How to Design in a Design Sprint?


Often considered the most exciting part of our design sprint, the Design phase is where we generate potential solutions to our challenge.

The goal is to generate a large number of solutions. It helps us explore different approaches with which we might be able to answer the design challenge. Because we are searching for inspiration, we do not judge, critize or filter ideas during this phase.

We understand it can be hard to remain both as creative and neutral as possible. Therefore, we selected some of the methods we use to organize and guide creative sessions. Enjoy!

How Might We… Prepare Our Design Sprint?

In the ideal world, we use our gained insights, information, and Point of View to kick-start the ideation process. Without them, we risk long-winded and sleep-inducing ideation sessions and designers that get sidetracked by heated discussions about topics not relevant to the design challenge. Well then, on to the tools.

1 – How might we?

How Might We (HMW) questions are often used to kick-off the Design phase. HMW questions are great input for all kinds of ideation tools, such as brainstorm sessions or mindmaps. The questions are narrow enough for us to think of one goal and frame, but broad enough so that we can answer and elaborate on the question in multiple ways.

Too narrow: How Might We… design a meal that hides the fact that we are using insects as an ingredient?
Too broad: How Might We… design an appetizing meal?

Good example:  How might we… design an appetizing ready meal where the main ingredient is insects?

When the first HMW question is formulated, we can break it up into small actionable sub-questions. The smaller questions help us explore and focus on different aspects of the design challenge, by dedicating different ideation sessions to different sub-questions. For example:

HMW Sub-question: How Might We… make insects appealing for human consumption?
HMW Sub-question: How Might We… prepare insects for consumption in a simple manner?

As demonstrated, HMW questions encourage us to think of all the information that we – still – need to answer our design challenge. Dedicate one sub-question per ideation session to highlight the aspects that still need attention.

2 – Co-creation

The people we are designing for can tell us all about the design challenge. After all, these are the people that face the challenge. When we involve them in the design sprint, we do not just hear their voices, we empower them to create with us. Invite users to participate in conversations and activities such as brainstorm sessions (see below), role plays, and rapid prototyping sessions.

Co-creation is not just helpful for generating ideas. It also helps the implementation of the final idea. People are more likely to adopt a product, service or practice that they helped create, rather than something that is forced on them.

3 – Brainstorm

Do sidetracked discussions, critical team members and ideas that end in the bin sound familiar? The sad truth is that most of us are familiar with brainstorm sessions that were just a complete waste of time.

Part of the problem is that brainstorming is often seen as: “we all share our idea”. Yet, if this definition is correct, it would be better to skip the meeting part and just shoot each other a quick email, right? The actual goal of brainstorming is to sit together and work as a group, so that we can inspire each other.

At the heart of all successful brainstorm session are the golden rules that Alex Osborn formulated back in 1942. We translated the rules into a few simple steps:

  1. Defer judgment – We should feel comfortable enough to share ideas. A good idea can come from anywhere.
  2. Encourage wild ideas – Wild ideas make us think about what we want, without thinking of constraints.
  3. Build on the ideas of each other – Do not comment on someone’s ideas with a ‘but’ and ‘or’, but ‘and’.
  4. Remain on topic – Use the ‘How Might We…?’ questions to set a scope.
  5. One conversation at a time – All ideas are equal and all ideas need to be heard.
  6. Sketch – Nothing gets an idea across faster than a visualization of it.
  7. Go big – Crank out a large number of ideas. It is common to generate 100 ideas in 60 minutes.

Looking for other ways to brainstorm? Click here!

Olivier Wouters

Olivier grew up in a design office. The designers and architects there showed him how to use design to innovate. In 2016 he graduated as MSc Information Studies: Human Centered Multimedia at the University of Amsterdam. He since specialised in Design Thinking and Meaning-Driven Innovation.