What is a Design Sprint?

Design sprint is a 5-day structured process to solve a complex problem. And you have a user-validated prototype, or something close enough, by the end of day 5.

Sounds lofty?

Well, not really. It is possible when you put all relevant stakeholders in a room with a set of detailed agenda on how you’re going to tackle the issue, build a prototype and test it with your users.

This method was created by Jake Knapp, a former Google employee, in 2010. He described it as a medley of the “greatest hits” of design thinking, human psychology, business strategies and techniques.

His book called “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in 5 Days” went on to become a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.

What is the difference between Design Thinking and Design Sprint?

Design thinking is a set of principles to help solve a complex problem.

Design sprint takes these principles and condenses them into a 5-day step-by-step process to produce a working, user-validated prototype. A sprint gives you tangible solutions within a short timeframe.

To use an analogy, design thinking is the rules, and design sprint is a game created based on the rules.

Some people like to use the analogy of design thinking as a set of guidelines to make a dish, such as pizzas, while a design sprint is a detailed recipe on how to make a margherita pizza.

When should you use Design Sprints?

1. When you have a complex or nagging problem

If there is a business problem that keeps popping up, or an intricate one, then it’s ripe for a design sprint. This happens often in large companies with cross-functional teams, or with products that cater to a variety of users.

2. When you may have a risky and expensive project

If the solution is likely looking like an excessive, resource-hungry, and costly affair, then you should run a design sprint for it.

Design sprints help clarify the problem and produce realistic solutions with customer validation. Getting early feedback before spending money and resources gives you some form of guarantee to the risk you’re about to take.

3. When you take too long from idea to launch

This happens even in the best of companies. Sometimes an idea sits in cold storage for years, or an issue remains unresolved for months. Things get discussed, put on hold, and then end up sitting in a vortex of oblivion until something breaks and you get a feeling of déjà vu that you’ve talked about it before.

Design sprints force you to act because the output is a prototype and recommendations for the next steps. Furthermore, one of the biggest benefits is you’re discarding conventional processes for bringing an idea to life. You can resolve an issue or build on an idea within a week.

Is one Design Sprint enough?

When a problem is huge or extraordinarily complex, one design sprint will not be enough. You must run more sprints, or what I call follow-up sprints. These sprints could be about refining an idea or attacking the issue section by section based on a framework you’ve designed in the first sprint.

It’s like running a marathon, broken up into many short sprints.

Design sprints are great. But it’s unrealistic to expect it to resolve all your business issues because problems will always arise, and solutions are never perfect.

How long is a Design Sprint?

A standard design sprint takes 5 consecutive days, typically running from Monday to Friday, where everyone is fully committed throughout.

But it’s up to you how you want to run it. It can be 5 non-consecutive days due to your internal processes and schedule. You can also cut it short to 3 or 4 days based on your needs, problems, products, and users.

Who should be in a Design Sprint?

My design sprints are usually made up of a core team and expert members.

A core team is composed of people who are fully involved throughout the sprint. From my experience, a design sprint works best when you have between 5 and 7 people in the core team.

They are:

  • A facilitator – he or she does exactly that, facilitating the whole time, starting, ending, and moving things along when it’s time. They objectively keep things in check and make sure the sprint reaches its goal.
  • A decider – you can think of him or her as someone with veto power when there isn’t a clear-cut decision. This is usually a CEO, COO, product manager or someone who is responsible for the outcome of the solution.
  • 3-5 people (core team members) who will work together to produce solutions, build the prototype, and run user testing. They are usually designers, writers, UX experts, developers, testers, etc.

Meanwhile, expert members are usually senior executives, and specialists from operations, marketing, sales, finance, and research teams. There is no limit to the number of experts who can attend the sprint. But they don’t stay for the full duration of the sprint, and come and go as needed to share their insight and opinions.

Ideally, you want everyone to bring a different set of skills or expertise to deliver a wholesome solution.

