Traditional design process

The traditional design process is a waterfall approach. Designers spend weeks of time for up front user research to understand and empathize with the user. This delays product development and creates a hindrance to learning.

But one valuable thing that I learned from my design projects is that even after spending so much effort and time on this up front research, the useful data and feedback came from the first user tests and not the research. The user research helped to empathize with users during designing and prototyping but true feedback and reactions were captured during the first user tests. Nothing comes close to learning by actually seeing your users interact and use the product.

Extensive user research is an overkill

Let’s be honest, user research takes a lot of time. It starts with creating proto-personas, recruiting and interviewing people, refining personas, creating user journeys, creating user journeys, making empathy maps etc. The list goes on. If you browse for user research techniques, there are around 20 well know techniques in the industry. The saddest part here is that we are building up assumptions from what we think the user might like instead of making assumptions from observing and testing the product with the user(Note: In both cases we are making assumptions anyway). This is a very unhealthy approach towards product design. We never really know what our users will understand, like, dislike and how they will respond until we see them using the product. Then why spend weeks of time for extensive user research instead of building a prototype and testing to learn faster.

GV’s design sprint

To build and learn quickly we need a design process that focuses on getting to a tangible result quickly by skipping the intensive up front research in favor of immediately testing a prototype with actual users. This is when I came across the GV’s design sprint process. The sprint is an excellent five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.

Design process

One thing that I really liked about design sprint is that every technique used in it is time boxed. The question we had in mind is even if we are not conducting a full sprint, can we still apply the individual techniques in the sprint separately. This really helps when you are running lean with rapid product development where iterations happen every 2 weeks. Before trying out with clients projects, we wanted to try out this approach in one of our internal projects. We were redesigning the careers page for our website and this was the right opportunity to test this approach.

Sprint techniques are collaborative in nature. This means putting away other work and focusing on the sprint activities completely. We wanted to test 2 things here. Can sprint methods be employed in our day to day work flow. And how effective is these sprint activities when there are around 2-3 participants. If individual sprints methods prove to be helpful with around 2-3 participants, it would be ideal for us to imbibe it into our design process.

Diverge

There were 2 designers who were assigned for redesigning the careers page. As we understood the problem well we started with the diverge methods. There were 2 people participating in the sprint activity and the total estimated time for completely the diverge was around an hour and a half.

  1. Remix and improve - 20mins
  2. Lightning demos - 5mins/person
  3. Sketching
    1. Notes - 10mins
    2. Ideas - 10mins
    3. Crazy 8s - 8mins
    4. Solution sketch - 30mins

Remix and improve

Great innovation is built on existing ideas, re purposed with vision. In remix and improve we begin searching for existing ideas, gather useful components and then convert them to something original and new. This activity is done individually by each sprint participant to generate ideas. It is important to look for similar problems faced by organizations from other domains.
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Lightning demos

During lightning demos sprint participants will take turns giving 5 minute tours of their favorite solutions. This exercise is about finding raw materials not copying competitors. It is important to capture big ideas as you go. One person should take the responsibility of asking the presenter to explain the big idea and then make a quick drawing of that inspiring component.
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Sketching - notes

Now the sprint participants will walk around the room, look at the white boards and take notes individually. The notes help you refresh your memory before you commit to a solution. Team can also look at their devices at this stage to do some research if they would like to.
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Sketching - ideas

Now each person will jot down rough ideas filling a sheet of paper with doodle, sample headings, diagrams etc. Anything that gives form to their thoughts. At the end use 2 minutes of time to review and circle your favorite ideas. This is where your team starts to take the reviewed notes and starts generating ideas and coming up with solutions to solve the problem.
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Sketching - crazy8s

Give each sprint participant a paper and ask them to fold it into 8 equal pieces or give them 8 sizes of small sheets of paper. This is a fast paced exercise. Each person takes their strongest idea and rapidly sketches 8 version in 8 minutes.
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Sketching - Solution sketches

Each sketch will be a three panel storyboard drawn on sticky notes, showing what your customers see as they interact with your product or service. If your team has a single team challenge then you might want to create a full page sketch so you can show even more detail. It is important to make it self explanatory, keep it anonymous, keep it detailed, thoughtful and complete, include actual words that matter instead of lorem epsum or squiggly lines.
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Converge

At the end of diverge we have multiple solutions. But you can’t prototype and test all of them. We need one solid plan to move forward. Converge techniques allows us choose the best solutions through a structure decision process.

  1. The sticky decision
    1. Art museum
    2. Heat map
    3. Speed critique
    4. Super vote

Art Museum

We start with first showing everyone the solutions the team has come up with. We stick all the sketches on the wall using masking tapes and space them out like paintings in a museum allowing the team to spread out and take their time examining each sketch without crowding.
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Heat map

Hand over a bunch of small dot sticker 20-30 every participant. Each person follows these steps works independently without talking to others by looking at the solution sketch and putting the dot stickers before the parts they like. You can even put multiple dots on the most exciting ideas.
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Speed Critique

Here you will discuss each solution sketch and make note of the standout ideas. During the speed critique the team gathers around each sketch solution for 3 minutes, where the facilitator narrates the sketch and calls out the standout ideas and the team calls out the standout ideas that the facilitator missed. The creator of sketch remains silent and explains any missed ideas at the end.
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Super vote

This is the ultimate decision. Each decider will get 3 special vote with their initial on them. What ever they vote for is what your team will prototype and test. They can spread out the votes apart or put them in a single place. The sketches with super votes on them even just one are the winners.
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Conclusion

It’s not that up front research is bad. If we are unsure about what sort of problem exactly needs to be solved then doing so much of upfront work makes sense. In other cases building prototypes and testing out your solution strategies quickly is the most helpful way to go. For most cases we suggest eliminating the time consuming up front research in favor of tangible results.