead, sail through like a pro, and do your 5-user recruiting for Friday’s Agile user testing in advance — and even with the same users, you interviewed in the field study if their schedule permits.

Have you conducted or attended a Design Sprint? Share your experience in the comments below…

Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics
Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics

About the author: Frank Spillers, CEO/ CXO of Experience Dynamics, a leading UX consulting firm with Fortune 500 clients worldwide.

For over 20 years, Frank has been a seasoned UX consultant, Researcher, Designer, and Trainer. He is an award-winning expert in improving the design of digital products, services, and experiences. Frank is a Subject Matter Expert in UX Design, UX Management, Accessibility, Emotion Design, Service Design, Localization UX, Lean UX, VR/ AR UX Design. He provides private corporate training and offers courses to the largest online design organization in the world (Interaction Design Foundation). In 2001, Frank founded UX consulting firm Experience Dynamics. He provides deep learning opportunities at UX Inner Circle.

Experience Dynamics, a leading user experience design consultancy that helps high growth companies manage and win with UX/UI excellence.