Summary: Design Sprints

Speakers: Jon Fisher (@ergonjon) and Paul Richardson

Jon and Paul gave a quick fire introduction to conducting a design sprint, including the key lessons to remember and interactive exercises to help workshop participants practice the technique.

Lesson 1: The Power of 2

Jon and Paul argued that working in pairs you get a broad range of skills and ideas. You work faster and catch each other going off at a tangent. Working in pairs also encourages quick review and shared responsibility for design output.

They were keen to stress that whilst there’s can be a wider project team, design sprints are best used to crack a difficult problem at the centre of your project quickly. Working as a pair to deal with these specific issues means that you end up with stalemates, which means bad designs get rejected quickly rather than fought over. Larger teams trying to solve these problems can lead to compromised designs by a committee.


Lesson 2: Don’t Just Jump In

Don’t go into a design sprint-based format until you’ve done your homework. You need a good structure for a design sprint to work – including a good understanding of the relationships between the content.

Lesson 3: Information Architecture

As a minimum you will need:

  • An understanding of any user research that has been done
  • An understanding of content relationships – we believe this is being missed in many design teams
  • An indication fo possible user journeys
  • An understanding of the user vs business needs

Lesson 4: Sketch, Compare, Discuss, Repeat (Exercise)

Each team was provided with a pack with a brief from a client, a draft content model for the website described in the brief, and draft content elements.

Each pair were encouraged to work through the pattern: sketch, compare, discuss, repeat. Under pressure from the Starsky and Hutch theme tune, each participant worked on their own to sketch a design without showing their partner. After six minutes of private sketching, the pairs were given a further six minutes to compare and discuss their sketches.

Lesson 5: Kill your Darlings

Don’t be precious about your ideas. At this stage you are getting insight into your partner’s ideas. There will be discarded ideas.

Lesson 6: Respect

Everyone is equal in a design sprint. Each partner brings different knowledge and experience to a partnership. You have more skills in the room with two of you.

Jon and Paul also stressed the importance of looking beyond the quality of the sketching skills of individual members to the quality of the idea.

Lesson 7: Take Breaks

Design partnerships can be intense, so it is important to take a break – as long as you don’t get sucked into another project!

Lesson 8: Adapt to Change

You have already done your homework. You have already done the systemic level of thinking. You don’t need to design every aspect of every page in the design sprint if you have done this level of thinking.

This means that when your client emails with a change, you can assess the damage and consider how to resolve it, or whether to bump the change to the next sprint.

“You can’t do lean UX without deep systemic understanding of what you are trying to design.”

Workshop participants were asked to carry out the ‘repeat’ section of the earlier exercise after such a client email – adapting their original ideas to match the new requirements.

Lesson 9: Content, Content, Content, Lorem Ipsum

Jon and Paul argued that because you are working with more piecemeal timescales, you may not have content. They advocated starting with the structure, then thinking about the content.

When you do need content, this can be sourced in a variety of ways:

  • You could work with your client to produce new content. Often, your clients are best place to develop the copy.
  • You can use existing content from a previous design/other channels.
  • You can write the content yourself!
  • You can use Lorem Ipsum – the issue is not what you’re doing but why you are doing it. There is nothing wrong with using lorem ipsum if the content is not relevant to the problem you are trying to solve.

Lesson 10: Prototype

Don’t get hung up on the tools you are going to use or the fidelity of the prototype – just choose something that gets it done.


Jon and Paul concluded by summing up the benefits of design sprints:

  • They maximise use of time
  • They give you a higher quality design output
  • They minimise interaction and update times
  • They encourage the sharing of skills and learning
  • They promote shared responsibility and support
  • They fit within any project management framework
  • They are enjoyable!