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How We Use Design Sprints to Rapidly Prototype and Build Empathetic Products

Note: this is part of our series on “Digital Craftsmanship.” If you’d like to read the first post in the series, defining what Digital Craftsmanship means, start here.

Exygy is focused on serving communities through digital products. This requires creative problem solving, underscored by strong collaborations. Only by bringing all voices to the table – users, community members and organizations, subject matter experts, and product owners — are we able to design solutions that are user centered and sustainable.

We use design sprints to rapidly generate breakthrough ideas, and to eliminate the guesswork and riskiness of building new products, services, or features. Design sprints are driven by innovation that is fueled by the people using the end product. Sprints are intensive, imaginative, and agile. And they produce meaningful results – rapidly launching projects outside the traditional product lifecycle stages, and immediately into prototyping. We move quickly into comprehensive discovery and user testing, ensuring that we launch informed and functional MVPs.

Designing for your needs

We believe that design sprints should be both structured and flexible. All design sprints share some common characteristics, but no two design sprints are exactly the same. We start by understanding where our partner stands in their product lifecycle. What hypotheses needs to be validated? What research already exists? Whether they are looking to get validation on an idea, test an already existing product, or build new features onto a functioning platform, we design each sprint based on what is most relevant to the individual case. We curate exercises that draw out the unique strengths of our partners, and build off of what they’ve already created to avoid redundancies.

Co-creation is at the core of a design sprint. We bring together subject matter experts, end-users, people who will work intimately with the final product, and those who will be affected by it – in order to design with our users, not for them. Their feedback allows us to stay present in the design process, and we have the flexibility to course correct at any given stage. Our final solutions meet authentic needs uncovered by those who are the most invested in the project’s success.

What to expect in a design sprint

  • Sprint Planning and Discovery: Understand our audience. Who is the end-user? Who are the other internal and external stakeholders? What problem are we trying to solve? What research do we already have, and how can we learn from it?
  • Ideation: Generate product ideas. What are our goals for this product? What main problems do users face?
  • Prototyping: Apply what we’ve learned to a working product prototype.
  • Testing: Walk through our prototype through the eyes of our end-users. How does our prototype meet our initial project goals? What challenges need to be addressed? What are essential features, and what will be introduced later?

 

 

An example design sprint

In this example, we worked with a global nonprofit to prototype a new multi-organizational database.

  • Sprint Planning and Discovery: We reviewed their draft prototype (rough wireframes), learned about their problem space, and delved into their research. We coached them on Observational Research techniques and best practices before giving them two weeks to interview users and collect new findings. We reviewed those findings and collaborated on planning an intensive five day design sprint.
  • Day 1: We brought together stakeholders in their office to refine personas, and understand their mental models supporting core beliefs that ultimately inform the product. This included group discussions and exercises around collecting and sharing data, where we aligned on an agreed taxonomy.
  • Day 2: Based on our learnings from Day 1, we moved to Exygy’s office to co-design a higher fidelity prototype with input from the members of the global nonprofit.
  • Day 3: A new cohort of stakeholders joined us to rapidly test the prototype. We did both 1-on-1 and group co-design exercises to see what worked for them, and allowed stakeholders to co-create new solutions based on the testing.
  • Day 4: We refined the prototype based on the learnings from Day 2 and 3.
  • Day 5: We assembled a clickable prototype and helped our client prepare for a webinar to present their findings to a wider stakeholder audience.

Results beyond the sprint

Often, the results of our design sprints reach beyond the project at hand. Along with the design of an informed prototype, the design sprint process offers our partners a set of frameworks and activities that can improve organizational management, leadership development, and overall relationship-building. Many of our partners have taken the skills and exercises they learn in our design sprints and applied them across other facets of their work. Design sprints empower everyone – even those without technical design and engineering backgrounds – to approach problems with a balance of innovative creativity, collaboration, and user-driven methods.

 

Co-authored by Zach Berke & Anna Gibbons