more speed and effectiveness with Design Sprints

New ideas and startups: organizations invest a lot of time and money to launch them to the market. But research shows that 95% of all new concepts fail. Only a fraction answers to a need people actually have. Who’s most at fault? UX designer Robert-Jan Sopers: “Assumptions during the design process that have not been tested or have been tested to late”. According to him, designs sprint can change all that.

For a few years now, all large tech companies work with design sprints and everyone is talking about it. Robert-Jan explains: “Where the Design Thinking process was sometimes lengthy and not as fast as agile working, the Design Sprint aligns very well with the Scrum methodology.

days of work instead of months

The Design Sprint process was originally defined by Jake Knapp at Google. “The idea is to bring as many relevant disciplines together for a very short time frame - originally five, but now just four - to partake in a ‘pressure cooker’ session. Together you clarify the problem your clients organization is looking to solve. Than you brainstorm about possible solutions and select a solution to test on day four with actual end users, based on a prototype” Robert-Jan explains. “Basically it’s Design Thinking condensed to four days.”

when it doesn’t work


Robert-Jan does not believe Design Sprints are the holy grail of design. “When solving a relatively small, not complex issue that only needs a few people to solve, a Design Sprint is unnecessary. Think about adjusting the navigation of a website or increasing the conversion of a page, based on clear indications fueled by data. All questions really, that don’t justify a wide range of disciplines to come together and investigate in what direction to move solving the issue.“

accelerate learning

Robert-Jan sees Design Sprints mainly as a structured approach to a big, complex project. “You kickstart the project. It is often thought that you thoroughly design your solution, but that is not the case. More than anything, you avoid lingering in the investigation stage. It helps make the research tangible.” 

He emphasizes: “Starting is more important than being right. In a Design Sprint you can make choices that later proof to be painful. But you can choose to correct those choices. After four days you quickly learn if your assumptions are right or nog. Je accelerate your learning process. 

To support the claim of how important this is in the current economy, Robert-Jan quotes Facebook Vice President Alex Schultz: ‘If you adjust your norm twice a week and your competition does it every week, that competitor has tested ten times more than you have after just two months. That competitor will also have learned ten times as much about his product.’ Robert-Jan: “Because we live in a complex and dynamic world, it is very important to learn what does and does not work and to adjust accordingly. Don’t just rely on instinct or expertise, but on actual measurable behavior.

team at work during design sprint

everyone alligned

Next to the accelerated learning process and saving time and money, he also experiences that clients and co-workers benefit from the close collaboration Design Sprints foster. “Alignment is achieved much faster. I see this with clients like Nuon and A.S.R., where we work on location. By bringing all the stakeholders and departments together, physically sitting together and collaborating from idea to tested prototype, everyone feels responsible for the choices made and the outcome of the process.“

Robert-Jan adds: “I also notice that the development team has an even better understanding of the business of the client. That supports better decisions once a successful prototype is actually built.

two days with the stakeholders

In the beginning, when Design Sprint was little known, Robert-Jan ran into resistance form clients. “Product Owners and Marketing Managers struggled with asking all important stakeholders to block their calendars for an entire week.”, he reflects.

“Now we take a different approach. We ask the stakeholders to participate in the first two days of the Design Sprint. We use those days for big questions about the project, to clarify the problem and to ideate possible solutions. On the second day we decide which idea will be put into a prototype, as a team. On the third and fourth day, we work with the design team and the owner on the client side to build a prototype we test with the target audience.”

“It’s a way to keep the investment relatively small.”, Robert-Jan concludes. “Especially when you consider the possible outcome that you have to take your solution in a different direction. Fortunately, you do find out what works and what doesn’t much sooner.”

In addition to saving time and money, a Design Sprint delivers something much more important according to Robert-Jan: maximum value to the business. “In a short time frame you improve on the effectiveness of the entire organization. Within a week you define a shared vision everybody committed to, a tangible testing result and a clear, well thought out direction for next steps.”