Design sprints are rapidly accelerated product ideation, test, and prototyping cycles that are most commonly compressed into a five day time period.

They are most commonly used to test and prototype products ahead of a major new product or feature launch. However, they can also be used for a variety of other purposes such as testing new marketing strategies and deciding which new markets to enter.

Think about the typical design process, it’s set up to produce a full featured product that may or may not perform well once it actually hits the marketplace. The purpose of the design sprint is to reduce risk from that process and validate ideas as early as possible. At the end of a design sprint you have a simple prototype that can be tested on a “live” audience.

Quickly iterating on hypotheses and designs increases the chances of building a successful product. The fundamental principle behind a design sprint is that building products takes too much time and expense to create all at once without validation. Instead, it’s less risky to learn and ideate as quickly as possible by involving key stakeholders.

To make all this possible within a very rigid 5-day time period, a design sprint is typically divided up into five different sets of actions, each of which is timed to occur on successive days. A typical design sprint – the type that was pioneered by Jake Knapp in Silicon Valley – consists of the following five elements:

  • Day 1: Map out the problem to be solved and develop key focus areas
  • Day 2: Sketch out possible solutions on paper or whiteboard
  • Day 3: Debate, discuss, and mull over possible approaches and hypotheses
  • Day 4: Create prototype
  • Day 5: Test the prototype with stakeholders

Using this simple, 5-day approach helps validate workable solutions. The size of the design sprint team can vary, but usually is limited to between 4 and 7 people. The four key roles that must be present in any design sprint team include the facilitator, the designer, the decision maker (e.g. the CEO), and the product manager. Other possible participants include a lead engineer (to help with building the prototype), a marketing executive or an operations executive.

This process makes it possible to design a prototype, create a prototype, and then validate ideas, concepts, and approaches. While the concept of the design sprint originated in Silicon Valley, it has been embraced by companies around the world and has become a highly valued tool in the agile development toolbox.