Here at Rosberry we develop lifestyle mobile applications. We have been doing it for a long time and we do it well. But recently we received quite an nontrivial offer from one of our partners — to design urban environment decor for the city’s anniversary as Omsk, our home city, was going to celebrate its 303rd anniversary on August, 3. I guess our design guys will later come up with some interesting articles as to what we finally created and why this task was so interesting and important both for our design team and us as a company. Today I will tell you how we organized the whole process, what we managed, and what not.
So, we were given 2 weeks, 4 designers, the task “to deliver great design” and the 303rd anniversary of the city. When the task was assigned I immediately came in on “design sprints” (this approach was developed by the UX teams from Google Ventures and Google [x], you can read more here), which I have long wanted to pilot test and implement to finally make it an integral part of our design processes. Alas, before that I didn’t have a good chance to do it as either the project was not that suitable or the team was too small. A design sprint can be construed as a framework for the teams of any size meant to resolve and test different design-related tasks within 2 to 5 days. This time we had a bunch of designers and a very ambitious task with a rock-solid deadline — the challenge that requires “fresh” solutions.
All our projects are usually implemented based on the SCRUM methodology, so there was no need for me to explain to the team what a sprint was. At the same time trying to introduce some new approach to organizing creative activities of our freedom-loving design guys was a kind of challenge for me personally as a Scrum Master.
Each sprint starts with one of the fundamental events — with the so called planning. And this sprint was no exception.
So, here is what we started with:
- Formulated the task.
- Set the time- and deadline.
- Built a team (released them all for a week from all other obligations within other projects).
- Booked the meeting rooms (though we have three they are always crammed full).
- Created a separate board in Jira.
- Provided for the office, boards, TV to display content, unlimited coffee and fresh cookies — these resources are always there in excess at Rosberry.
What was next? The time came to make the task more specific. During planning we made a list of media and carriers that had to be addressed, potential partners ready to use our final design as well as the target audience for whom we created it.
It is safe to say that our task met the criteria of a good task. It was:
- Aligned with the goals of the team.
- Focused on the target audience/target segment.
We decomposed the tasks, made them a part of the backlog, created the first sprint, START!
We can’t say that our further work was arranged in the exact same way as described in a well-known book: “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”. The first two stages were actually completed the day before the sprint start as the guys went out to the city streets to take pictures of the facades of the buildings (potential advertising spaces), as well as to look for the city sights or places which could inspire and become the core of the design concept.
For stage 3 of the design thinking process (diverge stage) conditioned by the framework described above, we chose the following path: the design team takes the task, determines who is working on it in what direction and the next 45 minutes each of the sprinters immerses into the chosen domain as much as possible. After 45 minutes the time comes for blitz reports and the Decision making stage with regards to the intermediate results. 10 minutes for the review and heading adjustment, 5 minutes for a break and right after it the next 45-minute time-box .
I must admit that it was the best that we used in this project. It was a hard, effective and inspiring work. Everyone understood what s/he needed to do within the nearest time slot and focused on this —this solution seems to be the one which is much-sought-after allowing you to make creative work systematic and structured.
Did we succeed in always staying focused? Or were there time slots when some of us drifted the wrong way with their thoughts being engaged with a different task and moving in the wrong direction? Yes, of course there were!
Here is how we actually think a designer chooses a chair for a client:
And here is how it happens in real life:
But when this ‘off-base’ activity lasts for only 45 minutes, the losses are minimal, the team can adjust the heading of their colleague and then the whole team can go in the right direction.
So, I’ve personally come to understand that one of the key blockers that keeps creative people from meeting deadlines (if you know what I mean) is the lack of focus, and the approach we chose is great to get a handle on.
This approach to the work is well described in the book by Yana Frank ‘The Muse and the Beast. How to organize creative work” — I would highly recommend all the designers who can understand Russian to read it.
Prototyping in our case consisted in ‘fitting’ our design to the facades of the buildings our potential partners have their business in.
We validated our ideas 2 times during the sprint with our partner and the key persons of the company — it also allowed us to make changes in a timely manner, and the team was energized by the enthusiastic reviews.
Such was the first sprint to create the streetscape design for our city. As a result we got the design concept, a set of patterns, the color scheme and the main symbol for the anniversary. There was another week-long sprint ahead, which had to result in final layouts for printing, landing and a guide for use.
Triumph? Well, no, as not everything went smooth and here is a number of conclusions we can make when the work is over:
- A sprint master is an important role that can not be ignored (we did not have one). A sprint master is not equal to a scrum master. A sprint master should be someone from the team, an expert and a team leader with the deep knowledge of the design processes who can challenge the team and make it a success with them together.
- It is a big mistake to dedicate one whole sprint to creating the design concept within the project we were working on. More than 60% of the total scope of work as to the development of physical materials was ambitiously reallocated to the 2nd sprint, when the team became 50% smaller and the scope 50% broader.
- We started testing too late and dedicated too little time to it, as a result we had to face some unpleasant surprises: the display of colours when printing the materials and the need to introduce some text edits the very last day. Validation as such should always be there within the work process, each task should constantly be validated and only after that can be recognized as ready. For example: we create a pattern, choose a number of geometric shapes to decorate the facades of buildings, print all the materials at the print shop, fit the ready-made materials to the real facades and get a feedback from a partner — this is what might and shall be called a full-fledged testing.
- And our main error was that we had only two designers left for the 2nd sprint and we neglected all possible schemes for the organization of the project.
Sure thing some day we will share more about how we were creating the streetscape concept and what final look our city had. For the time being, feel free to leave your comments and thoughts as to the design process organization. Share your experience for us to work through the best approach ever!