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Our Remote Design Sprint: A Step-by-Step Toolkit

Emily Thompson
Apr 21 · 15 min read

Article co-authored by the iconic Norman Wozniak

Timing is honestly eerie. Norman Wozniak, Lauren Lamperski, and I had been preparing to present this toolkit and the Remote Design Sprint process at the UXPA (User Experience Professionals’ Association) conference in May, but given the current circumstances we wanted to share these resources to help in your facilitation of remote design activities.

If you haven’t already, check out Lauren’s article, “Our Remote Design Sprint: How to Collaborate in a Time of Social Distancing” before you keep reading. This will provide you with the context for these templates and explain why we adopted the process in the first place.

While this article focuses on design at a tech company, our Remote Design Sprint process can be adapted to many industries and organizations.

Not sure if the process is right for you? Check if the following apply to your situation.

You Have:

  • A big, thorny customer problem your business is facing
  • 1–3 designers who can dedicate ~30 hours to lead the process
  • An eager team of 4–15 cross-disciplinary colleagues ready to roll up their sleeves with ~4 hours total that they can dedicate to the process
  • Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or something similar to capture team input
  • A real-time collaboration tool in virtual space

If you’re still reading, there’s a good chance the Remote Design Sprint may be a candidate for your project.

This article will offer you the templates, descriptions, and tools you need for each step of our Remote Design Sprint to help you reproduce the process (with your own flavor) on your team.

Here’s what we’ll go through:

  • Getting set up with some easy pre-work and planning
  • Phase 1, Vision
  • Phase 2, Creation
  • Phase 3, Testing
  • Phase 4, Analyzing
  • Follow-up and next steps

Our entire Remote Design Sprint process relies on two main resources:

Airtable Template: this is the central source of documentation where you’ll find all the templates presented in this article

Miro Template: this is where you’ll actually do all your work (just copy and paste this template into your own Miro)

While there are other documentation and real-time collaboration tools available, we highly recommend these two (and they both have free versions you can try!)

✨ Pro tip: Duplicate these templates right now so you can follow along while reading this article.

Getting set up with some pre-work

Check out the “pre-work” phase in the Airtable

Gather the team

There are two groups that will be involved during the process:

  • The Core Team: People who build or have a stake in the output. The core team should include your design team and at least one representative from each discipline involved in the project (e.g., a project manager, engineer, analyst, etc.)
  • The Decision Makers (a subset of the core team): Functional experts who make the final decisions and will ultimately have to defend the output to stakeholders.

Set the schedule

This whole process happens in as little as 2 weeks and is broken down into the following 4 phases: Vision, Creation, Testing, and Analyzing. We will describe each phase in detail below, but this visual should help you to get a better understanding.

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See “Remote Design Sprint Phases” on Miro

✨ Pro tip: Clear your design team’s calendar so your brain power is reserved for the Remote Design Sprint.

Set up the tools

We use Airtable, Google Forms & Sheet, Miro, Sketch, Usertesting.com and Abstract. Most of them have free versions any team can try out.

Hold a project overview session with the core team (your first team meeting!)

The process always begins with a project kickoff with the core team to align on expectations and give everyone an overview of the process (see second line on the Airtable template). Here are the most important things you’ll want to tell the team:

  • This is a collaborative and transparent process
  • At the end of the process, you will have created, as a team, one or two prototypes that have been user tested
  • This is based on a very well known and tested process by hundreds of companies (The Design Sprint 2.0) that leverages the best knowledge in cognitive science to come up with the best possible outcome in the shortest amount of time

Feel free to send Lauren’s article “The Remote Design Sprint: How to Collaborate in a Time of Social Distancing” prior, too!

✨ Pro tip: Meet with the main stakeholder (e.g., product manager, project manager, etc) before you start to clarify roles and responsibilities. The process might be new to them and you want to make sure they understand that you are taking the lead during the Remote Design Sprint. Also, assure them that you will be available to refine the mocks after the process is completed.

1- Vision Phase (Days 1–5)

During the vision phase, you’ll gather the team insights needed to start ideation. You will also help the team understand what they should expect from this process and come up with the sprint goal and questions.

