How to run better design sprints with your team

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
June 29, 2023
Two people talking while holding a laptop and tablet
Leverage design sprints to design innovative product solutions. Learn how to lead step of the design sprint process and get started with free templates.

A design sprint condenses the work of “traditional” problem-solving into an intense, structured, and limited engagement. Its structure, intensity, and limitations are also its benefits. It becomes a creative challenge. The goals for each day are clear. Your team is laser-focused on a singular problem. And you have just five days to accomplish your goals and test new ideas — no ifs, ands, or buts.

What is a design sprint?

Design sprints are a five-day process used to quickly prototype, test, and validate product design ideas before investing significant resources into development. Design sprints traditionally include seven to 10 people who collaborate in-person or distributed for a week. 

Each day of this product development process is dedicated to meeting a singular goal: map, sketch, decide, prototype, and test. At the end of the fifth day, you’ll have tested a prototype on a small number of users, and you’ll have discovered whether it’s an idea worth pursuing. 

First developed by Jake Knapp and UX specialists at Google Ventures, design sprints provide bursts of collaboration focused on a specific design challenge, often overcoming project inertia. Just scheduling a time to meet can be challenging, not to mention the time and cost of travel to get together.

Let’s learn how to do one, shall we?

How to conduct a design sprint: a step-by-step guide

Before you go into your design sprint, you’ll want to have your method for recording your team’s ideas. We recommend using a visual collaboration platform like Mural and the design sprint template for an inclusive, hybrid-friendly platform to conduct your design sprint.

Get started with Mural's Official Design Sprint template created by Design Sprint

You’ll also need to gather your team. Your team should consist of fewer than 7 people, and should include, at a minimum, a facilitator and a decider. The facilitator manages the overall process — time-tracking, conversations, arguments, etc. The decider is the person who has the ultimate say on which idea you choose. And each person should represent just one function or department in your team (i.e., don’t include two product managers).

Related: Be sure to check out our other design templates in the template library.

Day one: Map 

The purpose of the first day is to establish which problem you’re going to solve. 

Map your customer journey

At the end of mapping the customer journey, you’ll agree on the simplified version of the end-to-end customer journey of your product. The intention isn’t to map every detail, but to visualize the high-level narrative. 

Take 10 minutes for everyone to individually map out what they think the customer journey looks like. Give them 10 sticky notes, or have them use cards in a murall. 

At the end of the 10 minutes, bring everyone’s journey maps together. Ask everyone to put a dot on the steps they think are most important on everyone else’s cards or sticky notes.

Then throw away the ones without dots. (Gasp!) 

You’ll start finding patterns and similarities in the remaining cards. Organize them into groups and reduce all the stickies to just 10, representing the most simplified version of your customer journey.

Ask your experts 

Everyone should take 5 minutes to share their individual insights about each step — knowledge they may have because of their role or specialty. 

Pick your target

Agree on the moment that represents the biggest problem for the customer. That singular moment will be the focus of the remainder of the sprint and help guide your team’s hypotheses for solving the problem.

Day two: Create a sketch

The second day is the research stage. Everyone comes up with their own ideas and approaches to solving the problem, in order to avoid groupthink, encourage deep thinking, and have a broad range of possible solutions. 

Here’s what day two should look like:

Individual inspiration research

Each team member looks for solutions other companies have employed to solve a similar problem. 

Lightning demos

Each team member has three minutes to share the inspiration they found using visual aids like websites, photos, or videos.

The four-step sketch

  1. Everyone notes the inspiration they liked from the lightning demos to themselves. This should take about 20 minutes.
  2. Quick doodle solutions. Everyone individually sketches out some quick ideas. Just riffing on what might work. Plan on this activity taking about 20 minutes to complete.
  3. Crazy 8s. Usually done on a piece of paper folded to make eight boxes. However you do it, in just eight boxes, each person creates variations of their own quick doodle solution they liked most. One minute per box. Run this exercise in 8 minutes using the Mural Crazy 8s template.
  4. In a three-panel storyboard, everyone drafts a clearer version of their idea. Use an “if this, then that, then this” framework. The draft should be self-explanatory because the rest of the team will review it anonymously. It doesn’t have to be neat; it just has to be understandable. This exercise can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes to finish.

Once you have your pile of possible solutions, you’re going to keep them for the following day.

Day three: Decide

The next step: decision-making. You have a pile of possible ideas — great! Except you can’t prototype and test them all (or, not at once). 

