Design Sprint: A Researcher’s Perspective

August 9, 2016 Allison Sullivan

Recently, I participated in my first design sprint. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, a design sprint is an intense, week long program where designers, engineers, and subject matter experts focus on creating a prototype of a new product and then testing the product on potential customers. In the past, I’d consulted on product development projects, but only in my capacity as an insights researcher, helping to collect feedback from potential buyers. This activity was my first venture into designing an actual product, and, though it was challenging, it was a lot of fun.

At Civis, we rely on staff of all levels, across a variety of teams to participate in design sprints, even those who aren’t necessarily product designers. I loved the structure of the activity. I’ve always been fascinated by different time and activity management programs, so the sprint format was inherently interesting to me. Our sprints have a defined set of tasks to be performed in a defined time, allowing enough time for discussion but limiting time for avoiding tough decisions. Sprints also have planned work together and work alone time; it’s really nice to have space to think quietly and then discuss with engaged collaborators.

As someone who doesn’t design products, the act of designing a product is also surprisingly fulfilling to me. As a researcher, I usually work on a defined project that is used by stakeholders to make a key decision or two. A product is something that will be used by (hopefully) many customers for a long time. It’s nice to feel connected to something more enduring.

Of course, being away from work for most of a week has consequences. Heavy, intense focus and concentration can be draining. And decision making is even more exhausting. Therefore, if I were to participate in another sprint (which I hope I do!), I would try to arrange my personal schedule to give me more mental free space. During the sprint week, we closed on a house and were coordinating move-in logistics. I nearly ran out of steam trying to manage it all. Luckily, I had my sprint teammates there to boost me up.

Overall, the best part of the sprint was our clickable prototype. We had something to show for all our work! I was surprised at how nervous I was to have testers come in to provide feedback on the product; I was so invested and hopeful they would love it. Sprint design is rewarding because there is something to show, get feedback on, and work to improve. I never saw myself as someone involved with product testing, but I’m really happy to have been included on this type of project. I learned a lot, worked with a great team, and now get to watch the product develop.

While this was my first experience in a design sprint, I loved the cross-functional collaboration that took place. I’ve also been happy to find out how I can get involved in unexpected projects and processes while continuing to contribute my skills and expertise to the survey science team.

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