WHAT IS A DESIGN SPRINT AND HOW TO RUN IT EFFECTIVELY?
5 MIN READ, DEC 13, 2019
Aleksas Drozdovskis (Alumnus of THNK School of Creative Leadership; formerly Wargaming, Omnicom) shared multiple insights on design sprint methodology during his encouraging presentation delivered from BUILD stage at EMERGE 2019.
Aleksas Drozdovskis at Emerge 2019
Aleksas Drozdovskis at EMERGE 2019
Design sprints are indeed a huge subject. However, since Aleksas has a vast experience and has been running sprints on an enterprise level and for startups for several years, he shared his knowledge in a distilled and inspiring manner with examples and numerous industry references.

Advertising agencies practices show that sessions utilizing special divergent and convergent thinking techniques that remind of the design sprint approach, are seen as an alternative way to crack clients' problems quicker and more effectively. In late 1990s many progressive creative and strategic design agencies were actively offering workshops that had some similarities in terms of the process. It was just about time when in 2010, a tech giant Google revisited design thinking and came up with the concept of design sprints within their Google Ventures division.

During the presentation, Aleksas shared a couple of fascinating stories and design sprints examples from Wargaming, where together with his in-house creative team they were constantly solving multiples marketing and design challenges across company's games portfolio. He also claimed design sprints can be extremely useful method not only for big well-established organisations, but also for small startup teams, to keep up with the speed of change.

Creativity as a Process

Before diving into the design sprint methodology, first let's think about creativity as a process. When it comes to creativity, many people often see it as a very unstructured and somewhat fluffy phenomenon. However, these people are mixing being creative with being an artist, and that's a wrong comparison to begin with. Creativity can be demonstrated as a process with sequential phases and serious potential to benefit any business. Again, back in the agency world, let's say you have a project, an integrated advertising campaign to develop for a client. Often client and agency team will work on this assignment for many months with briefings and debriefings, multiple rounds of internal creative ideation, presentations on a napkin, refined proposals, discussions, and feedback ping-pong over email. Regular creative ideation session may look like this: you start, you have some lows, variations, you have some good peaks, and at some point you reach the point where you have something interesting and finally team arrives to an agreement.

When we talk about creativity as a process during the sprint based on design thinking approach, it'll work in a different way. Basically, a lot of things and iterations are effectively compressed into several days of hard work. Sprint enables a client and agency collaborative team to provoke more predictable high peaks, more variations, and definitely in the end participants will feel extremely exhausted with a lot of lows.
Creativity process Emerge 2019
'Creativity as a process' from Aleksas' presentation

So what is the Design Sprint?

The Design Sprint is a highly timed, structured yet a fluid creative process to answer critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing with users. Traditionally, you see five-day sprints. However, today we see successful experiments that are squeezing core sprint components into three days.

Here's the basic flow. On the first day, let's say on Monday, you map and frame the right problem to solve. You articulate the mission you will be working on for the following five days. The next day you start sketching and producing tons of directions and specific solutions, using a lot of design exercises and creative techniques. On the third day you have general voting, decide on the solution, and then create the prototype. On Thursday you test and gather feedback among your audience — online or offline. Then, on Friday, the fifth day, you polish your solution, based on the test summary, following the recommendations and listing the next steps and resources needed.
Five Days Design Sprint
'Five-day' Design Sprint from Aleksas' presentation
It is worth saying that back in a traditional setting, the mentioned above process of developing strategy and concept of an integrated advertising campaign, for example, sometimes could take half a year to get to the final conclusion. However today if there is a will, there's actually a way to accomplish this in five days. That's a design sprint and it's absolutely fantastic! But don't get this wrong, it's not an easy task to shoot silver bullet. In order to have solid actionable outcome after the sprint, a decent amount of time, management alignment and cross functional team's commitment must take place beforehand.

Another great thing about the design sprint methodology is that it can be applied to multiple challenges that businesses face. Let's use strategic marketing and integrated advertising as an example and look into how design sprint can help.

Design Sprint Cases

Aleksas shared an example of the Five-Day Advertising Campaign Sprint they ran at Wargaming's in-house agency together with the external facilitators 'The Sexy Beast'. At that time they were preparing for the global launch of the World of Tanks 1.0, a huge long-awaited update of the game. Of course, this was a great opportunity to reconnect and win more hearts of the video games' enthusiasts all over the world. A global integrated advertising campaign was needed to support the launch. This opportunity and time pressure became the trigger event to proceed with the sprint as a way to solve the task. At the beginning of the sprint, team clarified the challenge and came up with one ultimate mission.
Five-Day Campaign Sprint at Wargamming
Aleksas Drozdovskis, BUILD Stage at EMERGE 2019
As Aleksas said, they mapped a number of themes and concepts living around the game in the player community and beyond, such as obsession, power, being in command, what is meant to be a man of honor and other related pop culture topics and territories. Eventually, after series of design exercises and reinforced creative workouts, more than one hundred of creative ideas were generated, several voting, discussion and testing stages took place. The process brought the sprint team to the campaign's strategy and concept. What if World of Tanks 1.0 wasn't actually a topnotch update of the world-famous video game? What if this was a new state of the art vehicle ready to be released? A perfect car designed specially for the one who is obsessed with power.

Team decided to hijack the main codes used in the premium car launch advertising to attract lovers of power, mechanics, precision, quality and bring a tint of nostalgia to the beloved game. This association perfectly sparked curiosity and positioned the brand as a sexy and cool entertainment option not only for millions of those who already play the game, but also for millions of new prime prospect players. The final campaign's tagline was offering to taste the true power of World of Tanks. The One campaign had a teaser and revealer phases, as well as multiple creative activations delivering this big creative idea across media ecosystem of physical and digital touchpoints.
World of Tanks 1.0: Launch Teaser Video
While running such design sprint, there were key things to keep in mind. First of all, team needed to be very clear about the task at hand. Challenge was aligned, refined, sharp, and inspiring. Team was very precise about audience groups, their attitudes, biases, context, and behaviours. They had a set of data-driven insights coming from cross-disciplinary sources, which helped to push ideas to the next level of achieving creative and executional excellence.

