The complete guide to setting up a UX design sprint for success

November 4, 2024
17 minute
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Former Google Ventures design partner Jake Knapp conceived the idea that creating a process for designs could benefit Google's finished products. So, he set out on a search for potential solutions to improve user experience.

In 2010, he drew inspiration from product development and design thinking workshops he attended. His aim for attending was to solve problems real users experienced with Google products.

If you're unfamiliar with him, here's why he's a voice to be reckoned with. He's the main player behind Google's product development culture. He was key in solving Google's design problems. He did so by organizing the design sprint process for Google. As a result, Google could now solve any user problem, leading to an unbeatable business strategy. Today, Google decides whether your business will be found online.

Apart from reiterating that continuing personal development is helpful in business, it shows that processes improve every aspect of our work. Knapp introduced the idea of design sprints as an alternative to the traditional waterfall process used for design and implementation. It is revolutionary because it allows businesses to solve big problems and test new ideas in five days.

Organizing a design sprint allows you to package a big design into a testable prototype and then deploy the deliverable to customers faster. It also sets the stage for further improvements in your next iteration.

In this blog, we will help you understand what a design sprint is and show you the powerful impact it can have on your business. You can expect to learn the difference between a waterfall and a sprint and why the former is superior. Our guide is packaged into a step-by-step process you can use across the organization you've built within five days.

Keep reading if you want to improve your efficiency, reduce costs, and redistribute labor to reach your KPIs faster. We will show you how to streamline the product design process so you can turn problems into opportunities. Our blog promises a smooth process during the next iteration of your product.

Key takeaways

  • Learn the differences between design sprints and waterfalls
  • Understand what the UX design process is
  • A model for successful sprints
  • The tools needed for a good sprint

What's the difference between a waterfall and a sprint?

To improve your processes, you must first understand those you are probably already employing. Businesses designing a product before implementing it usually employ waterfalls or sprints.

How waterfalls and design sprints work

A waterfall is a visual representation of an implementation process originating among developers. Most seasoned business professionals instantly recognize a waterfall and read it with ease.

Waterfalls are based on three core principles:

  • Low customer inclusion
  • Long, detailed documentation
  • Progession via stages

Normally, waterfalls comprise five stages, but businesses occasionally outline their design and implementation processes in seven steps.

Comparatively, a sprint comes from scrum methodology. Scrum methodology is a project management framework in which everyone works independently to achieve a common goal. The framework allows specialists to focus on their expertise while maintaining the same vision as the entire team.

A project using the scrum framework is divided into smaller milestones. These milestones are further broken down into sprints where teams must meet smaller goals during two weeks. Depending on the project's complexity, businesses may increase the sprint length, but in most instances, a sprint lasts a fortnight.

The sprint is initiated with a meeting addressing a backlog of the smaller goals not achieved in the previous sprint. At the meeting's conclusion, teams have their goals for the new sprint and begin working towards their sprint goals.

Once a sprint concludes, the team meets again to discuss the sprint results. They compile the data into visualizations representing their progress in the scrum project and present it to the product owner.

Is the design sprint process better than the waterfall model?

Given that waterfalls are derived from software development, and sprints are a component of scrum methodology, they can't be directly compared.

However, product design and implementation approaches overlap, permitting comparison and contrast of their salient features.

Sprints are sections of larger projects with meetings at defined intervals for feedback. A waterfall moves from idea to product deployment in sequential stages, and feedback is only gathered at the end of one stage.

It's impossible to dictate which you should use. It will depend on multiple factors, most prominently your project's complexity.

Nonetheless, we can confidently say there are multiple benefits to using a design sprint. In the next section of this post, we outline the process and flow for a successful sprint.

In doing so, we can communicate ideas for the point method so you can understand if it is best for your project.

Pros and Cons of Design Sprints for Product Design

As with all processes, there are positive and negative aspects. To help you understand them, we will define a sprint and then explain its process.

What defines a UX design sprint?

A UX design sprint lasts for five days. Each day focuses on one aspect of your design project.

The aspects you will develop during those five days are:

  • Ideation
  • Prototyping
  • Problem-solving
  • Testing

It would help if you had a cross-functional team to implement a UX design sprint successfully. Combining technical and business insights reduces the risk of ideating unfeasible expectations for your product and the solution it offers customers.

Jake Knapp emphasizes the design sprint's benefits, stating, "the greatest hits for a business. Your project benefits from strategy, innovation, and behavioral science - aligned and packed into a simple step-by-step process any team can effectively use."

Each step of the design sprint is developed, accounting for project complexity and the stages of the design thinking process.

The steps of each design sprint are outlined below in the order they're addressed:

  1. Empathize: Define your user's problems and gather information about them.
  2. Define: Try to understand why they have their problems. Analyze and categorize them to create a structure to solve them.
  3. Ideate: Discuss how to solve the problems and create a plan.
  4. Prototype: Choose your best solution from the ideas phase. Find cost-effective methods for implementation and develop a working prototype.
  5. Test: Give chosen users early access to your prototype, collect user data, and discuss them.