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See “1-Vision” in Airtable & Miro

The Remote Sailboat Workshop

The remote sailboat workshop (or speedboat workshop) is the same as the first half-day of the regular Design Sprint, but remote. (For a step-by-step explanation of the sailboat workshop, checkout this article from Klaxoon). We do this by sending a survey (see “Vision Survey” in Airtable) to the core team using Google Forms.

The workshop helps to set the team up for success by:

  • Creating a sprint goal and questions that will be used to frame the prototype(s) you’ll user test at the end of the Remote Design Sprint
  • Uncovering specific knowledge from all the participating functions
  • Identifying the exact customer journey you are tackling
  • Gathering competitive or non-competitive examples the team is excited about
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See “Vision Survey” in Airtable

✨Pro tip: Teams may be unfamiliar with this kind of exercise — that is totally okay! Reassure them that all their thoughts are valid. It is essential that you gather their opinions in order to kickstart the sprint process. This is how you will be able to form your sprint goal and questions.

✨Pro tip: Send a few reminders to take the survey by email and on Slack with the subject “[Action Required]” to make sure all participants share their personal thoughts.

All right. You’ve wrangled everyone into filling out this fun sounding form. Now what?

Vision Prioritization

You will now synthesize and share the sailboat vision responses with the team and have them vote on what themes they feel are most important. This will allow the team to actively participate and learn what the group thinks as well as prioritize what should be prototyped and user tested. You will also develop the sprint goals and questions that will drive the rest of this process.

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See “Sailboat Vision Theme Synthesis” on Miro

Use the “Sailboat Vision Theme Synthesis” in the Miro template to organize and synthesize the results from the sailboat vision workshop.

How to use the template:

  • Export sailboat vision Google Form answers into Google Sheet (see screenshot below)
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Click the icon for “view responses in sheets” to create a spreadsheet

  • Paste spreadsheet cell answers directly into Miro (this turns each cell into an individual sticky note)
  • Read and create condensed sticky notes based on common themes in responses (number of times a sticky appears = number of respondents who mentioned the theme)
  • Come up with user stories for each question in the sailboat workshop based on popular themes (for example, “The Rock: My Activity Hub is making a lot of assumptions and could get creepy and not be useful for customers if we make it too pushy or get our recommendations wrong)
  • Paste any screenshots of competitors or non competitors that folks shared in the Miro below the themes section
  • Gather the core team for a 30-minute remote meeting to share the results of the sailboat vision workshop and develop the sprint goal/questions (see the Miro template for details)
    - The most voted “island” theme(s) become the sprint goal
    - The most voted “rock” and “anchor” themes become the sprint questions
  • Send out a follow-up email the same day with the results of the most voted on themes, the final sprint goal, and a link to the Miro board

✨ Pro tip: Do not send a pre-read for this meeting — this will help to prevent groupthink because the team will be forced to make decisions quickly.

✨ Pro tip: Be open with the team about the fact that the theme votes will determine the sprint goal and questions. Be extra clear about next steps and let the team know that they can track the progress of the Remote Design Sprint live on Miro.

Other steps and activities we do on a per project basis

Proto User Journey Map — For any project, it’s essential to assess the current experience for your users, even if it’s just your best judgement as a designer. You will reference this again and again throughout the process to provide context to team members who are less connected with your users. This will also be a key expert talk during the design studio. [if you’re new to user journeys, check out this awesome guide by Nick Babich]

Competitive Analysis/Audit — For the analysis/audit piece we recommend checking out experiences both within and outside your competitive landscape.

Gathering Qualitative & Quantitative Data — Whatever you have at your disposal goes a long way here. We like to set up a quick chat with our analysts a week before the design studio to flesh out what data we might be able to pull, and identify relevant dashboards that may help to provide context for participants. This is also a great opportunity to surface any past tests that are relevant to your experience as well as user research (a luxury, we know).

2- Creation Phase (Days 6–9)

The second phase is all about generating ideas. You’ll lead a design studio to give the core team focused time to think of possible solutions. As a group, you’ll prioritize the best solution(s) that you want to pursue. Afterwards, you’ll regroup with the decision makers to outline requirements for the prototype. Then, your design team will work together to quickly create the prototype.