Also, too many cooks do spoil the broth. Inviting too many people would defeat the purpose of the design sprint, which is to innovate as fast as possible. It also means finishing within 5 days is next to impossible.

What tools do you need to run a Design Sprint?

You need a room that is large enough for everyone to work comfortably over 5 days. The basic room setup includes tables, chairs, a whiteboard, and a large amount of wall space to display all your work.

Everything you need to run a design sprint can be bought at Officeworks, or your local stationery store. Things you should prepare:

  • A timer for the facilitator. Smartphones work fine too.
  • Sharpies or whiteboard markers
  • Chalks if you’re using a blackboard
  • Post-it notes
  • Stickers for everyone. We use this to vote, set priorities and identify things.
  • Paper for people to write or sketch.
  • Masking tapes to tape the paper on to your walls
  • Snacks
  • An open mind and a positive attitude

What is the Design Sprint process?

The process is straightforward. Gather all relevant stakeholders in a room from Monday to Friday, follow a structured agenda, and you will end up with a path forward for your problem – complete with user feedback, metrics of success and actionable items.

However, there is something I like to do before a design sprint starts. I call it “Preflight.”

What is preflight?

This is phase that takes place before a sprint, where we do a customer or user research. We gather relevant existing data, research, and feedback from users to set the scene for our design sprint.

A preflight should:

  • Define the problem.
  • Define who the users are, using user personas.
  • Define the current user experience.

These 3 items make up what I call the “Customer Journey Artefact”. This is the starting point of your design sprint and will be referenced throughout the 5 days.

If you fail to prepare this, your sprint may drag on unnecessarily and may never reach its target. A preflight gets everyone on the same starting point from Day 1.

Day 1: Mapping

Objective: Plot the problem and identify the most important goal


With the preflight information on the wall, you start tackling the problem by:

  1. Listing several goals that addresses the issue.
  2. Asking questions to find potential obstacles and risks in achieving those goals
  3. Mapping out the user journey for each goal
  4. Interviewing experts to get more information on the goals and user journey map.
  5. Prioritising the goals to identify the primary goal, or golden goal.

Output: A primary goal, or the goal that will give the biggest impact, to solve your problem.

Day 2: Brainstorming

Objective: Generate a selection of ideas to achieve your primary goal identified in Day 1.


  1. Gathering and showcasing inspiration, and similar ideas or solutions.
  2. Coming up with several ideas based on the previous showcase.
  3. Filter out irrelevant or subpar ideas.

Output: 3 or more big ideas to achieve your primary goal and address the problem.

Day 3: Deciding

Objective: Vote on the best idea to pursue


  1. Ideas are laid out on a board.
  2. Question each idea further to refine them.
  3. Participants will vote on which they like the most.
  4. The decider has the veto vote if there is a deadlock.
  5. Prepare for prototyping through story boards, user flow charts or design mock-ups.

Output: A high-level plan to build a prototype

Day 4: Prototyping

Objective: Build a low or high-fidelity prototype for user testing.


  1. The core team spends the day developing the prototype.
  2. Experts will provide feedback throughout the day.
  3. Outline user test cases for the next day.

Output: A working prototype and a set plan for user testing

Day 5: Testing

Objective: Test the prototype to get user feedback


  1. Conduct user testing
  2. Collect comprehensive user feedback and opinions.

Output: A summary of your problem, ideas, prototype, and user feedback with a set of strong recommendations for the next course of action.

What is Design Sprint 2.0?

Design sprint 2.0 is a shorter version of the original design sprint. Instead of spending 5 days on it, you can condense it to 3 or 4 days.

You tend to do this when it’s not possible to clear everyone’s schedule for 5 days straight. Busy executives need not attend the prototyping and testing days but are kept in the loop of the progress.

If it is a simpler problem, processes can also be condensed to cut the sprint time.

In my agency, we adapt our design sprints according to each client’s needs and issues. But the basic premise remains the same – to quickly find answers, build, test and get user feedback.

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.