The process, unlike the waterfall method, is not rigid. You can visit a previously completed step at each stage of the process.

For instance, if you create a prototype that doesn't solve all the problems in the previous phase, you can return to creativity. Doing so allows you to quickly and efficiently identify issues before testing a prototype with the user.

Implementation is simple once you clearly understand how to identify each process step in a five-day workweek.

How to run a design sprint with user research at the forefront

Are you beginning to see the benefits of the UX design process? If so, you're likely considering its adoption and brainstorming how to use it within your organization.

There are various steps involved with implementation, beginning with preparation. Below, we outline them so you can learn how to solve big problems with big ideas in just five days.

Choose the right problem to solve when addressing customer pain points

Responding to slower-than-expected business processes begins with preparation. Before you start the design sprint, you should identify the problem you want to solve.

However, not all problems are equally impactful to your business. You need to find the fine line between an issue pressing enough to merit solving yet possible to address within the sprint's timeframe.

Which is the best problem to solve using a design sprint? Keep in mind the duration of the sprint is only five days.

  1. Hundreds of customers have emailed your support stating they cannot find the tools needed for background removal in your video and photo editing software. You have a singular program that offers photo and video editing without closing one program to open another.
  2. Customers have called your business daily for the last month because the program force closes and reopens when they try to log in using SSO within their organization. Once customers are logged in, they cannot access all the features they pay for according to their membership tier.

It's likely better to choose the first option. Your team could easily reimage the menu and add an easy-to-find button or label for an existing button. You would only need to account for the visual satisfaction your product provides.

Choosing option two would require your business to liaise with your identity provider. The SSO issue could be caused by you (the service provider) or the token verification process from your identity provider. There are too many unknown variables for this problem to be solved during a five-day design sprint.

You may think spending a week on a button or label wastes time. You could be correct unless it provides your business immediate value.

Run a design sprint on dates that won't impact your business

You've chosen your problem and want to solve it quickly. But, before you tell your team Monday that you will implement a new design process based on the design thinking model, consider if it's the right time.

You will not want to implement a design sprint if you have an upcoming promotion or ongoing campaign. It would hamper the data you're gathering and lead to skewed information as you review your campaign's success.

Additionally, it would help if you considered whether or not your whole team can give their undivided attention to the sprint.

To avoid choosing the incorrect time, schedule a meeting for new process implementation when as many people as possible can attend. Doing so will increase the chances of a successful sprint.

Upon solidifying the week, you'll implement a sprint and communicate with your team that they shouldn't plan anything else during that time. It doesn't mean asking them to miss a vacation, though. Everyone should be present and free from other projects if possible, as you're revealing something important.

Sprints work with the right tools.

Online or offline, your business needs to identify which tools will make your sprint a success. Gather all the tools you need before meeting your team for sprint implementation. You will drastically reduce the emails you receive if you outline processes during your sprint meeting.

For offline businesses, you will need the following:

  • Whiteboards
  • Sticky notes
  • Markers

If you're running an online business, you will need a tool that offers functions that imitate an in-person office. Ideally, the tool should offer virtual whiteboards, stick notes, and annotation tools.

You could consider using one of the following tools:

  • Figma
  • Miro
  • Whimsical
  • Muro

Plan everything before the sprint, including the tools you'll use for communication and collaboration. Ensure everyone knows how to use them for a straightforward sprint.

Assign roles to users who fit their needs appropriately

Choose the people you think would be most effective to lead the completion of various tasks. You will need a facilitator to ensure everyone participates in the sprint and completes tasks within the given time frame.

Assign tasks to experts to head the completion of tasks related to:

  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Tech
  • Finance
  • Customer Service

Designate a high-level executive to represent your management team during the sprint. It is the person all people involved should contact if there are questions or concerns during the sprint. It would help if you briefed the high-level executive on how to provide possible solutions.

Set expectations to avoid issues.

Communicate with your team during your pre-spine-sprint. They should understand the sprints:

  • Format
  • Processes
  • Goals
  • Itinerary

If you address each of the above fully, your sprint will run smoothly, and everyone will be aligned with your goals.

A complete guide and model for Making Sprints work in your business

We recommend giving each step in the sprint on a specified day of the week. It would help if you aimed to complete each step before the end of its assigned day.

To simplify this, we provide a model for you to follow.

Monday is for user research.

On Monday, your team should focus on identifying the problem you will solve. As stated above, choosing a problem is complex, with much information to consider.

Defining the pain point and pinpointing the cause

Defining the problem thoroughly will allow you to understand its impact on various team members across departments. You may have a problem in mind, but you have no idea how it will affect your marketing or design teams.

To do this, deconstruct each problem. Then, categorize each action item for solving the problem by department in your organization.

Here's a straightforward example: your customers complain about not finding features within your SaaS product.

The problem: Customers cannot find the features they need.

Goal 1: Understand where customers are becoming lost when using your platform.

Goal 2: Redesign your product's menu visually.

Goal 3: Review the visual redesign.

Goal 4: Share the visual redesign with the development team.

Goal 5: Discuss the possibilities and limitations of the visual redesign.

