Good Design Is Good Business: Don’t Wait to Start Sprinting

by Shanon Marks

We live in a design-focused world. Organizations like Google and Apple continue to make products that defy our imaginations, yet are remarkably intuitive. But plenty of other companies — even those not particularly known for innovation — are now placing an emphasis on delivering a more optimal customer experience.

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Take United Airlines. It gathered feedback from customers and teamed up with Saks Fifth Avenue to create custom-designed beds for its recently launched United Polaris business class. The airline considered the entire user experience and used design to elevate it.

No matter the industry, intuitive, creative design won’t happen unless you get executives and designers in the same room working toward the same goal. Business leaders simply can’t make meaningful progress without truly understanding and collaborating with their design teams.

How do you do that? Google’s Design Sprint. It offers an efficient, elegant method for solving design problems and evaluating a company’s investment strategy. But getting both teams in the same room is often easier said than done — the onus may be on designers to make it happen.

Sprint to Stay Ahead

Design teams are tasked with creating the most accessible touchpoints in a brand, and no business function addresses the needs of customers and creates understanding better than designers. That alone should be enough reason for business leaders to set aside blocks of time throughout the year to strategize with the design team. Another reason? Your competitor is probably already doing it.

The benefits of a design sprint kick in almost immediately. We live in a world of constant distraction — meetings, emails, coffee breaks, more meetings. The rules of the sprint require participants to eliminate distractions and focus all of their mental energy on the task at hand.


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Three straight days of focusing on just one thing can easily become the most productive days of the year. But far too few designers manage to get their leadership teams on board. When you compare the time executives typically spend in meetings with partners and with each other to the time spent with designers, this oversight seems absurd.

Above all, design thinking is a collaborative problem-solving approach. Design sprints give people the chance to collaborate with others who they might not normally work with, which is a powerful recipe for new ideas.

[Related: Podcast Episode 46: Justin Ahrens on Good is Good for Business | How to Navigate the Pace of Modern Design | Born This Way: Millennial Designers Bring Their Values to Work]

For beginners, especially, sprints can be mentally exhausting. But the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Creativity is like a muscle. You have to exercise it, or it will atrophy. Participating in design sprints on at least a quarterly basis will allow you to fine-tune your creative process and help your company turn creative thinking into creative doing. The results of every sprint are tangible and measurable — at the end, you should have a testable idea, a prototype with feedback from customers and stakeholders.

Sprint-2Designers, Start Here

As a designer, if you can’t imagine getting your executive team’s attention for longer than three minutes, let alone a three-day sprint, here are some tactics you can use:

1. First, do your homework.

A design sprint can be of enormous benefit to your company. Need proof? Look no further than one of the most innovative companies in the world. Google is a well-known proponent of design thinking methodologies and quite literally wrote the book on the design sprint. It only takes a few hours to read, so start there. Get familiar with the process, download the tool kit, then run it by an executive or director who you’re close to.

2. Help executives do the math.

Hopefully, your company sends out user surveys, collects data on user behavior, and uses that information to inform decision-making. But most companies — even those listening to what their users are saying — waste countless hours trying to decide which ideas are good. They’ll often end up executing what seems like the best idea, then sit back and see how it performs.

Here’s where the design sprint delivers big ROI: Over the course of just a few days, a small team can effectively prioritize hundreds of ideas down to a manageable number of concepts, and then ultimately whittle that down to one or two ideas for prototyping and testing. Even if the sprint takes longer than planned, identifying the right idea by studying it from all angles is vastly more economical than settling on just any idea.

3. Remind them that you are the problem solver.

Let your executives know that you have something to teach them. Most business leaders want to learn, and it is a huge benefit for them to understand the core tenets of design thinking. Design thinking starts with questions and looks to customers for the answers — a necessary pivot that can help the executive mindset go from reactive to proactive.

Whether you’re the leader of an airline, an advertising agency, or a technology company, design thinking can help uncover new insights and solve complex problems.

4. Remind them that they are designers, too.

Executives should think of themselves as designers with the responsibility of pushing great ideas to the market to increase the value of the brand and the bottom line. You can’t fulfill that duty by jumping from meeting to meeting all day. By dedicating a chunk of time — a few days at the very least — to focus completely on a single objective, executives can take part in bringing an idea to life in a way that brings their team closer together.

From iconic startups to venerable consulting firms, organizations all around the globe harness the power of design thinking to solve complex problems and create products and services optimized to meet the needs of their customers. If you want to stay ahead or catch up with your competition, it might be time to start sprinting.

Shanon Marks is president and founder of MU/DAI, a design firm that simplifies technology by blending the imagination of digital with the power of practical. MU/DAI’s work transforms ideas into experiences and makes technology more effective and useful. For 15 years, Shanon has focused on the application of emerging technology and harvested data to augment and improve the human experience, accelerating the market through innovation and emerging technology. When Shanon isn’t working, he can be found flying a small plane or surfing at his favorite break.


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