A design sprint is a flexible product design framework that serves to maximize the
chances of making something people want. It is an intense effort conducted by a small
team where the results will set the direction for a product or service.
As designers and developers of digital products, we love a good process with a clear set of
steps to follow. The design sprint process structures the right initial things to do, which is
beneficial especially when a new team is coming together to start a new effort and many
things haven’t yet been defined. Following the steps defined in this framework, the team
will work along a proven path through the essential conversations required when
beginning a new effort.
A design sprint consists of five discrete phases:
0. Prepare (Get ready)
- Understand (review background and user insights)
- Diverge (brainstorm what’s possible)
- Converge (rank solutions, pick one)
- Prototype (create a minimum viable concept)
- Test (observe what’s effective for users)
- Iterate...to another design sprint, or a Lean and Agile build process such as Scrum or
Continuous Delivery/Extreme Programming
A design sprint reduces the risk of downstream mistakes and generates vision-led goals the
team can use to measure its success. For the purposes of this book, we’ll focus on digital
products, as our direct experience lies in that arena, though the design sprint has roots in
gaming and architecture, 1 and many industries have employed them successfully.
Uses of a Design Sprint
There are many ways to utilize a design sprint; one way is to look at which stage of
development the project is in. Are you at the beginning and need to understand a wide
array of unknowns? Or are you looking at a mature product that has been on the market
for a while?
At the beginning of a project
You might use a design sprint to initiate a change in process or start the innovation of a
product concept. This works well when you’re exploring opportunities with the goal of
coming up with original concepts that ultimately will be tested in the real world—for
example, if we need to understand how young parents would buy healthcare products
In the middle of a project
You might use a design sprint to start a new cycle of updates, expanding on an existing
concept or exploring new ways to use an existing product. For example, we worked with a
marketing data company that realized the data it gathered might be useful to other marketsegments. Building a prototype gave the team the validation it needed and prompted a
deeper investment into that product segment, which ultimately was rewarded with a
significant increase in sales.
For a mature project
A design sprint can also be used to test a single feature or subcomponent of a product.
This allows you to focus on a particular aspect of the design. For example, your team
might need to know what improvements can be made to the onboarding process. Using the
design sprint to discover the pros and cons of a new onboarding channel could give you
granular insights into a high-return part of the product experience.
However you use it, the design sprint brings clarity to your road map to kickstart and
obtain initial validation for almost any new, product design–related work.
Startups are notoriously fast-moving environments that value speed to market over almost
everything else. This commitment to speed gives them an advantage but also risks leaving
out a lot of the essential thinking and testing required to build a truly useful product. Too
many products go to market without customer validation. How do you maintain the speed
while including the necessary research and design thinking? Many startups in the Constant
Contact InnoLoft Program cite a design sprint as one of the most valuable parts of their
Enterprises that have well-established processes may also look to a design sprint as a way
to accelerate their product design and development so that they can work more like a fast-
moving startup. The accelerated learning can give the enterprise an advantage and also
reduce the amount of resource investments for exploration of product ideas and concepts.
Spending three to five days on a project idea to see if it makes sense to move forward is
better than working three to five months, only to discover it would have been better to not
have proceeded at all.
• A design sprint has five phases: Understand, Diverge, Converge, Prototype, and Test.
The names of these phases may vary from company to company, but the overall ethos
remains the same: a timeboxed design cycle completed in a collaborative fashion
with real user input.
• The focus of a design sprint is to get the validation needed to maximize the chances of
creating something people want.
• The process is very flexible and can adapt to different teams and needs.
• Design sprints can be measured in different ways, from number of “good” ideas
generated, team alignment, company direction, and even halting a project.