Why I use Design Sprints

Or “what’s this sprint thing you’re so obsessed with”

The book that always goes missing in our studio

TL:DR; Design Sprints aren’t a one-size fits all process and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to be mediocre at a lot of things. I want to specialise and improve. You might too.


If recent history has taught me anything, it is that the world is getting faster. The way people work, even the way we live our lives appears to be at a faster rate than at any other time before it.

Consider:

  • online shopping for the weekly shop which is then delivered at a time that you choose (Well, my wife Stephie chooses)
  • ordering a personalised birthday card for my brother and requesting First Class delivery because his birthday is the next day
  • choosing flights to an upcoming Design Sprint workshop in Copenhagen online, instead of navigating phone menus and spelling out your name and credit card number in alpha-numerics

What I’m talking about here is harnessing well-designed systems that use your time more efficiently.

But why do we often ignore this in our 9–5 work?

I’ve been at Etch (a UX and consulting agency) for nine months now and it has given me the thing I’ve been craving for the past few years; a culture that embraces change and is never afraid of trying something new. Or letting me try something new.

For the past couple of years, the number one thing I’ve been wanting to try out is the Design Sprint and after a couple of successfully completed projects, I was hooked. I’ll be sharing more of how that works later on.


The world of work

I didn’t get taught how to “do work” at school. Sure, I had homework and exercises to complete in class, even exams to test what I knew, but it’s a world away from work.

For most modern businesses, that involves being sat at a computer, opening files, reading email and doing the jobs that needed doing. At best, you did what was asked. At worst, you were looking busy.

Where did we learn these methods? We learnt through the example set by our line manager and colleagues. Where did they learn it from? Their line managers and their colleagues. In larger companies, the effect is multiplied. Your company may not be one of them. If so, consider yourself lucky (or self-employed!).

Most people at work don’t know how to work efficiently.

I know this from experience. I didn’t ask why I had to conduct these tasks. Far less did I ever challenge them or suggest different ways. Thankfully, over time I gained in confidence and the internet now has plenty of resources that show us better ways to do things. Those with a passion to better themselves are taking to Google to learn how. If employers aren’t allowing experimentation, that might be why the average time in a role is falling.

Even among the youngest of millennials, those [aged] 20–24, the average time in their job is 1.3 years, the same as in 1987 and only slightly less than in 1983 [ref]

Look at my LinkedIn profile. It’s there in black and white:

  • Wiggle — 1 year 9 months
  • Ericsson — 1 year 8 months
  • Hult — 1 year 5 months

In all three cases, I had good line managers. What I didn’t have was the culture around them to experiment and try new things. Most were in heads-down-mode and wouldn’t entertain trying anything new until their existing projects were finished.

Now I’d love to go back to those companies and run the Design Sprint with them. I’m sure we left on good terms…

How the Design Sprint fits in

The Design Sprint is one of those new things to try. Created at Google Ventures by Jake Knapp and friends, they have run more than a hundred sprints with startups such as 23andme, Slack, Nest, and Foundation Medicine. Those companies aren’t just still in business; they’re growing fast.

What the Design Sprint does is compress weeks, even months, of decisions, meetings and effort into a week. It brings focus to a group of people and a framework that allows that group to do what they should be doing; contributing to change.

I’ll let Jake explain it. He wrote the book on it, talks in a lush velvety voice and is rather tall.

That’s why Design Sprints are my preferred method of solving business problems. No bullshit looking busy work, no magical design skill that sprinkles wireframes in glitter and no stressing about over-budget and over-deadline projects.

No, just a time-constrained, week-long process that “uses design thinking to reduce the risk when bringing a new product, service or a feature to the market.”

Etch account manager Tristan (L) shares a website he believes we could learn from in this Lightning Demo exercise. He hates this photo.
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” — Heraclitus (a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher)

And whilst it’s called the Design Sprint, it’s not just for designers. Members from marketing, product, development and strategy should come together to create a richer group who bring diverse views and ideas into the problem solving process. Cross-functional teams who break out of the silos to enact change.

How to start

Once you recognise that the way your business creatively problem solves needs to change (hearty congratulations!), you could start looking at the Design Sprint. Buy the book — it’s on Amazon.

You can also just start by learning some of the techniques involved. We use the Lightning Decision Jam any time we need to understand problems, come up with solutions and pick a target, based on effort and impact.

What’s great is that the group decides, it’s not done over email (or even a computer for that matter) and it only takes an hour of the groups time. If your company culture won’t let you try new things, consider doing it in your lunch hour.

Will voting in a Lightning Decision Jam. Yes, those post-its do mean something. Work is happening

If you liked that, you might like this:

  • We (at Etch) have just launched our Design Sprint website, which will help demystify exactly what I’m talking about here and show how we use the process with our partners. Go there now!
  • To see a lot more behind the scenes of our Design Sprints, check out our Instagram. Mine too
  • I honestly love working at Etch and made this neat little video about it. Ok, it was for Valentine’s Day, but it’s evergreen fun
An award winning designer. Ask him about it https://www.instagram.com/edoardorainoldi/
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