Real Sprints #8. ‘’Searching for the perfect onboarding tool? It’s a design sprint!’’

Interview with Alex van Zijl, UX designer at IceMobile

jeltsje boersma
Jan 2 · 5 min read

What can you learn from others who run design sprints in their company? In this series of articles, I interview professionals to find out how they managed to overcome challenges and obstacles. Their tips can help you make your next design sprint a big success. This article features Alex van Zijl, UX lead and Product Owner for the IceMobile team in Toronto.

His passion for graphic design already started in high school when he was creating flash animations and web designs on his computer. To his surprise, there was a way to turn his hobby into a career. The Dutch Alex van Zijl now works for the digital agency IceMobile at their office in Toronto.

A design sprint as onboarding

“I barely finished my onboarding at the Canadian office when I received an invite for a design sprint. It was my first sprint — I only had a vague idea what it was. The name is misleading too: I thought the process was much more designer focused. But instead, I joined a team of experienced stakeholders, and I was the only designer in the room.

Our facilitator at that time did a good job leading the team through the sprint. But for me, the process remained vague until the very end. I remember being impressed by the result and the speed of the process. But I had little peace of mind; I didn’t understand the purpose of each phase. Perhaps it would have been better if I would have read a case study of a design sprint upfront?

My first sprint experience made me realize the importance of reaching out to sprint team members beforehand. I want to make sure they all know what to expect. Especially for newbies, the process can be overwhelming and confusing.

On the other hand: joining a sprint as a newbie has its benefits too.

When I started in Canada, I needed to dive into Airmiles, our main project. The sprint facilitator spent a significant amount of time upfront for contextual research. When I walked into the sprint room, her findings were presented clearly on large posters. It provided excellent insights into the challenges of my new project. Moreover, during the sprint, I right away met the most important stakeholders and learned about their interests.

The design sprint can give you that perfect 360-degree overview over a new project.

As the Sprint book points out: diversity of the team is important. I found that it’s key to not only look at the background of each member but also their employment history. Both newbies and seniors provide valuable input. Newbies have a fresh perspective on issues that seniors take for granted; they can challenge their biases. Seniors provide the necessary in-depth knowledge to come up with better solutions.

The Sprint team needs to be diverse — not only in background but also in employment history. Newbies and seniors provide different perspectives and input, both equally valuable.

What about cultural biases?

Working for Airmiles in Canada gave me the opportunity to learn about cultural differences in user behavior. But also — about my own biases. In contrast to the Netherlands, Canadian Airmiles customers need to activate a promotional offer in the app first before they are eligible for extra Miles. In my first design sprint, we tested an even more laborers concept. On top of the activation in the app, customers also needed to show the coupon with the offer to the seller. With my Dutch background, I found this process — to say the least — user un-friendly. I could hardly believe it could ever work.

But I was wrong. The user tests demonstrated that with the right interactions, Canadians are sufficiently pro-active for this process to work. And so, we build it.

User — testing teaches you all about cultural differences — as well as your own biases!

Crafting strategy with design sprints

The design sprint has proven its value not only as just a full 5-day process. In our team, we also use its individual activities to come up with better solutions in a shorter amount of time. The ‘How Might We’ questions open up the way to think in a more innovative way. The ‘Crazy 8’ stirs up creativity and helps you come up with new ideas in a short amount of time.

For the team I work for, Mobile, I co-create next years’ strategy. We translate the results of sprint activities into our strategic planning. For example, a recent ‘Crazy 8’ session focused on improving our user retention. One of the solutions was using gamification. In our new strategy paper, we operationalize the current engagement and interaction level with our users. To improve our KPIs, we provide different solutions — including gamification.

Design sprints work both on the lower, more practical level as well as on higher, strategic level. Individual exercises are a great help for teamwork. And the results can be translated into new strategic directions!

In September this year, I joined a Design Sprint Facilitator Course at the Design Sprint Academy. I learned how to motivate and get the best out of your sprint team. But I also got to understand the ‘why’ behind each phase of the process. The next design sprint I join, either as a participant or as a facilitator, I know how to keep the goal in mind. This will help me to stay focused — and hopefully leads to even better and innovative team results!


Here’s a wrap-up of design sprint learnings from Alex van Zijl:

  • The design sprint gives you a 360-degree overview of a new project. You learn about the project challenges, the stakeholders, and their interests and all in a matter of days!
  • As a facilitator, reach out to each team member before you start the design sprint. Make sure that everyone knows what the process is about.
  • A mixed design sprint team is important. Not only should you mix different backgrounds, but also ensure there is a variety in employment histories. Newbies and seniors provide different input — both equally valuable.
  • User-tests will show you interesting cultural differences. But be prepared, they also reveal your own biases too.
  • Elements of the design sprint can help you with your everyday teamwork. But on the higher level, you also can translate the results into your new strategic directions.

Looking to learn more about Design Sprints?

Get in touch with other Design Sprint practitioners by joining our Design Sprint Masters Facebook group or the Design Sprint Group on Linkedin.

Learn more about Design Sprint 3.0 by joining one of our workshops offered worldwide by Design Sprint Academy and our global network of partners in Europe, North America, India and Australia.

Design Sprint Academy

Learn how to run Design Sprints successfully

jeltsje boersma

Written by

PR & Comms @PharmAccess. Amsterdam based, again. Tags: culture // (gender-) equality // social entrepreneurship. My stuff is in Dutch & English.

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