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See “2-Creation” in Airtable & Miro

Design Studio

For the design studio you stick pretty much to the book — expert talks, note taking, crazy 8’s, heat map voting, the gamut. The best way to set the stage for the studio is to remind the team that they are helping to create a solution that will be tested by users in 3 days!

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See “Design Studio Slide Deck” in Airtable & Miro

✨ Pro tip: What makes the studio so successful when you’re remote is the prep work. For expert talks , have each presenter add their slide to the deck at least 24 hours before the studio so you can put the full presentation on Miro.

Here’s a sampling of the expert talks we typically have in each studio:

  • Product Manager or Product Lead intro
  • Design Sprint Goals & Questions
  • Analytics Deep Dive
  • Front End Fun Stuff
  • Competitive Research Summary
  • Past Test Insights

✨ Pro tip: Make sure that all participants have tried Miro beforehand — you won’t have any time to spare in the tight 1.5-hour span to accommodate on-boarding.

✨ Pro tip: As soon as you’ve completed the design studio, take 15 minutes with your other designer(s) to look at the winning concepts and features. Make groupings of concepts with the most votes and make a list of the questions that came up about the designs in the “prototype requirement” tab on Airtable.

Decision Maker Meeting (*this is the most important step in the process)

This is the part where you use the sprint goal and questions to have the experts of each function decide on what you’ll prototype and user test in a couple of days.

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See “Prototype Requirements” tab in Airtable

It is amazing how powerful having a public list of requirements can be for holding stakeholders accountable to their word. This can easily be referenced to stop those “oh can we add a carrousel here” requests down the line.

The requirements list, the sprint goal, and questions will all go into the making of the prototype to ensure that you are holding each other accountable to a common mission.

Here’s how you go about running the decision maker meeting:

  1. Copy and paste the winning concepts from the design studio (2 or 3 most upvoted) and most upvoted features (concentrated heat map votes) onto the “Prioritization of Features” frame on Miro
  2. Gather decision maker group for a one-hour meeting (agenda as follows)
  • Intro 5 min
  • Recap of design studio 5 min
  • Self time to review and vote (2 votes) 10 min
    Vote with dots. 2 ways to vote: 2 dots on one winning concept, 1 dot on one winning concept and 1 dot on an interesting feature (these voted-on features can be included in the prototype or documented for post-MVP designs)
    Add questions and concerns under the concepts and next to the features.
  • Each decision maker pitches their votes compared to the sprint goal and questions 20 min (As experts share their thoughts about their votes, take notes and start to create a list of requirements designs will have to fulfill)
  • Group agrees upon prototype requirements and structure 10 min
    After the pitches, review as a group the rough list of requirements that came out of the votes. Ensure that all experts are comfortable with the output and that major questions or concerns are voiced.

Creating the Prototype(s)

This is the time when designers and content strategists go heads down for a few days. Utilizing the power of our design system and each other, this is, in our opinion, one of the most rewarding parts of the sprint. You really get to focus on doing this work together, with all the great inputs, as designers.

Here’s what you’ll do in this step:

  • Storyboard the user testing user flow(s)
  • Build the User Testing script
  • Wireframe → Mockup → Prototype UX/UI
  • Build out content
  • Test the user testing script with a draft version of the prototype (to ensure the proper flow/questions are asked)
  • Launch a structured feedback survey for stakeholders (see feedback survey template on Airtable)
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See “Initial Prototype” on Miro

✨ Pro tip: It is super important that you share all the quick iterations you make live on the Miro (at least once a day) in the “Initial Prototype” frame so the team can see what is happening and how the prototype requirements list is shaping out into a visual solution.

✨ Pro tip: Try using Slack calls or another communication tool to work alongside your design partners while remote. You’ll find the ability to ask questions and brainstorm live will save you some iterations and help to cultivate an “over the shoulder” feel.

Prototype Feedback Survey

At the end of day 2 of the Creation phase, you will send out a quick prototype feedback form to the core team to get their input before you launch the user tests.