Here’s how you’ll reach a consensus and get buy-in:

  1. Art museum: If you’re in person, you’ll hang sketches on the wall. If you’re remote, everyone will take a look at the sketches on the platform you use.
  2. Heat map: Everyone reviews the sketches. They create a “heatmap” by placing dots on the ideas they like the most, or that have the most potential. Then, the team discusses standout ideas.
  3. Speed critique: The group spends 3 minutes addressing positives and lows of each idea
  4. Straw poll: Each person (at once) places a dot on their favorite idea.
  5. Supervote: If the winner isn’t clear, the group can discuss it a bit further. If it’s still not clear after discussion, the decision goes to the decider. 
  6. Edit your storyboard: Now you’ll create a storyboard of your customer journey that incorporates your new solution. It should have enough context that the team will be able to begin prototyping from it the following day.

Someone on your team should also begin looking for testers for day five. They can do this by asking current customers, by posting on a company forum, or with a public announcement. Your goal should be to get feedback from real users to get an idea of how the new solution improves or fixes the user experience.

Day four: Build a prototype

You’ll dedicate this entire day to building a realistic prototype. It doesn’t have to mesh perfectly with your current product, but they say you should “build a realistic facade.” This stage is also helpful because it shows you the challenges you’ll face should you end up building a “real” prototype.

It doesn’t need to be perfect — you just need a prototype that's functional enough for customers to have an opinion of it, and for your team to gather relevant data.

You’ll need to build and trial run this protype yourselves. Leave at least two hours for testing yourselves and fixing mistakes you encounter.

Day five: Test

In the testing phase, the sprint team shows prototypes to a pool of customers and records their questions and interactions. Conducting user testing with five customers is usually enough to get an understanding of how your prototype fulfills their needs.

Here are the elements of testing your audience:

  1. Customer interviews. The team shares the prototype with customers. The goal is to watch them interact with the prototype, listen to their questions, and notice any challenges.
  2. Scorecard. The team should write down any insights, quotes, opinions, and actions they notice in each interview. Classify your notes into positive, negative, or neutral. 
  3. Wrap up. Each person fills out a questionnaire that covers three things: what they’ve learned throughout the sprint; whether they need another sprint to learn more; and what they should work on next week. By the end of the day, your team should have a good idea of what the finished product should look like.

At the end of the sprint, the team can choose to develop a full prototype using the feedback from their decision-makers, or continue to expand on a prototype to reach more creative solutions. 

What’s the relationship between design sprints and design thinking?

Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative, human-centered approach to problem-solving.

Where a traditional approach focuses on the problem, design thinking focuses on the solution — what do we want the outcome to be? And why would this human/user need it? 

The design sprint is a method of working within the design thinking approach. 

The framework of design thinking is effectively the same as the structured method of a design sprint. First, empathize with the user’s problem, then ideate, prototype, and test. 

But where the design sprint is linear and structured, design thinking is more flexible. 

Under design thinking, you might take two steps forward, one step back — or make it to the last step, only to double back to the first.

Tips for making design sprints run smoothly

Running a successful design sprint requires careful planning and execution. Here are some tips to help make the process run smoothly:

  1. Set objectives and get everyone on the same page: Before diving into the design sprint, it's important to set objectives and make sure that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of what goals you're trying to achieve. It's also essential to ensure that everyone is aligned regarding key timelines, resources, and other factors that could affect the outcome of the sprint.
  2. Choose a facilitator who can ensure an enjoyable and productive process: An effective facilitator is crucial for running a successful design sprint. The facilitator should be able to keep everyone focused, encourage collaboration, create an atmosphere of openness, and provide guidance throughout each stage of the process.
  3. Set a timeline for each sprint and stick to it: Each stage of a design sprint should have its own timeline for things to run smoothly. This will help keep everyone accountable and minimize any distractions or delays that could disrupt progress during the process. It's also important to plan for contingencies so you can adjust as needed if something unexpected occurs during a sprint.
  4. Be flexible and adjust your plan as needed: Teams need to be willing to adjust their plans as needed depending on what feedback they receive from stakeholders or customers along the way. Flexibility is key when it comes to making sure everything runs efficiently while still allowing time for creativity and exploration within each stage of the process.
  5. Encourage your team to think outside of the box: Encouraging team members think outside of traditional structures can help open up new possibilities when brainstorming ideas or prototyping concepts — this type of creative space can really help bring out everyone’s best ideas!

Your design sprint needs to be a collaborative process

Design sprints require your team to be able to work together to design new products or solutions, which means they need the right skills and tools to help them collaborate effectively. 

Mural’s design sprint templates can guide your team through the sprint, allowing them to focus on the task and not on building a process. And with Mural, teams can use an online whiteboard to continuously refer to previous steps, comment on work together, and build on ideas. 

Try Mural for design sprints to push ideas forward and bring out your teams’ best solutions.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.

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