How to make a prototype in just five days

UX workshop, derived from Design Sprint, is a five-day technique with main purpose to interpret business needs through UX, UI, design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers while significantly shortcutting the time and finances needed for such projects.

The Design Sprint was developed by Google Ventures, but some of the methods used in UX workshops are gained from our own personal experience with clients.

Although it is applicable for any product or service, both for startups and firms alike, we at web.burza found that its best use is in developing new websites where digital solutions are often decided without having previously established healthy grounds for their implementation. We’ve done a fair share of workshops so far and have made them a standard part of our offer.

What was it like before? The process usually went like this: we got product specifications, determined how much time is needed and started working. This kind of process is followed by a lot of changes from the client side, is time consuming and cost-inefficient. The aim of the workshop is to extract as much project data as possible in order to avoid drastical changes in the development of the product.

The main focus is thus on the communication between the stakeholders, designers, developers and decision makers — always having target customers in mind.

Why it works

When everybody is an expert in their own domain, what could go wrong with the project? Agencies are often mistaken for miracle workers who produce fascinating solutions in isolation.

But, in reality, the main focus should be on collaboration and hand-in-hand approach. Having all the stakeholders work closely together on the same goal and with the same information brings out the best solution possible. This is especially important at the beginning of a project.

With team alignment, there is no room for misinterpretation, every information is on the table and the project is evaluated from every aspect. Not to mention all the benefits of getting to know your client after spending a few days together — communication becomes much easier and transparent.

On the other side, you will show your clients that you care. You care about the reasons behind the project and you care about their income, not only yours. You will find yourself in a discussion regarding their critical questions and biggest problems, and with workshop you have the tools to solve them. Or not to solve them, but to spare them of their time and money if the sprint invalidates the idea.

You offer a much deeper understanding of your clients business needs and that generates trust in further collaboration.

As we can see, sprint has a lot of important benefits and time is one of them. It might seem that an entire week focused only on one project is a lot, but in reality it saves time. This practice trims perpetual debates that could run for months and months over e-mails. It asks the right questions at the right time. It forces stakeholders to make product decisions quickly.

Except time, it also saves money. To make a good investment, you have to have a valid plan that you know will work. Adding features, moving away from ideas, correcting assumptions and changes are expected in the planning process, but the real danger is getting too far into the project before making these changes.

A workshop is a recipe for better project planning without wasting any resources.

It eliminates too specific or too hypothetical project plans. Meaning, rather than waiting to launch a product based on clients hypothetical idea to get the feedback from users, you can get customer reactions and data from a prototype without costly engagement. Successfulness of a project thus depends on a customer evaluation and no good plan can be specific enough without testing it with the users first. Sprint serves to set a path that has a foundation in reality — not assumptions. And at the very end, you will have a workable prototype that will guide the communication across design, content and development. The risk of a delay due to miscommunication is run over by the sprint.

Not only it saves money, it brings money. The return of investment can be great if you build a solution that resonates with people, that is tested and proven to work.

And what if it doesn’t work at the end of the first sprint? One of the greatest things about workshops is that you can do as many iterations until it does work. Revisions based on your first workshop only increase the odds that your final project won’t fail.

How it works

We start by gathering main characters in one room. Besides stakeholders, each with its own expertise, we also need the Decider, a person who can make the last call if the group sinks into a long debate. Facilitator or Sprint Master will be the person in charge of the sprint. Like any other workshop, we need a whiteboard, a lot of post-its, markers, paper sheets, snacks and supplies. It is always a good idea to write a workshop brief and prepare by collecting or conducting user research. Let’s see what the first day has in store for us.

Day 1 — Unpacking

We begin by introducing everybody in the room and explain the sprint methods. It’s time to start sharing knowledge and asking why we are doing the new website or redesigning the old one.

While still avoiding talking about possible solutions, we are pursuing project long-term goals which are then written on a whiteboard. We also introduce or determine the customers. A good tool for target audience is to develop personas — realistic representations of key audience. They can be placed in the sprint room as a constant reminder of our target.

