Sprint to the finish

How the Shopify design team brings ideas
to customers in a week.

Design. Test. Repeat.

Shopify has been shipping features and products for years, and as the company grows we’ve developed quicker and better ways to get our ideas in front of customers.

Design Sprints can be very valuable when forming a new team, starting a new feature, or kicking off a new product offering.

How do we do it?

It takes stacks of paper, pads of post-its, a few sticky dots and a lot of thinking.

We’ve adapted some of the popular ideas around what’s known as a “Design Sprint” from people like Google Ventures and IDEO into something that really works for us.

Our goal is to have 2-4 high-fidelity clickable-prototypes to show to customers within a week.

Let’s get started

The bulk of the ideation is done on Day 1, where we grab a room with a whiteboard and fill it with 6-10 people from different disciplines. We invite Designers, UX Researchers, Product Managers, and Front-End Engineers. It’s also important to invite people outside of the core team that is currently dedicated to the issue. We’ll usually have at least half of the room be “Guest-Designers” who are pulled in for a day from another team. This allows fresh ideas to surface and designers to get insight into what the rest of the company is doing.

First we need to know the problem

Before the sprint starts we send out a document going over user stories, key problems, questions, and research findings so everyone has background on what we’re tackling.

On Day 1 we begin the morning by spending about 30 minutes talking about the problem / feature / product. This is usually lead by a UX Researcher or PM who holds the knowledge of customer problems.

We then ask any open questions and write them on a whiteboard so we can keep them in our minds throughout the day. It’s important to always reference back to the problems you’re trying to solve.

8 → 4 → 2

Once everyone is on the same page we spend around an hour doing individual ideation. We start with an exercise called “Crazy 8's”. Everyone grabs a piece of paper, folds it in 8, and has 10 minutes to quickly throw down 8 ideas. The bigger the marker the better — don’t focus on the details. Your ideas should be crazy “moonshot” ideas that aren’t weighted in technical details or “what’s currently possible”.

The best way to warm up the brain is by using your arms.

Once that’s done spend another 10 minutes refining 4 of those ideas, or coming up with 4 new ideas.

Remember to take small breaks between each phase to recharge your brain — go grab a coffee and then come back.

The last part of individual ideation, as you may have guessed, is refining 2 of your ideas. This should also be scoped to 10 minutes.

Sometimes we’ll do the last round twice.

Discuss and share

Once everyone has come up with a multitude of ideas, we break into groups of 2 people. These teams first show their ideas to each other and offer up suggestions. The teams then spend the rest of the afternoon working on their deliverable.

The groups of 2 set out to create — at least one per person — higher fidelity wireframes and storyboards. These should show their ideas in as much detail as possible, and the storyboards should show micro-interactions that help tell the story of their design.

Crazy 8's, Wireframe and Storyboard.

Afternoon converge

The afternoon portion of day 1 is the most important. Everyone gets together after they’ve had a few hours to work on their deliverable. Everyone puts up their work on a wall and the entire group walks around as each group presents their ideas.

Feel open to ask questions or offer up ideas at any point. This is an organic conversation that diverges from the main idea constantly. This isn’t a presentation.

Once all the teams have had a chance to show their idea, it’s time for silent voting. Give each person 6 small sticker dots. People then walk around and stick the dots on elements of the designs they like best.

That concludes day 1.

Now we build

The designers who are on the project take all the ideas and begin day 2 by starting high fidelity mockups of their prototypes. By day 5 the goal is to have 2 mockups per designer.

We use various tools to prototype our ideas including: Sketch, Invision, Balsamiq and FramerJS. The prototypes vary from comps hotlinked together to full HTML pages depending on what we’re testing and designer preference.

Test, Repeat.

At the end of Day 5 the UX Research team takes the prototypes and starts showing them to customers. If you don’t have access to a UX Research team there are plenty of things you can do to test and validate your ideas. The most important thing is to show your ideas to customers, and listen.

This week’s sprint is done. Ideas are being validated, and it’s time to focus on the next problem, with a whole new set of people and ideas.