Don't forget to define big creative idea and how it's going to be orchestrated across the entire media ecosystem. At the final steps, it's meant to have a striking force of creatives so producers can build prototypes of the main executions that will bring the right tone of voice and narrative to live.
Advertising Campaign Design Sprint
Advertising Campaign Sprint from Aleksas' presentation
In order to run the effective sprint you need to have a specific trigger event, a certain number of hands-on participants and stakeholders. There must be a Project Owner, who is the ultimate decision-maker. Facilitators will bring help to craft the sprint brief, they should bring strategic, creative, and technical expertise. Consider to coop with Technology Partners that provide deep expertise on core and emerging technologies, and support related prototype development. For example, consider Google Zoo, creative think tank of Google's technologists, designers, strategists, creatives, and artists who work with brands and agencies. They help their partners do things with Google technology that have never been done before. Partners like this can help to explore and build solutions with their technology at the core.

Besides, you need to align budgets, roles, process, and expectations in advance too.
Advertising Campaign Design Sprint
Stakeholders of the Design Sprint from Aleksas' presentation

What is a Brand Sprint?

The Brand Sprint can help a startup team to come up with the minimal viable brand guide, in other words ultimate Bible for your organization, product, or whatever you are creating. It can be shorter than the traditional 5 days design sprint and take just 3 hours to run.

Minimal Viable Brand Guide

The famous branding agencies are charging millions of euros to provide clients with guiding brand strategies. But if you are a startup or a small company, you can really do this on your own. This simple yet extremely useful exercise will save you money, time and optimise the decision making in the future. Aleksas shared a way he to create your first Minimal Viable Brand Guide. This sprint includes six brand exercises to make big decisions easier. Between the activities it's advised to have a short few minutes bio and coffee break.
Advertising Campaign Design Sprint
Key Exercises for building Minimal Viable Brand Guide from Aleksas' presentation
1. The first exercise is called '20 Years Roadmap' , which explores how a company sees and positions itself in 20 years or beyond. It's a 15 minutes activity. For a new product or new organisation, it's a way to cast a long shadow, see yourself in perspective. As you need to think about how your organisation is going to evolve in the long-term, such exercise is about retaining the vitality and relevance of your company over time.

2. Once you envision something sustainable that will last for 10 or 15 years, and maybe beyond 2050 too, you'll need to map your way there. Inspired by Simon Sinek the next exercise is 'What How Why' or 'Brand's Golden Circle'. It will help you to specify needs, goals, principles, behaviors and the ultimate transformative mission. We need to be very clear about what we want people to know about our product offering and company as a whole. There's no such thing as second impression. What people will think about us, feel about us, and experience when they interact with our product and service, must be thoughtfully designed in order to build favourable long-term memory structures and win a place in peoples' hearts and pocket. This exercise helps to come up with an initial aligned long-term understanding of the company's values and the main reason to exist.

3. Another exercise is about user experience and human centric understanding of audiences. Time to meet the real world, and learn about our customers. During this exercise, you'll think about 'Top 3 Audiences' and what core and extra offering you can propose to those target groups. After narrowing ideas down, and discussing them aloud, a decision-making person must make a final call and put it on the whiteboard.

4. Once you discussed your company, product offering and identified potential customers, your next step is to define 'Category Conventions'. Think about all the rules and conventions companies follow just because everyone in your category does. Rethink each one of them and do it your way by finding new angle, your unique territory and idea to activate it by communicating to users, and starting to own that place in their mind. There are multiple category conventions you can see on the market — performance, functional product features, efficacy, heritage and so on.

5. Steve Jobs once said that 'marketing is about values'. Thus, another exercise you should try is 'Personality Sliders'. It's a simple and engaging exercise to prepare and do with your team, and it's absolutely OK if you have some extremes here. When you arrive to different extremes during the exercise, you will see clearly what do you need to accomplish in terms of customer support and brand communication, what's the ultimate experience, overall tone, look and feel of the way you deal with users.

6. The last exercise will focus on 'Competitive Landscape' and will help you to map out competitors. All team members should use sticky notes and put competitors they think you have on the whiteboard. Later on, you explore your competitive advantage.

All above-described exercises might help to establish a brand strategy for your company and align stakeholders' perspective regarding new products development.
Wait for a trigger event, clarify your challenge and go sprint! It is an exciting ride.
Aleksas Drozdovskis

Aleksas also presented what you need to do before the sprint:

1. Wait or provoke a trigger event, be clear about the expectations and roles within the team.

2. Firmly book calendars. Since we speak about long chunks of time, you need to schedule time. It is impossible to split design sprint in parts.

3. During the sprint, you need to agree on one important ground rule — disconnect and switch off. Digital detox is needed for the entire time of the sprint. Use your devices during breaks.

4. Time-box activities. You can use a highly visual timer.

5. 'Note-and-Vote'. You'll combine collective activities and individual exercises. Facilitate decision-making process by distributing small stickers and invite participants for a gallery walk to vote for idea they love.

EMERGE team hopes this article will be useful for you and your team. You can reach out to Aleksas on LinkedIn or Twitter with your follow up questions.

Stay tuned!
ILONA BELIATSKAYA
Contributing Author, EMERGE
Researcher in travel tech and travel enthusiast. Ilona is an advocate of women in science and tech. Addicted to coffee.
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