This is a step that we added after running several Remote Design Sprints to ensure that we get the most out of the prototype we are testing. The outcome of this survey is a public list of new requirements classified as “must haves”, “should haves”, and “nice to haves” (see Airtable).

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See “Prototype Feedback Survey” in Airtable

✨ Pro tip: Be super empathetic with your stakeholders by calling them “experts” and make sure they provide feedback based on their own personal expertise as it relates to the sprint goal, questions, and list of requirements.

✨ Pro tip: Regularly post on the project Slack channel or email how the prototype is shaping out. Make it easy for the team to provide casual feedback too.

3- Testing Phase (Day 10)

The third phase is where you get to see the fruits of your labor. This is where you launch user tests (we typically do 12 tests) and get to see how your prototype stacks up against the sprint goal and questions.

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See “3-Testing” in Airtable & Miro

✨ Pro tip: Send a pilot test before you launch all the user tests (even after you’ve done a script and prototype dry run the day before) in case you need to make any changes to the flow or questions.

✨ Pro tip: Be sure to check out the prototype link on an incognito window to ensure that users will be able to access it through user testing without any permission issues.

User Testing Viewing

One of our favorite parts of the process is the 2-hour user testing viewing meeting. As designers, we are lucky to be so close to real users, but for a lot of our stakeholders this might not be the case. It is so rewarding to be able to have stakeholders make comments and suggestions based on feedback they heard from the user tests. Plus, you’ll find that the user testing analysis is ultimately higher-quality because it doesn’t rely on the inherent bias in everyone’s notes.

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See “Note Taking Form” in Airtable

✨ Pro tip: Having the team take notes on positive, negative, and general feedback is a great exercise, but the most important part of the note taking form is the sprint goal and questions comparison. Encourage folks to jot down user quotes or bulleted themes for section 1, but pause at the end of each video to give at least 2 minutes for people to fill out section 2.

✨ Pro tip: Remind the team that users often say and do different things, so they should keep a close eye on how users interact with the experience, not just what they comment on!

4- Analyzing Phase (Days 11+)

In phase 4, you will likely feel exhausted, invigorated, or some combination of the two. This is the phase where you really dig into the user testing notes and the sprint goal and questions comparison. You will treat the note taking output much like the sailboat vision output by exporting the data into Miro and outlining common themes for refinements.

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See “4-Analyzing” in Airtable & Miro

Here’s how you’ll go about it:

  1. Export the “positive, negative, and general” notes into a Google Sheet
  2. Copy and paste spreadsheet cells into Miro
  3. Group or theme stickies by feedback type
  4. Copy and paste sprint goal and questions on the test goal and analysis board
  5. Copy and paste note taking bar graphs (found at the bottom of the “responses” section in the Google Form) into the test goal and analysis board
  6. Utilize Google Sheets to gather averages for the sprint goal and question comparisons and post those averages next to the sprint goal and questions
  7. Write out “quick-hit” opportunity areas based on user feedback
  8. Hold a 30-minute meeting with your core team the week following the sprint to go over the main takeaways from the user tests and align on next steps

Refinements

After you complete the Remote Design Sprint you will work with your team to move forward with the designs. This is the time where you can begin engineering and technical investigations to inform next steps.

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See “Refinements” on Miro

Post-work

Much like design, the Remote Design Sprint process is never done. A week or so after the sprint is complete we recommend sending out a retro survey and holding a meeting to adapt the process moving forward. We have added some critical parts of the Remote Design Sprint process (e.g., the prototype feedback survey) as a result of these retros.

✨ Pro tip: put the retro meeting (and all of the meetings) on the calendars of the core team right after the first kick off meeting. It helps the team understand what happens when and have the right expectations all along.

Thanks for reading!

We would love to hear your thoughts on the templates and if you have any improvements on the process in your practice.

Big shoutout to Lauren Lamperski for all of her collaboration in developing this process and Jamie Scheu & Giuliana Vetrano for editing this article!

Resources:

Design Sprint

Remote Design Sprint

Wayfair Experience Design

Perspectives from Wayfair's Experience Design Team

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