How to Define in a Design Sprint?

Spot on.

One of the more difficult parts of a design sprint is to put the finger on the challenge we are designing for. The creation of a clear definition can feel like completing a big complex puzzle. However, putting together a well-defined challenge is well worth the time and effort, it brings focus and informs the process of creating answers that hit the marker.

What defines a good definition?

During the Define phase of the design sprint, we want to define the challenge in a human-centered manner. Instead of describing the challenge in the interest of the business, we describe the challenge from the perspective of the end user.

Target and describe clear users. Use identified needs and insights to make the definition as specific as possible.

Not – “Students must become 25% of our total number of fitness memberships.”
But – “Students need to sport in order to be healthy, fit, and energetic.”

The definition should inspire designers, not obstruct them. Leave some room in the definition for designers to be able to explore different ideas.

On the flip side, definitions that are too broad or vague can be overwhelming. Take, for example, the definition: “to improve the well-being of people”. This definitions raises a lot of questions. Where do we begin? Who do we help? What does well-being mean? Consider using a frame to make the project more tangible and realistic.

How to define the design challenge?


1 – Empathy map

Prior to formulating the design challenge, make it a habit to first organize all gathered insights, impressions and information. This is just another step in eliminating assumptions and personal biases.

The map, as shown in the illustration, consists of four different faces: Said, Did, Thought, and Felt. Run all the collected insights and information through the map to gain a better understanding of what you and others have observed. Hints can hide in the smallest of details.

2 – Color collage.

Photo: Giorgio Montersino. License: CC BY-SA.

One method that makes links between different pieces of information more visible is the Color Collage.

The collage, which is often built against a (glass) wall consists of all sorts of information pieces, like post-its, notes, and photos. When all elements are in place, you will have an easier time seeing and draw connections between the different pieces of information.

3 – Point of View

A Point Of View (PoV) reframes a design challenge into a meaningful and actionable problem statement. It consists of three parts: the user group we are designing for, their identified needs, and the insights we identified. For example:

User – A student who lives on campus.

Need – Sport for 40 minutes 3 times per week.

Insight(s) – Students want to socialize and save costs.

Do not rush the PoV. It will guide the rest of the design sprint. Use the illustrated template for some guidance.


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.