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Design Thinking & Design Sprinting: A Dash and a Marathon

Design thinking is a philosophy that revolves around the idea that designers or design, and not just business objectives, should be the key drivers in the creation of products and services. A design sprint is a tool used in design thinking to rapidly apply the principles of design thinking in a short setting.

That’s it.

That’s the post.

Okay, no, not really. But we know that time is money and has been in short supply since its inception, so if you’re thinking about conducting a design sprint but worried if you should practice design thinking instead, we just saved you a few hundred words that you can skip over. However, if you want to learn more about design thinking and design sprinting, let’s get into it!


Lead by Design

Design thinking has become commonplace since its introduction into the business world back in 1969, so it’s weird to think that once upon a time, businesses did not prioritize things like human wants and problem-solving. Instead, they focused on things like selling 20% more sprockets this quarter.

That’s not to say businesses don’t still have sales objectives. However, a lot of businesses realized that they can benefit from putting the customer first and letting their needs dictate design. This is the starting point for design thinking: empathy. By starting with empathy, teams gain a more comprehensive understanding of what people want, the problems they face, and the emotions they feel.

Why does this matter? Instead of putting business priorities first or C-suite objectives, teams are able to create solutions to real-world problems, with the idea that more people will want products and services if it meets their actual needs.This is reflected in the second step of design thinking, defining, which asks teams to state problems in a human-centered way.

Big Ideas

The third step in design thinking is often the most fun. It’s where designers can let their imaginations run wild, and you’ll hear the phrase “no bad ideas” so often you’ll lose count.

Since designers have wrapped their heads around the problem, talked to real people, and have a specific problem they want to solve, they’re ready to jump into brainstorming. Teams will often use techniques like free writing without worrying about things like affordability or limitations. At least not at first. Later on in the process, after teams have dumped their ideas, it’s time to start going over the muck and pan for the gold!

With some good ideas chosen, teams then move to prototyping, where they take dreams and make cheap, basic versions of the final idea. They might not have all the bells and whistles, but they get the point across. Finally, the testing stage takes the best prototypes and puts them through their paces.

Design is Never Done

The great thing about design thinking is that it’s not really a linear process. During virtually every step, teams can uncover something new. They might decide to address a different problem, narrow or expand the scope, or create something completely unintentionally that they can explore now or later.

Because design thinking is also iterative, companies are often left with ideas of where they want to go next. Maybe they will discover some kind of technical limitation that prevented a big idea from going mainstream, or maybe they have premium and economy versions of a product (think iPhone SE vs iPhone 11).

Smaller, Faster, Stronger

So what is a design sprint? Basically, it is everything just outlined but in an extremely compressed period of time–usually five days so teams can go through the process in a business week.

Why the short period of time? For one, it forces teams to think and move quickly. After all, it’s called a sprint for a reason! And like a sprint, it makes teams expend a short burst of pure energy–they give it their all for a short period of time. That extra exertion can produce interesting results, or it can be used to focus on specific things.

Regardless, you can do a design sprint while practicing design thinking. They are not mutually exclusive.

If you want to do a sprint, the traditional breakdown has organizers identify their team to do the sprint, give them proper supplies, and set aside a dedicated space for them to work. Then the week looks like this:

Monday, they set goals, identify challenges, talk to experts who know about the issue and then end the day with what specifically they hope to accomplish.

Tuesday is all about thinking up ideas, revising and iterating.

Wednesday, the team will evaluate their ideas so far and decide which one satisfies their goals the best. After all, this is a sprint and you can’t focus on too many things! The day ends with the team creating a step-by-step plan on how to create the prototype. Which brings us to…

Thursday, you make the prototype! It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be convincing enough to satisfy the goals.

Finally, Friday is all about testing. Some teams will even recruit outside parties for testing or other groups within the company but outside of the team.

Regardless, the team will have quickly gone through all the steps of design thinking to come up with a solution to a problem. Sprints can be a great way to energize teams and get the creative juices flowing! While they might not be good to do all the time, sometimes it’s just the right thing to see a problem in a different light and come up with a possible solution.

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