Five Reasons Why Your Startup Should Run Design Sprints
This article was originally written by Laura Merhej, former Growth Lead at Norselab.
A common story for a startup goes like this: founders are eager to build a product they think people want. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into perfecting its design. They launch when they’re ready, only to face the chilling evidence that customers are not lining up to buy it. They then go back to the brainstorming room to languish in countless group ideation sessions that do not lead to anything brilliant.
At Norselab, we’re all too aware of the cold and bleak reality that nine of out ten startups will fail. With this in mind, we select working methods that not only make us work faster but also smarter.
Running our first product design sprint was a defining moment in the way we do business.
Developed by Google Ventures, the product design sprint aims to validate — or kill — any business or product idea through rapid prototyping and user-testing. Make no mistake, a product design sprint is not about picking the right color palette for your product or the typeface of your website. It’s about pressure testing the very merit of your idea.
Here’s a quick glance at why we broke away from traditional brainstorming and began running design sprints instead.
1. There’s more work and less talk
With limited time on hand to get things in shape and deliver results, our team needs to get things done fast.
Designed to run in less than a week, design sprints force us to solve problems and develop ideas quickly. Think five days, not six months.
Design sprints are not your typical “think outside the box” brainstorming exercises. Focused, rapid, and meticulously timed, design sprints are, at the least, draining. Yet, they push you to bring out the best of your creative spirit in bursts of intense exercises.
Ever thought of being able to sketch eight different designs for your new homepage in only five minutes? By running a design sprint, you might surprise yourself in being able to do just that.
2. You face the hard facts early on
Today, the most successful companies are not always the biggest brands or to the ones with the loudest bells and whistles. They’re those who succeed at building a product that meets the exact needs of a particular audience.
The design sprint challenges you to validate and iterate your prototype in a matter of hours, based on real-time user feedback. If your idea is poor or your prototype doesn’t work, you’ll be aware of it well before any market launch.
3. You rethink groupthink
Can you recall your last group brainstorming session? Chances are it involved collaborators who blurted out free associations, while one of them emphatically scribbled notes on a whiteboard. The best ideas were, of course, chosen by consensus. But how many of them lasted through?
As stimulating as conventional brainstormings can be, what often occurs is that when one person is “thinking out loud”, others are incapable of thinking their own ideas through. Also, the pressure to conform often rallies everyone around similar ideas, leaving a lot of the best thinking undeveloped.
Although highly collaborative, design sprints give participants enough time to investigate a problem or an idea individually before running it with rest of the team. They also allow the team to explore several opposing ideas simultaneously, instead of moving forward with only safe bets from the start.
4. You aim for results. Not perfection.
Because they run at dizzying speed, design sprints are all about efficiency, not perfection. With a fast-approaching user test at the end of the sprint, chances are you won’t be able to prototype all the ideas you unveiled during the process. You’ll need to prioritize which ideas to test and limit yourself to the most pressing issues.
You cannot afford to overthink details or waste any time in creating shiny presentation decks or product mockups. Your goal is to tackle the main issues and end up with a prototype that is functional enough to be user-tested. You’ll have enough time to iterate on your product later.
5. You “focus on the user and all else will follow”
From defining user personas, to running usability tests, along with hammering out user flows, every step of the sprint process is designed with the user in mind.
Google’s well-known mantra “focus on the user and all else will follow” lies at the heart of the design sprint methodology.
For us at Norselab, running a user test at the end of a sprint is always an eye-opening and humbling experience. By receiving frank feedback from real users straight from the get-go, we ensure that we never diverge from building solutions that bring real value for users.