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A New Approach to Design A New Approach to Design

A New Approach to Design

In web design, many projects are both complex and challenging.  A common approach is to follow a linear progression that begins with identifying the initial design direction and ends with product development. The problem with this approach is that it is both costly and time consuming to change direction, especially when the product development stage has been reached.

An easier and more effective strategy is to use design sprints, which allows the design direction to evolve over time, not only allowing production to commerce earlier in the process, but also to enable the design direction to be modified, as new information is incorporated into the process.

What are design Sprints?

A design sprint is a 5 step process, lasting anything from 5 days to 3 weeks and focuses on solving specific design problems. Each of the following steps can occur sequentially over a 5 day period:

Understand the design problem

In this initial stage you need to develop a common understanding of the problem or issue that needs to be solved. You also need to identify the business goals, the customer and the competition. Tools like the ‘Business Model Canvas’ help you to quickly gain an understanding of your client’s business model.

The research stage

Here you explore as many ways to solve the problem as possible.  Creative and innovative thinking is invaluable at this stage and helps generate a number of potentially viable solutions. They also help to identify any underlying assumptions and the areas where you need to do more research.

This stage can take the form of interviews, mind mapping and empathy maps, all of which are effective tools that help to identify consumers concerns and to contextualize and diversity your team’s thinking. You can use 30 minute sprints or interviews where individual team members brainstorm ideas, identify problems and assumptions, coming together frequently during the day to discuss results and then shooting off into another round of 30 minutes sessions.

Select the best solutions

The next day, hone in on the best ideas, preferably picking a selection that solve the problem at hand in different ways. Identify the underlying assumptions of each solution and how these assumptions can be tested. A clear design direction should be solidifying at this stage.

Develop a prototype

Develop and use a prototype to test the assumptions identified in the previous stage. Once you can identify how customers may interact with the prototype, what works and what needs to be changed, you can move on to the next stage.

Validate the prototype

Here you need to create a plan for moving forward, based on the results of prototype testing. You can involve all team members in this stage, testing the prototype on users, using the results to refine the design direction and giving a clear understanding of the process as it moves into the production phase.

Benefits of design sprints

Design sprints are based on collaboration and small incremental steps that keep everyone moving forward and focused on solving the same problem. The key benefits of this approach are:

  • An increase in momentum as team members quickly move from one problem to the next.
  • Time is used more effectively as team members do not waste time writing and documenting their ideas, instead they quickly brainstorm ideas, meet up to refine their ideas and rinse and repeat.
  • Creativity and innovation is enhanced and encouraged in an individual and a group setting.

The overall goal of design sprints is to build flexibility and innovation into the process and to adapt to changing assumptions and ideas. The key is to remain focussed on the end result, which is an effective solution to the design problem, without meandering down dead ends and losing the design direction.

Design sprints are an effective tool in projects with a high level of complexity, where there are a lot of unknowns and where you have a limited time frame within in which to demonstrate results.

Tinkered with or thinking about trying design sprints?  Let us know you experience and email us at [email protected].

Megan Kerr

Meg is a Project Manager/Producer at Cornerstone with a special interest in conversion rate optimisation. She has a business analysis background and thinks the web would be a better place if everyone looked at their web statistics daily.

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