Goal 6: Choose customers to test the new menu after deployment.

Goal 7: Communicate with customers selected to beta-test a new feature.

Goal 8: Design the new menu on the front and back end of your product.

Goal 9: Deploy the new menu.

Goal 10: Collect user feedback.

After breaking down what needs to happen to solve the problem, you can categorize each goal according to the department that will complete the goal.

In the case above, you can see that Goals 1 and 10 will be given to your UX research team. However, Goal 2 will be assigned to the design team. Meanwhile, goals 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9 will pertain to your designated management team member and developers. Goals 6 and 7 will likely be given to your marketing team members.

See why defining your problem thoroughly and grasping its impact on your team is beneficial.

Define long-term goals and how the sprint supports them

Communicating how your team's efforts in the sprint will affect long-term goals can invigorate your team and improve efficiency. You likely have team members who see big pictures easily, but conversely, others will see small details and excel at breaking things down into bite-sized pieces.

Ensuring your team understands why the sprint is necessary, and everyone sees the bigger picture keeps everyone on the same page.

Ask the expert in your organization for their insights

Invite an expert in the problem you're trying to solve to share insights. They can drive participation and plug gaps your team may have while trying to understand the sprint's goal.

With the expert giving advice, a question you ask your team could be, "How might we solve this issue?"

You are ideating solutions to the problem. This approach allows you to understand if the problem you're attempting to solve is viable. The information will be vital throughout the sprint.

Identify every possible customer pain point.

Design a customer journey map and cross-examine it with your user feedback. Include multiple types of customer journey maps, such as:

  • Empathy mapping
  • Customer Journey Maps
  • Swim lane diagrams

An empathy map will allow your team to understand how your customers feel when using your product. The journey map will show where they get lost. Finally, the swimlane diagram keeps everyone focused on their task and role in solving the problem.

Tuesday is for ideation before you make a prototype sketch

Tuesday, you have a defined problem and solution. Now, you need to ideate how to put your plan into action. Meet with your team and have them throw every idea at you. Don't discard anything because you don't know what could be a viable solution.

Record everything. If you are an offline business, you want to see sticky notes all over your whiteboard. This means a Zoom cal,l and whiteboaZoomsing your chosen tool for online businesses. If that is miro, you aim to have an entire whiteboard of sticky notes with ideas for solving your problem.

Wednesday is for deciding on the best solution to prototype

On Wednesday, you want to discuss which ideas are most viable and which should be thrown out. By the end of the day, your team should agree on a storyboard and the best implementation for solving the problem you identified.

The storyboard outlines the customer journey and allows all team members to identify with your customers.

You can begin the storyboard with how customers first find your business. Potentially, this is a Google search or social media post.

Thursday is the design challenge for the UX designer in your business

Now is the time to create a prototype. You will use the storyboard to create a testing environment. Don't focus on perfection at this stage. You want to create a Minimal Viable Product with your prototype so users can test it, but you don't spend hours creating it.

Your designers will be creating the testing environment, but your remaining team members can focus on the following:

  • Writing product descriptions
  • Gather assets like images and icons
  • Sharing the assets for prototype incorporation
  • Writing emails and feedback scripts for user feedback


Today is the big day you've been working towards all week. Your team is likely tired and burnt out and will have a short reprieve. Deploy your solution and test it with your chosen users. Record what they do as they use the product.

Pay close attention to the following in feedback from your users:

  • Patterns
  • Behaviors
  • Common themes

Once you have collected the data, gather your team and review the findings. Once they have been discussed, assign someone to write up the findings.

Keep the findings report and use it for future sprints and further reiterations. It's the key to a product customers love.

What do you do after the sprint?

A sprint is a fast-moving, tiring week, but it leads to multiple benefits for your business. After you complete the sprint week, you should use the information gathered to plan another sprint and make more changes. Multiple iterations will lead to a product customers love.

You need to evaluate if the sprint was truly successful during this time. If not, it could indicate you've chosen the wrong problem to solve during the sprint.


Choosing an iteration process to develop a design for your product can be confusing. However, understanding your current process and its differences with sprints can highlight if a sprint would be effective for your business.

We've shared how sprints are beneficial compared to waterfalls. The biggest benefits are speed and feedback.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a design sprint for UX?

Sprints are a powerful five-day process for quickly solving problems, ideating and prototyping solutions, and testing them. Combining diverse skill sets, such as business and technical insights, reduces the risk of creating unfeasible solutions.

What are the five stages of the design sprint?

Ready to jumpstart your creative problem-solving? Design Sprints involve five crucial steps: Empathize, define, imagine, prototype, and test. They are designed to help you take an idea from conception to completion.

What is the design sprint technique?

The Design Sprint is an intense five-day process of building and testing a prototype that helps validate ideas through design, prototyping, user testing, and collaboration. It offers a more structured and effective approach to creative thinking.

How long does a design sprint typically last?

A design sprint typically lasts five days, during which you will move from understanding the problem to prototyping and testing solutions.

What is the ideal size of a design sprint team?

The ideal size of a design sprint team is between five and eight members, allowing for productive yet creative collaboration.

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