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A Look at Mini Design Sprints

Recently we’ve begun experimenting with “mini” design sprints as a way to solve more challenging problems on tighter timelines, while keeping the focus on the customer. The idea of a design sprint is to test design problems in small increments of time, a couple of days, in order to innovate and solve problems more efficiently.  What we have found is that mini design sprints are a structured and even faster way of developing ideas, reviewing, iterating and distilling down to the best options, in a few short hours.

Our job is increasingly shifting away from “build a Website” and instead is focused on designing a digital product to meet the needs of our clients’ customers – to build a service. We have to remember that we are not designing for a screen or device – we are designing for people. In order to design a successful digital product we keep our focus on the customer, the end user(s) of the product, throughout the sprint.

One way to keep the focus on the customer is to use core customer profiles. These are similar to personas, but leverage the DISC personality profiling system, helping us to identify traits of the primary personality type(s) of the product user base. This enables us to adopt a point of view, prioritize needs and goals and determine what is most likely to be successful when asking “how might we…?“ They also help provide insight into possible context for these users when they are using the product.

After gaining a solid understanding of the core customer, the next phase in the design sprint focuses on understanding business needs and goals, doing competitive reviews, and researching and defining the problem statement(s). Gathering a strong understanding of the client and the end user is a key aspect of design sprints. Without that knowledge, we have no way to know if the designs we are looking to implement are appropriate or applicable.

However, information about the users is not the only thing we need a firm grasp on in order to move forward. The next phase focuses on gathering a stronger understanding of the project itself. Activities around the understandings’ main goals are to explore what we know, what we think we know, (documenting assumptions), and uncovering the unknowns. We can then prioritize the knowledge gaps and do additional research, and ask the right questions to close the knowledge gaps and validate assumptions.

Once we have a clear problem statement and understand the job that needs to be done, the goals of the project and the needs of the business, we move into ideation. Having at least three designers participating in ideation allows for greater innovation and a multitude of design options. Working quickly tends to have designers relying on intuition and ‘rule of thumb’, and while conventions and standards are important, we always want to step back, innovate where it adds value, and look to the customer profile to guide our decisions. Again, the core customer profile helps us determine how plausible it is that an interface or workflow is intuitive, and efficient. It helps us judge whether an idea is not only feasible, but desirable.

Each designer presents the output of the exercises, and then the team critiques and distills down to the best ideas. At the end of this mini sprint, the team puts together a workflow or wireframe that captures the high level solution designed and reviews the outcome with the stakeholders. We can repeat these mini sprints as often as necessary – for each feature or function, or for specific roles. We found that mini design sprints reduce our timeline to a more feature rich prototype that is ready to be reviewed and tested, and keeps us focused on creating inspiring user experiences.

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