Design Thinking is not a recipe, but Design Sprint is.

Design sprint vs. Design Thinking

Those who do Design Thinking will know that Design Thinking is complicated and takes time. But for those unfamiliar with Design Thinking, it is chaotic and can be overwhelming. And when someone comes to you and says, “There is a way to do Design Thinking in just a week,” it does sound attractive, doesn’t it? That’s Design Sprint. So let’s find out what it is and how it is different from Design Thinking. 

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a creative problem-solving process. The origins of Design Thinking date back to 1990 and the concept was popularized by IDEO and around 2005.  It is meant to develop products or services that are desirable, feasible, viable, and sustainable, also known as IDEO’s Innovation sweet spot. The Design Thinking process is divided into two parts; 1) understanding the problem and 2) designing the right solution. It employs various tools and methods to understand users’ needs, define the problem, ideate, prototype and test the solution. 

Design Sprint

Design Sprint, on the other hand, is a fairly new concept, developed at Google Venture (GV) in 2010 by a former GV design partner Jake Knapp. It is also known as Google Design Sprint. The process was released to the public in 2016 through the book “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.” Design Sprint is a five-day process for solving critical business problems through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with users. As the book’s name infers, Design Sprint promises that you can achieve innovation in a short time without compromising quality. 

Design Sprint
Design Sprint. Source: GV

The five days of Design Sprint consist of the following activities:

Day 0 - Preparing: Before the start of the sprint, you need the right challenge and the right team. Also plan time and space to conduct a sprint. 

Day1- Map: Set a goal. Make a map of the challenge. Ask experts at the company. Pick a target - a piece of a problem you can solve in a week.

Day2- Sketch:  Start with reviewing existing ideas to remix and improve. Then sketch ideas.

Day3- Decide: Critique each solution and decide which one has the most potential to archive the goal. Explore them in further detail through storyboarding which also serves as a plan for a prototype. Also, start recruiting users for Day5

Day4- Prototype: Turn the storyboard into a prototype that can be tested. Also, prepare good questions to ask users. 

Day5- Test: Conduct 1:1 usability testing or interviews with 5-6 people that fit your primary target audience. 

Here is the process of Design Sprint, compared to Design Thinking. 

Design Thinking vs. Design Sprint

Today, Design Sprints are run by big named startups, companies, consulting agencies, and governments. 

Design Sprint 2.0

Among the people who practiced Design Sprints, AJ&smart, a Berlin-based product design & innovation studio, improved the original Design Sprint and developed Design Sprint 2.0. The revised version allows the team that can’t commit an entire week to implement the process. Sprint 2.0 takes four days instead of five, and the whole group is needed only for the first two days, not three. Here is what it looks like:

Design Sprint 2.0.

Design Sprint 2.0.
Design Sprint 2.0. Source: AJ&Smart

Design Sprint 3.0 

The Design Sprint Academy customizes the Design Sprint by focusing more on establishing the problem before the sprint and increasing efficiency by reducing the duration from 5 to 4 days.

Design Sprint 3.0
Design Sprint 3.0. Source: Design Sprint Academy

Although Sprint 2.0 and Sprint 3.0 are shorter, it still has the same concept as their original version, mainly trying to come up with solutions within a week through ideation, prototyping, and testing. 

Here is a table that compares the fundamentals of Design Thinking and Design Sprint.

Design Thinking vs. Design Sprint
Design Sprint is a method. Design Thinking is a mindset, meaning it is a set of principles and approaches rather than a method. 

Design Sprints Studio shares an interesting metaphor: 

  • Design thinking is cooking class. (You learn the principles)
  • Design Sprint is a recipe. (You follow step-by-step instructions)
  • The product is the dish. (This is what you got at the end)

Design Sprints are attractive as it promises results in a short time. While Design Sprint is easier for the non-expert to follow, facilitating design sprint  (“Sprint Master”) requires a solid understanding of Design Thinking. Understanding Design Thinking better means that you can design better Design Sprints. 

Design Sprints are widely practiced and greatly successful, but it also been criticized because of the lack of ‘problem definition.’ Most importantly, in Design Sprint, users are only involved as part of testing, while Design Thinking involves users in co-creation. Radical innovation takes time and effort, and there is no shortcut. Especially in service design, tackling wicked and complicated problems need problem framing, which Design Thinking can do better. 

That to be said, not everyone can afford a cooking class or need one. A recipe like Design Sprint allows people to cook a dish. But if you want to be a great chef and create an innovative dish, full-course Design Thinking is inevitable. This is where design researchers keep developing better methods and tools that help make Design Thinking more effective and efficient in real practice.