Using Design Sprint To Accelerate Innovation (Part II of II)

In Part I we discussed our motivation for running a design sprint, some of the key ingredients and important deviations from the Google Ventures format. In this post, we discuss the day-by-day activities and highlight some tips for making the most of your Design Sprint.

Day 1 —Unpack and immerse

The first day was all about sharing our collective knowledge of the market and our user base. The goal was to ensure we tackle the opportunity with a common understanding of whom we were designing a product for.

We came into day one with a staggering amount of information. The strategy team had recently completed an extensive Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) analysis, while the SEEK UX and Product teams had observed countless hours of user research over the last couple of years. This information was presented to the team in the form of significant opportunity gaps and high-level personas.

Intently listening to JBTD research being presented

There was a real danger of day one becoming ‘death by PowerPoint’. Fortunately, this could not have been further from the truth. With a couple of little tricks, our facilitator ensured that everyone was involved and engaged throughout the day.

Tip #1 Homework and presentation practice

Before the start of the sprint, we were given homework. Each team member was to prepare a two minute presentation on a competitor (no PowerPoint). In addition, each of us had to talk for two minutes about something that inspired us. During the mini-presentations, the note-takers rotated and played back their impression of each presentation to the group.

Kicking off the sprint, this exercise achieved a number of things:

  • everyone expected to be presenting
  • having to take notes meant everyone had to pay attention
  • reviewing competitors got us into the opportunity space
  • thinking about inspiration got us thinking about broad, ‘blue-sky’ ideas

As a result, the day was filled with lively discussion, challenging of preconceptions and refinement of our understanding. We came to day 2 with compatible perspectives on the problem at hand.

Day 2 — Build empathy

On day 2, there was a real sense that people just wanted to get right into design and start sketching. We had just gone through understanding the problem, so this was a natural reaction. In fact, the Google Ventures format does advocate sketching on day 2.

Instead of sketching, we decided to spend the entire day getting deep into the minds of our users. We spent the day mapping out user journeys and building empathy maps.

What we ended up with were rich and colourful representations of our target market — a set of light-weight business and individual personas.

Tip #2 Do take the time to build empathy

Not everyone in your team will have the same understanding of what it means to be in your users’ shoes. It might be tempting to skip this step, but we got a lot out of understanding the motivations and fears that were preoccupying our users. It allowed us to have more informed discussion and debate as we progressed with our designs.

For the remainder of the week, we kept referring to the business and individual personas we had created. We also validated and challenged aspects of them as we got into testing with real users.

Day 3 — Ideate and test

Before we could get into sketching, we needed to have some very specific problems to solve. Up until now, we had been building general knowledge of the opportunity space and our target market.

Product manager, Aseel, sketching out some designs

Taking our empathy maps and journey maps, and going through a ‘How might we’ exercise, allowed us to generate problem statements that were specific enough to attack with pen and paper.

We spent some time grouping and prioritising them, before each team picked one ‘how might we’ card and started sketching potential solutions.

In terms of sketching, we followed a pretty standard design studio process, using the supplies mentioned in part I.

Tip #3 Spend some time ‘learning’ to draw

At the start of the day, we went through a ‘learn to draw’ exercise. This ensured that the whole team produced sketches of similar fidelity and surprisingly cohesive appearance. Here are the steps you too can follow to improve your interface sketching skills:

  1. Draw your interface using a fine-liner
  2. Go over the main structural components using a thicker Sharpie
  3. Highlight the most important aspects of your design using a coloured Copic marker
  4. Shade the background using a light-grey Copic marker. This ensures that the foreground elements really jump out.
A fictional fitness app showing how you can progressively enhance your sketches to build visual hierarchy and depth

The exercise gave everyone confidence that they could draw and it meant that when we presented our designs to users, they had a cohesive appearance.

At 1pm, our first group of test participants arrived. Any concerns that our paper prototypes were too rough or that they wouldn’t allow us to extract sufficient feedback from the participants were gone within minutes, as users engaged with our prototypes and started providing some great feedback.

