From Ideation to Prototypes: Using the 5 Design Sprint Phases

Thomas Etter
March 30, 2022

From Ideation to Prototypes: Using the 5 Design Sprint Phases

The five design sprint phases help the team focus on the end user's experience, identify potential issues, and propose and prototype solutions.
If you’re looking for a way to fast-track innovation, design sprints can cut down the process of new product development from months to just one week.
The design sprint process, invented by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures, was inspired by a much older approach to product design called “design thinking”.
The goal of both is to create products and services which meet the needs of the end-users, but they approach this in different ways.
In this article, we cover:
  • How a design sprint is different from design thinking
  • Which stakeholders should be included on your design sprint team
  • What happens during each of the five design sprint phases
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How Is a Design Sprint Different From Design Thinking?

In design thinking, the first step is for the team to understand the needs of customers by identifying the root cause of a particular problem.
The next step is to come up with ideas on how to solve the identified problem in a way that satisfies customers’ needs. Some of these ideas will move you to the prototyping stage. End users test these prototypes providing their feedback to the team.
Depending on that feedback, the process may go back a number of steps, sometimes right back to the start. As a result, many design-thinking exercises take three months or more.
Design sprints are used widely by companies across Europe, well-known examples of which include Independer, Europcar, Nationale Nederlanden, and ABN Amro.In a design sprint, the team starts with the goal of balancing the needs of the customer with the interests of the company. There are five design sprint phases, which we cover in more detail below.
Unlike design thinking projects, design sprints don’t reiterate based on user feedback. Instead, a design sprint is a linear, step-by-step process that participants must complete within just five days.

Who Should Be Involved in a Design Sprint?

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To ensure the greatest chance of a positive outcome from a design sprint, the team undertaking the exercise should consist of the following participants:
  • The facilitator runs the design sprint. They make sure everyone participates and the project keeps to time.
  • The decider is normally a senior decision-maker within the company. The decider helps team members understand the goal of the exercise in a wider business context. They are usually the person who decides which idea is turned into a prototype for user testing during the final design sprint phases.
  • The marketing lead creates promotional materials to sell the new or improved product. By involving them in the design sprint, they can see how the finished product was arrived at and can build marketing campaigns around customers’ needs and pain points.
  • The customer service lead interacts daily with customers and with customer service reps. They are the effective “customer in the room” thanks to their knowledge of customers’ lives, needs, and pain points.
  • The UX design lead is responsible for turning possible solutions into realistic prototypes for users to test.
  • The production lead has the knowledge needed to turn a finished prototype into a final product that can be manufactured in large volumes. When you’re doing design sprints for digital products and services, you should have a tech lead instead.
  • The finance lead, often a CFO, understands the costs involved in bringing a product, including any new equipment which would need to be purchased for the production process. They and the decider will often set a budget at the start of the process for a proposed finished product. The finance lead will advise team members on which proposed solutions can be delivered within budget.
  • The product manager is the bridge between finance, marketing, engineering, R&D, customer service, and product teams. They are key in helping teams understand better what’s possible and deliverable on a product.

What Happens During Each of the Five Design Sprint Phases?

Within just five working days, teams can go from understanding the problem at hand on a fundamental level to testing ideas at prototype and wireframe stages thanks to design sprint methodology.

Phase 1: Understand

At the beginning of the first day, participants share their perspectives on the problem or business question at hand.
They also discuss:
  • User research and case studies
  • Competitors’ approaches to the same issue
  • Any technological factors that need to be considered
Helpful exercises:
  • Try empathy-building exercises where you focus on what customers think and feel when using your products.
  • Rate individual issues by importance and difficulty so you can choose which improvements could deliver the greatest returns with minimal investment of capital, time, and resources.

Phase 2: Define

In the afternoon of the first day, participants evaluate what they learned during the first phase to define:
  • The problem they’re attempting to solve
  • The long-term goal of the project
By the end of the day, the team also agrees on which metrics they’ll use to measure their progress to achieving the project’s ultimate goal.
Helpful exercises:
  • With the team, write a hypothetical press release about the product to help participants focus on the desired outcome and how it came about.
  • Create key user journeys which describe the process of how customers discover the true value to them of your new/improved product.

Phase 3: Sketch

The second day starts with a team brainstorming session to find potential solutions to the problem. No one passes judgment on the quality of individuals’ ideas to encourage active and unconstrained participation. Everyone gets the opportunity to present their ideas to the rest of the team.
The team then collectively selects the top ideas to take forward to the next stage.
Helpful exercises:
  • Ask team members to look for similar problems in related industries to try to understand how a solution was arrived at.
  • Have the UX designer turn each proposed idea into “solution sketches.” Solution sketches present a wider view to participants of each proposed solution, using words and visuals to provide greater detail.

Phase 4: Decide

On the third day, the team critiques each of the solution sketches from the day. The main task for today is deciding which idea they’ll take through to the final design sprint phases.
When the decision has been made, they then create a storyboard for the proposed new product or service.
The storyboard contains:
  • A map of the customer journey, including details on which aspects of the product will be promoted to make the product attractive to its target audience
  • How the product will provide the optimal user experience for its intended users
Helpful exercises:
  • Participants create heatmaps on solution sketches by placing dots on the diagrams. The areas with the greatest number of dots are considered as collectively more important.
  • Where there are two or more particularly strong ideas, the “All-in-One or Rumble” process helps the team decide whether to join those ideas into one or to take all ideas forward for a final decision.

Phase 5 — Prototype and Validate

The prototypes created for this final design sprint phase are, most of the time, not actual physical prototypes. They’re more likely to be detailed documents outlining the product itself, its design, and how it would be used.
Teams then seek user feedback, which they use to further finesse the product and attempt to solve the root cause of a customer’s problems.
Helpful exercises:
  • The facilitator narrates through the storyboard identifying additional jobs and tasks that need to be completed prior to creating a prototype.
  • Determine the questions to be asked at each user interview to provide consistent results for analysis.

Working With the Innoveto Design Sprint Team

Design sprints provide companies with a time-constrained, focused window of time to innovate. They balance what makes sense commercially with a desire to positively impact the lives of customers.
By involving internal stakeholders and the end user, design sprint teams can efficiently create a minimum viable product (MVP). This saves time and it means that company resources and talent aren’t wasted on projects that aren’t financially viable and that don’t address customers’ pain points.
Innoveto is one of the world’s leading firms of experienced design sprint practitioners.
Our business strategy consultants work with companies across all sectors from startups to multinational enterprises. We help you to identify the hidden needs of your customers, accompanying you on your journey to create an MVP.
Using a variety of tools and approaches from our innovative web-based Pliik™ app to our unique speed creation process, we have 10 years’ experience providing actionable roadmaps to help our clients better understand and serve their customers.
To start your Innoveto Design Sprint, please call +41 43 205 21 73, email, or click here for our contact form.

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