The Ideation Sprint: cross-functional design with minimum resources

This framework can be used to optimize/redesign a specific website or app feature.

Features or elements are constantly redesigned in the context of a product. Either by a business request or through some research findings issues arise and redesigns need to be conducted. The well-known “Design Sprint” can prove time and resource-consuming for your team.

The 6 Steps of the Ideation Sprint: Context, Data, Journey, Session, Cognitive Evaluation & Testing.
The 6 Steps of the Ideation Sprint: Context, Data, Journey, Session, Cognitive Evaluation & Testing.

Usually, the UX Research Department is the only one which can invest more time in this process. This led to the development of a framework that can support these constraints, which I called “The Ideation Sprint”. It consists of 6 steps, as showcased below, and the Business resources needed have been minimized. The UX Researcher/Designer(s) will be the only part(s) in most of them, while step 4 (“Ideation Session”) is the one that requires various business backgrounds.

Step 1: Set the context

This step might seem straightforward, but it needs to be clearly defined. Whether it is a business request or a User Research finding that initiated this, it should be strictly stated what it consists of. The data or general information that led to it, as well as the main goal of this process (in other words the task specs), need to be set and agreed by all stakeholders.

Step 2: Collect your Data

All the data that can be utilized to identify the main user need when accessing the redesigned feature have to be collected. Usually, a Research Department has a “Toolbox” of datasets that can be accessed. More specifically it can be either quantitative data (Google Analytics, Customer Data, Market Analytics) or qualitative data (Competition Benchmarking, User Testing/Interviews findings, Heatmaps, Website Recordings).

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At this point, a focal point of data collection is Website Recordings. There is a variety of tools (eg. Hotjar, UXCam, Smartlook and many more) that can be utilized in order to track the real users of your website and observe their behaviours. Setup some recordings right where the targeted feature is.

Step 3: Identify User Journey

When your recordings have been collected it is time for some “hard-work”. The process might seem endless but the value it offers is worth the effort. Watch your user recordings and track each of their steps. Collect this into a sheet in a table form and always keep a unique identifier for each recording (eg. User ID) for later analysis.

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After you have watched enough recordings and patterns seem to repeat themselves proceed to the visualization part. Your sheet can be transformed into some explanatory charts (Google Data Studio can impressively support this). Personally, I prefer to segment the user journeys by the total number of actions/steps. The most prominent ones (try to limit them to 1 or 2) are analyzed further so that each step is identified. Combine these steps and you there it is: your main User Journey for this feature.

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Step 4: The Ideation Session

This is the session were ideas will fire up! The main outcome will be an enriched context and some design solutions. Different backgrounds are encouraged to take part in this 2-hour session (try to include UI & UX professionals, Product Owners & Web Developers) and they should be up to 8 people, ideally. It consists of 3 parts.

Part 1: Background Analysis

Firstly, the conducted research will be showcased and visualized on a board for all participants: Requests Specs, Interesting Data Collected, Competition Analysis, Main User Need & Primary User Journey(s). All in all, everyone needs to be aware of the current situation, the areas that need to be improved and the main goal.

Each member will take 5 minutes to present his view of the context. Constraints set from each distinct background can prove vital for the actual design and implementation. The board will be informed with these points of view.

Part 2: Ideate with “Crazy 8's”

The “Crazy 8's” is a design sprint tool showcased by Google, which can enhance creativity and result in inspired ideas. In short, it consists of the following steps as stated in the Google Design Sprint Kit:

Each team member folds their piece of paper and folds it into eight sections

Set the timer for eight minutes

Individually, each team member sketches one idea in each rectangle, trying their best until all sections are filled

When the timer goes off, all pens are down

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When all pens are down the ideas need to be evaluated. Again, the process defined by the Google Design Sprint Kit is really solid:

Put up each sprinter’s sketches on a wall or whiteboard one at a time so everyone can see them clearly

Each person has three minutes to talk through the ideas they generated and answer any questions other teammates may have

Give each team member three votes

The team will have five minutes to indicate the three most compelling ideas by voting on the specific sketches (not the entire paper)

It is ok to vote for your own sketch or to put all three dots on one idea if you think it is truly the most valuable to pursue

The part of questioning the ideas is fundamental, as the main concerns of each team will be identified before moving to an actual prototype.

Step 5: Cognitive Evaluation

Pick the 3 or 4 most voted ideas sketched and proceed to evaluate the cognitive load of the user when trying to reach his goal through each one of them. A software (like Cogulator shown below) can assist this process of assessing all the steps for a specific scenario.

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Keep the identified user journey in mind and first evaluate your current design. Iterate and move on to each of the proposed ideas. The more time you invest to analyze your user actions in detail, the more accurate your results will become. Of course, keep in mind that this is just an estimation, it should be used as a part of the evaluation and not solely.

Step 6: Prototype & Test

The last step is the fundamental and all-time classic: User Testing through a prototype. Proceed to prototype the 1 or 2 solutions that would most likely fit your user’s need. Test your prototype with real users, get their feedback and iterate. If the results are extremely out of the set context, or the goal seems to differ a lot, do not hesitate to restructure your context and run a second “Ideation Session”.

This framework was developed to assist the shortening of time or resources that usually exists within a product team. It can be adjusted to fit any distinct need that you might have or parts of it could inspire the development of different frameworks.

Please note: this article contains some references on specific software. All of them are the ones that were a good fit for my personal work routine and are indicative. You can choose the ones that will optimize your own tasks.

Liked what you read? Feel free to comment or propose some upgrades to the framework. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.

UX Researcher @theblueground. Writing about User Experience and Interaction Design.

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