While observing the current website, we focus on understanding the problem and the new vision from every possible angle. Customer research and Google Analytics will give us a great insight and possibly some answers.

In an effort to synthesize the team’s discussion, features that emerge from the discussion are written on post-its. With features placed on the whiteboard, it’s time to end the first day.

Day 2 — Ideating

We continue adding features to our whiteboard. The best way to get inspired is to take a look at the works of others. We may not find the solution to our problem there, but we may find interesting features or gain input into look & feel. We can find inspiration in the success of others, but also opportunities in the fails of others. Feature inventory is a technique that can help summarize the competitors’ features and to determine the main competitors and benchmarks. All we need to do is to make a table with listed companies and their features.

Crazy 8s

Another great way to get ideas is to make a so called Crazy 8s. Fold a sheet of paper to create eight frames. Sketch variations of the worst ideas in each frame on one side and best ideas on the other side.

Once done ideating, we face our whiteboard filled with unorganized notes and features. It’s time to move similar ideas next to one another and give them a common label. This technique is called affinity mapping.

Affinity mapping

Successful ideation involves collecting and promoting ideas into features. After all the features are organized in groups, it’s time to start prioritizing.

Prioritization can be done by a matrix that helps to confirm which ideas will add value to customers and the business. Another method is by voting. Each person in the room gets the same number of votes, but the Decider gets more. It also helps to organize the project into phases if there is no time or resources for everything to be done at once. The scope of work that will be done in phase one is called MVP or Minimal Viable Product. It is the minimal scope which we can test and learn from.

Prioritization by a matrix

We also begin planning Friday’s customer test by recruiting customers that fit the target profile.

Day 3 — Deciding

Good morning and welcome to Day 3 of our sprint. Sharpen your pencils because it’s time to start sketching! Each person sketches wireframes of the key screens. Don’t worry, critical thinking is more important than art skills. Once everybody is done sketching, drawings are placed on a wall for everyone to see.

As a group, we critique each solution, choose the best proposal, elaborate them more in detail and discuss the pros and cons of each solution. The best way to capture standout ideas is for each person to review the sketches silently and put one to three small dot stickers beside every part he or she likes. The Decider has double the stickers.

Voting by dot stickers

Once the voting is over, standout ideas can fit into one prototype, or if there are conflicting ideas, it may require two or three competing prototypes.

Day 4 — Prototyping

Prototype is a chance to see how good the ideas really are. That is why we have to make it real enough to get a realistic response from a potential customer. There is no need to make a fully functional back-end or every single page of the new website. An interactive med-fi prototype solution will do just fine. We recommend using Invision or Pattern Lab. Now we leave our UI experts to do their magic as we begin writing an interview script.

Day 5 — Testing

What is great about this kind of workshop is that you don’t need a large number of customers to test the prototype. Five to six is quite enough to see some patterns repeating. Except the test-participants, you will also need an interviewer and a note taker.

If needed, set up a document camera with microphone, but usually screen capturing and voice recording are enough. Start with easy small talk to loosen the test participant. Remind the participant that some things might not work, and that you’re not testing him or her.

What we like to point out is that if they don’t understand something, that is not their fault, it’s ours. And that is a beneficial information to us so we encourage them to speak up. A great tip is to ask open-ended questions like Who / What / Where / When / Why / How. It is not a good idea to ask leading yes / no or multiple-choice questions like is it / could it / don’t you think... Silence is a powerful tool, too — it encourages the customer to talk without creating any bias.

Interview participants

Final words

Voila! We have found out if our prototype works. If some parts are a bit unclear, that is also fine because workshop is an iterative process and can be repeated. The main deliverables after the workshop are sprint notes, prototype, report from the user testing and a plan for the next steps.

References and Resources

If you and your team would like to learn more about this topic, take a look at the following references and resources:

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