What is the Lightning Demo?

The lightning demo is a structured “show and tell” group session to gather ideas and inspiration. Participants will share visual inspiration and big ideas in a timed exercise, usually done on the second day of a design sprint. This gives you a wide range of concepts to choose from when you attempt the next activity of the sprint, solution sketching.

Because the lightning demo is a fun way to ignite creativity, you can do it as a stand-alone exercise with your team. Its purpose is to share ideas, find a muse and spark everyone’s imagination in an efficient and productive manner – just like a good old show and tell sessions we used to have in schools.

You can use the lightning demo for any product or problem you’re solving. I run a digital design agency, so we use it heavily for our projects designing websites, software, and apps. It’s also applicable for physical products, editorial content, interior design, and other types of design.

How to do the Lightning Demo?

  1. Give everyone 25 minutes to research ideas, find inspirational solutions and good designs.
  2. Allow each person 3-5 minutes to present their collection, talking about the big ideas they love.
  3. As each person is presenting, one person will capture the big idea. Quickly sketch the idea and write what the big idea is as the headline. If you’re using a whiteboard or note app, you can attach the file or draw it on the app.
  4. After everyone’s had a turn, you should have a big board of ideas that serves as a springboard to design your solution. You can take a picture of the whiteboard to share or distribute the digital file to everyone.
Lightning demos can also be easily conducted remotely. In fact, some people find it easier because there’s not much sketching or drawing on a whiteboard. People will share screenshots, images, and videos that you can easily upload to your virtual whiteboard. Watch the video below, where I share how I do it using Mural.

Tips for a successful Lightning Demo

  1. You can share almost anything that inspires you, in relation to the problem you’re solving or the product you’re building. It can be outside your industry or expertise. Don’t limit yourself when it comes to finding inspiration. Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unlikely place.
  2. An idea doesn’t have to be visual. It can be a concept, something you’ve seen or heard somewhere, or even something you and your team are working on. Just write it on a post-it note and stick it on a whiteboard.
  3. One of the biggest challenges of the lightning demo is that 25 minutes for research may not give people ample time, especially if they haven’t spent time thinking about the problem. I prefer them to prepare their stuff the night before, as a homework. At the end of day 1 of the design sprint, tell them what to expect tomorrow and get them to come prepared. Even if they didn’t do any research, it will give them a heads up and they can think about the ideas and products that they love. This way, you can get straight into it, with a lot of designs to take on board when you run the session.
  4. Always use a timer. People tend to waffle on when presenting their ideas, especially if they   have a lot to go through. You can limit it to just 3 big ideas per person in 3 minutes.
  5. Keep the ideas concise. For the facilitator, you need to summarise the ideas presented without capturing details that detracts from the main idea. For example, “Netflix’s randomised video suggestion” is concise rather than “Netflix’s revolving menu of suggestions, and a button that randomises the selection based on previous videos liked.”
  6. Once the board is done, give participants time to digest all the ideas. It will help give birth to ideas in the next session.

What’s next? You are ready to dive into the next exercise of creating a solution. By now, you would have analysed the challenge, tossed around ideas, and built a board of designs, concepts, and solution that others have built. You have enough to sketch a solution, involving note taking, crazy 8s and the final sketch.

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.