When it comes to deciding on an idea, we all know all too well how messy it can become. Generating ideas is fun but deciding on the best one, sometimes not. It’s also because there are human emotions at play. Sometimes, a battle of merits becomes a battle of egos, where the loudest voice tends to win.

In a design sprint, there is a structured way to get this done. It won’t totally eliminate friction, but it will bring order to the chaos and ensure a decent design is chosen. Voting day is usually on the third day of the sprint.

This is how voting is done in a design sprint:

  1. (Display) Art museum: All ideas generated in the previous sessions are put up on the wall.
  2. (Vote) Heat map: Participants will silently assess each idea and vote on the ones they like best.
  3. (Critique) Speed critique: Discuss each idea briefly to bring everyone on the same page.
  4. (Final Vote) Straw poll: Participants will narrow down their votes to one single idea.
  5. Supervote: The decider cast his or her vote to break deadlocks.

This voting process can take up the whole morning until lunch break, so allow between 2-3 hours for this. Once you have the main ideas voted in, you will proceed to the next process of storyboarding after lunch.

How to run a voting session in a design sprint

Step 1: Art museum

The name art museum derives from the fact that your wall or virtual whiteboard will look like an art museum where the best ideas are on display, one per section. Make sure each idea is clearly drawn and explained that people just get it when they see it.

Step 2: Heat map

Assign each participants several dot stickers, depending on the number of ideas you have. The more you have, the more stickers. Typically, 3-4 is enough per person.

Now, everyone will silently go around the room, or scan the virtual whiteboard in a remote session, and look at all the ideas carefully. Think of yourself as a silent critic, expertly evaluating each idea presented.

With digital products like apps and mobile, you don’t have to like the whole idea. You can like parts of an idea. You may like the shopping cart, but don’t agree with the homepage concept. Then, you’ll just paste a sticker on the cart idea.

When everyone has used up their stickers, you will see a heat map of some sorts on your art museum walls. The good ideas will have a lot of stickers on them, representing a heat map.

Tip: Hand out sticky notes for people to paste questions they have. You’ll save time by bringing all the questions forward before the next step.

Step 3: Speed Critique

The facilitator will now lead the speed critique session, where everyone will discuss the heatmap. Allow 5 minutes per idea. This is the time to capture the big ideas, clarify assumptions and answer questions. The idea creator can also explain what their vision is and add in anything that’s missing.

Step 4: Straw poll

This is the final vote, where everyone will choose just one favourite idea. After the previous group discussions, you should have a clear winner in your mind. Each person gets one final sticker, and they can explain in 1 minute why they love the idea after placing a vote.

Tip: When deciding on your favourite idea, ask yourself if the solution achieves the sprint goal, is feasible for implementation, is original, and will truly help the users.

Step 5: Supervote

In some cases, the final result is obvious. When it’s not, this step becomes critical. You’ll need the decider to break the deadlock. The decider is usually a product manager, creative director, or C-level executive. He or she gets the final say, regardless of what was voted previously. However, he or she also takes ultimate responsibility for the final prototype.

The decider will get 2-3 stickers. They will choose the idea they love best with one sticker. The remaining stickers are for voting for parts of an idea they like, which is not in the winning idea.

And that’s the end of the process. You have a final idea, and parts of an idea that you can incorporate into the design to give you an even better solution.

Tips to making the voting process smooth

As I’ve mentioned before, voting can be a tricky process, especially if you have a lot of office politics and let emotions get in the way. If you don’t get it right here, you may run into trouble in the next few days with a lack of cooperation, decreased enthusiasm, and internal conflicts bubbling up. Here are a few of my tips:

1. Make the process super clear

Lay down the rules and make sure everybody understands them. I’ve found that once people know this is how it’s going to be done, they are generally open to and can accept the final result.

2. Ensure the decider justifies his choice

While everyone gets a say in why they chose a particular idea, it’s crucial for the decider to justify their choice comprehensively. Typically, deciders will follow the consensus when the best idea is quite obvious. But when there is a difference in opinion, you should give the decider more time to explain their thought process to get everybody on board.

3. Pay attention to the participants

Thank them for their effort and feedback. Ensure you keep a record of all the ideas presented. Reassure them that parts of their ideas can still be used in the next process of storyboarding or in the design stage. And always try to maintain an atmosphere of cooperation and harmony. After all, it’s not about whose idea won, but designing the best product for the users.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.