Tip #4 Give everyone a chance to facilitate feedback-gathering sessions

It would have been easy to get the experienced facilitators amongst us to run the feedback sessions. However, letting everyone have a go meant that we all got to engage in conversation with end users and further build empathy.

Bala (Dev) and Julia (Marketing) facilitating a user feedback session

Day 4 — Ideate and test. Again.

Rather than refining ideas we came up with on day 3, we started day 4 by picking up fresh ‘how might we’ cards. We attacked the new problem with the benefit of hindsight of what worked well and not so well from the previous day’s testing.

The rest of the day was similar to day 3 — we had two groups of users come in for testing, with time for refinement of designs in between.

Tip#5 Take the extra time to come up with more divergent ideas

We could have launched straight into refining ideas from day 3 and converging on a solution. However, taking the extra time to consider new parts of the problem space and come up with new ideas really opened up our thinking. As a result, the best parts of our ideas from day 3 were incorporated into brand new solution components on day 4. Consequently, we created more ideas to test and choose from.

Collaborative sketching

Day 5 — Converge

With the plentiful feedback received from 12 users over two days, it was time to combine the various parts of the solution and converge on a single, holistic product offering.

Having the designs from previous days up on the walls made it easy to discuss the feedback we received and come up with a single design for further exploration.

We also had our final deadline: the 3pm Friday presentation to the executive team. Like the pre-scheduled user feedback sessions, this gave us the focus required to close off the week.

Jesse (Strategy) leading the discussion on which features to take forward to hi-fidelity prototyping stage

Day 6 — Prototype

On the 6th day, the two UX designers locked themselves in a room and produced the hi-fidelity prototypes. One of the prototypes was completed using Sketch and Marvel, while the other was done in Axure. Both were loaded on mobile phones for testing.

At this point, the prototyping task was fairly straightforward. Because we had the benefit of extra time to figure out the details of the product, there weren't too many questions to hold us up.

Tip #6 Take the extra time if you need it

As a team, we made the decision to leave the hi-fidelity prototyping till after the formal design sprint boundary of 5 days. Although it stretched out the activity, it was definitely worth it — we had more time as a team to ideate, diverge and test ideas as described previously.

Five days is a long time to pull 12 people away from their day jobs, but if you've gone that far, it would be a shame to compromise the final outcome at the expense of a couple of extra days.

Day 7— Guerilla testing

Unlike the previous testing where the participants were scheduled and came to us, we split into groups of two and hit the road with the prototypes loaded on our phones. We approached users in their environment —at their place of work.

Tip #7 Go to your users

There is a subtle, but important difference between scheduling users to come to your office and going to see them unannounced in their environment. Scheduling users to come to you automatically drives a degree of bias. They know what they are there for, and inevitably some will be reluctant to give negative feedback.

When you go out to your users unannounced, you face an altogether different type of reaction. Users are more likely to reject your idea and to provide critical feedback.

Where to next?

The design sprint was exhausting, but genuinely inspiring. Most of those involved commented that this was the most exhilarating creative process they had been part of. The challenge ahead of us is to retain the knowledge we gathered and use it to drive the development of a new product. A small team is forming around the ideas we generated and starting to investigate how we can deliver it to the market quickly, stay lean and learn as we go.

As well as the insights gained, we are keen to ensure the process we went through becomes part of how we develop products in the future, because innovation is something you have to practise, not something that comes for free.

Got a similar experience of running a design sprint at your company? We would love to hear about it via a response post.


This whole process would not have been possible without the commitment and passion of the entire team involved:

Jason Gregory (Product), Rob Alford (Product), Jesse Stratford (Strategy), Rob O’Donnell (Strategy), Julia Tehan (Marketing), David Pryce (BA), Rob Scherer (Design), Mimi Turner (Research), Bala Pedagandham (Dev), Bron Potts (Dev), Brendan Gibson (Sales), Vedran Arnautovic (Design) and Michael Stoelwinder (Facilitator).

Final thanks go to Mike Ilczynski (Managing Director) and Doug Blue (Product Director) for empowering and encouraging us to go through this process.