Instacart Design
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Instacart Design

The Design Sprint Process Behind our Order Status Redesign

By Dan Shilov, Senior Product Designer

Each day, Instacart customers rely on getting their orders delivered to them promptly. Getting an order from a store to a house is no small feat. Behind the scenes, careful coordination and hand offs mark every step of the process. Throughout this journey we want to help our customers feel confident and secure about their order. At the same time we need to strike the right balance in showing just enough info without being overwhelming.

In late 2019, myself and John Salaveria joined forces to tackle this project. This was a massive undertaking and we couldn’t do it alone. Which is why we partnered closely across several functions: care, product operations, product management, data science, user research and engineering to name a few.

This meant we worked with 30+ people across different teams. How did we make the most out of our time together with this group without falling into a groupthink trap?

Enter the design sprint!

While I can’t share the prototypes and mockups from this session, here is a peek at the process that led to our final design.

Sprinting towards the future

Design sprints can be a lot of fun. If you’ve ever run or participated in one — or even read about one in a designer’s case study you’ll see some familiar artefacts: colorful sticky notes, lots of coffee, and out-there ideas sketched on whiteboards. There’s lots of excitement and buzz as we let our imagination run wild.

For a sprint to be successful, it needs to be properly planned ahead of time. Here’s a sneak peek at how we adapted the design sprint approach to make it work for us. To plan the beginning of the sprint, we had to think about the end in mind: what objectives are we hoping to achieve with the sprint? How do we keep the momentum going after the sprint ends?

To get ready, John and I prototyped different variations of the sprint. We experimented with different time slots, expanded or collapsed the key themes we wanted stakeholders to brainstorm on and we also considered different sprint activities. In the end we settled on a more traditional but condensed version of the design sprint.

We followed a similar format as the design sprint but in more condensed form

Since we were working with many stakeholders, we had to be conscious of everyone’s time and kept group sessions short. The original design sprint calls for intensive full day activities, but we cut that time in half and then we cut in half again — giving us about 2 to 2.5 hours of group activities on our first and second days of the sprint.

The true secret behind our success

We pulled out all the stops, and in addition to supplying large amounts of coffee, we also added some early morning donuts to lure folks in. Never underestimate the power of sweets!

Day 1: Proactive learning and engagement

Our first day was all about knowledge sharing. To set this session up for success, we worked very closely with our research, product operations and data science partners. We shared the schedule with them and helped them synthesize key findings so that everyone had enough time to go over and cover essential information in their section.

We covered:

  • UX research findings based on our current experience to date
  • Common call center concerns from customers
  • Internal UI audit identifying key opportunities and gaps
  • Analogous experiences to help us think broadly beyond our industry

For Day 1 to be effective, we had to put on our teaching hats. We didn’t want people to simply listen (and then later forget). So we had participants write down key questions and “how might we” statements as the presenters were going through their material.

Day 1 of our Design Sprint — learning from experts

We also allocated time for discussion after each presentation. To keep things on time we split folks up into groups and then later on these groups shared common themes and patterns they noticed from their discussion. To keep ideas fresh, we mixed up groups from one presentation to the next. It was a great way to connect people across different teams and disciplines.

We wrapped up Day 1 by taking all the questions that our stakeholders generated and consolidated them into a few easy to digest themes which formed the foundation for Day 2.

Day 2: From insights to ideas

Onto the fun stuff! Day 2 was filled with lots of sketches and activities. We kicked it off by doing a quick recap of our learnings, key themes and takeaways from Day 1.

The goal of this day was to get participants to sketch ideas in a crazy 8s style. For many designers, sketching is our natural strength. However because we had so many different non-design stakeholders: engineers, researchers, product — we wanted to ease them into the process.

To do that, we had the group start off with a warm-up sketch with the prompt of sketching smileys that represented their experience up to when they arrived for the workshop to warm up before moving into more complex sketches.

To ensure we kept the momentum going, we had participants sketch ideas with a focus on one specific part of experience at a time, e.g. order being shopped.

Lights, camera, interaction! Toronto office shares their sketches with the team in San Francisco

While design sprints are known for their close-knit, in-person activities, this was our first attempt at running a design sprint remotely. We incorporated our cross functional partners in Canada throughout the process, sharing findings and mocks across time zones.

After the excitement of Day 2, the hard part for the designers was only beginning. So many great ideas came out of the sketching sessions. While we used the traditional sticky dot method to help participants vote and signal promising ideas we still had so many promising ideas to work through in a short period of time.

Day 3 and 4: Jamming on concepts

For the next two days, John and I locked ourselves in a dedicated jam room that we booked long in advance (conference rooms were a hot commodity at Instacart HQ!). We posted all the sketches and stickies from the last few days and divided and conquered the work.

This was by far the most fun part of the process. Now that we had specific stakeholder ideas and order status steps to iterate against, we went broad with our explorations.

Jamming together

To make sure we kept the momentum going and that we weren’t too overwhelmed — our manager, Brett Rampata, provided quick and specific feedback on our concepts and cracked jokes to keep the energy up in the Jam Room.

This was an intense but enjoyable process, we came in early Wednesday and Thursday to imagine all kinds of futures for order tracking. We explored a variety of different ideas in Figma, jamming on the same file.

Day 5: Showtime!

It was early Friday morning and it was crunch time. Between John and myself we narrowed down our concepts to two distinct visions that we decided to share with our stakeholders.

Story time

To make this concept come together we developed a story about a fictional household with Gina and Bailey. To keep the story interesting we added moments of challenges that our characters ran into but which were anticipated and resolved by the new order experience.

Overall, the narrative framework gave us the discipline to stay focused on a few concepts by taking them to the finish line rather than including the dozens and dozens of mocks that we produced during the two day design jam.

And that’s a wrap

Gathering people for a period of intense but fun brainstorming during design sprint explorations can help teams think broadly and consider new possibilities.

To make this time effective and productive for everyone, it helps to imagine and prototype the sprint ahead of time. What would the sprint look like if you only had a day to do it? What would it look like if you could only get a few hours here and there from the participants?

Be sure to mix things up too. This means considering other design activities beyond the typical crazy 8’s. To cultivate new ideas it always helps to break down team barriers and put together cross-functional teams to brainstorm.

Lastly, don’t forget to do a retrospective at the end. Even if a sprint went perfectly well — be sure to document your learnings and insights so that you can help a future team replicate your success.

Happy sprinting!

If you’re interested in joining the Design team at Instacart, we’re hiring! Check out current roles on the team.

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Stories and ideas from the Instacart Design team

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