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10 things we learnt at Google's design sprint workshop

10 things we learnt at Google's design sprint workshop


Recently, our startup was one among the six from the NASSCOM 10K program that got to learn how to run design sprints from the pioneers in this concept - Google. We’ve previously had some exposure to design sprints thanks to our very own designer, Setu as well as the session on design for startups conducted by the kind folks at 500 Startups. You can read about our learnings from that event here.

In a nutshell a design sprint is a structured, wholesome brainstorm session which combines design thinking with the essence of agile development. Instead of simply assuming your users need a product or feature and investing time and effort into building it, releasing it and iterating till people are happy, design sprints can be used to quickly ideate, prototype and test before building. You can read more about Design Sprints here.

How a design sprint works

Design is all about adding value in the best possible way. The headline of this piece was designed to get your attention. Now, let’s deliver some value. Here are our learnings from design sprints:

  1. ABCD (AnyBody Can Draw) - Seriously. I’m one of those people who ended up dropping a career in medicine as an option only because I sucked at drawing. Sketching rough patterns help convert your vision for what the product must look like into something your teammates can understand. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Turns out even people who’re as bad at drawing as I am can be useful in a design sprint. Everyone can sketch something that could potentially lead to great ideas.

  2. Know your users - Most founders build products to solve problems they themselves face. However, the products they end up building may not be used exclusively by people like them. There is also the possibility that the product solves a problem those building it have not faced themselves. Putting a name, description and need to your user categories will help you stay focused on what truly is important and what isn’t.

  3. Why > What or How - One of the best things we learnt while doing persona research was the importance of asking “Why?” Every time you think a feature or product you set out to build would be something its intended user would actually use, start asking the simple question “why?” Repeat this process five times and you’ll arrive at the core of user psychology. It is magical.

  4. Record everything - Every activity that is a part of your design sprint or brainstorming session should be recorded in one way or another. If you have a wall full of post-it notes, take pictures. If you’re interviewing a user, ask for their permission and record the conversation preferably on video. Revisiting your sprint can often help you stumble upon something you missed completely or gain a new perspective. (Here’s a voice recorder app our sprint master at Google, Soham, made. It helps save and share audio with context: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.triveous.recorder)

  5. Time restrictions work - Think about it. Although we hate deadlines, they serve as powerful motivators. This works wonderfully during a design sprint. One of the activities we had was called “Crazy eight.” Each participant was given exactly 300 seconds to sketch 8 crazy screens (of your app/website.) These led to some of the best designs.

  6. Flat is phat - (phat = pretty hot and tempting) - Design sprints flatten out the team. One of the key aspects of a design sprint is the importance it gives to each team member’s ideas. Practises like Zen voting where all the team members silently vote on ideas with no knowledge about who came up with those ideas help level the playing field and take away inhibitions.

  7. Focus is golden - While asking a lot of questions, talking to a lot of users and testing multiple iterations can open your eyes to a whole bunch of uses cases for your product, it is important to never lose focus of the core issue it is trying to solve. The easiest way to do this is by knowing what your user’s ideal journey should look like while using your product. Once you have that golden path figured out, it is easy to build other paths around it.

  8. Your buddy is a tool - Did you chuckle? It’s true. You know it. Design sprints require you to use verbs you probably haven’t used previously “storyboard” “prototype” and “wireframe” are three such verbs. Each of these functions can be performed efficiently and with ease, using a plethora of tools - free and paid, available online. Spend some time looking for the right tools and you’ll save a lot of time while building your product.

  9. Three’s not a crowd - While you may not be able to share a pizza amongst yourselves, teams of three or more excel at brainstorms and design sprints. The number of ways in which a single screen can be designed is influenced by the number of participants in your sprint. Involving most of your team including members who may not have anything to do with the ‘product’ side is a great idea because of the perspectives. A design sprint is a great chance to bring the team up to speed and function like a family and an army at the same time.

  10. Have fun - Seriously! Having fun while conducting a design sprint, brainstorm or any internal meeting is a great way to ensure that your ideas are out of the box. Your creative juices get flowing when you’re having a good time. Sketching, brainstorming and competing with yourself to come up with the most creative solutions to a problem ought to be fun for it to be successful. Besides, you’re more likely to make a habit out of something that is fun

A huge shoutout to Roopa, Dhruv and entire NASSCOM Startup warehouse team for sending us to such events and of course to the kind folks at Google - Paul, Amrit, Jessica and Dushyant. Last but certainly not the least, thanks to our sprint masters Ghanshyam and Soham for teaching us patiently.

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