Week 31.2016: What we learnt about design sprints

First, thanks for all the kind words about the last weeknotes – it was very encouraging to get support from the community.

Second, our promised reflections on design sprints. Design sprints are a process to get you from research to tested concept in a very short space of time. You can see more about what that actually might look like in a post from a couple of weeks ago. The last couple of weeks were such a treat for me. We had the chance to facilitate and be part of two design sprints with the wonderful National Gallery team and very creative designers from Fabrique. I’ve run something similar before but never as intensely as this – and with great intensity comes great learning (is that the quote?).  Anyway, here are some things that I will take forward should I be lucky enough to do it again.

Getting the right people in the room

This by far is one of the hardest things to do. Scheduling lots of very busy people to be available in the same place and for the same few days is almost impossible. However, it pays off. Having the right people in the room meant for us having content (eg learning, curatorial etc) and services (marketing, visitor services etc) working together to develop and test ideas.

This helped us address a very broad remit by allowing us to explore ideas that support and respect the content but allow visitors access to that content. For example, while the content team took a couple of hours to build a demo, the services teams were able to go out and test where best to insert this into the visitor experience that would deliver the most impact.

Time and space to practice

Sharing your ideas with a room full of your peers can be intimidating; sharing them with possible users is terrifying. Very few organisations currently give their teams the trust or time to be able to do this. This means that these very smart, creative people may not have used those muscles in this way for quite some time.

So you need to build some time and space into the process to revive that ‘muscle memory’.  We found this naturally happened by having two back-to-back design sprints. The first design sprint established that this was a safe space to be creative and built confidence in the process, which meant that the second allowed everyone to dig a bit deeper in their creative reserves and take more risks.

Bringing along the decision makers

If you are ever going to get anything signed off you have to bring along the decision makers. Ideally they are part of the design sprint themselves, however, getting the time with them would have been a brake on the whole venture. So as a compromise we decided to do a daily review with the people who would make the final decisions on these projects.

In actual fact, this worked out really well. Each team got a chance to both present but also reflect on what had been happening throughout the day and the decision makers had a chance to ask questions and offer direction. They understood what had been tried and tested, what had and hadn’t worked and how we had subsequently built that learning into new ideas or versions.  No lengthy reports needed!

Make things as concrete as possible as early as you can

Many of us find it a lot easier talking about ideas rather that trying them out. For the first sprint, we had lots of discussion and thinking and made one draft of the prototype that looked very slick. For the second sprint, we pushed harder to begin to visualise the ideas earlier, kept them rough and iterated more.

Rougher versions inspired more constructive feedback and when something failed spectacularly we were able to kill it or change it quickly. It’s harder to kill an idea when you’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking it through and making it beautiful only to realize it was totally flawed in the first place.

Be as close to the target audience as possible

The idea of the sprints is to test and iterate quickly – museums are lucky to have an audience inside their building who are totally open to this. We made the most of this by holding the sprint an area where we could easily access the space we were designing for AND the audience to give us feedback.

The impact was that debates about whether an idea would work or not were avoided by roleplaying the experience in the Gallery or testing with visitors.

Test the proposition not just the prototype

Once we had a few ideas, we went into the gallery to test the core of the idea – the value proposition. Each idea had to be reduced to 30 words with the most salient points clearly articulated. We asked visitors about who they thought would find this useful (ideally they would say themselves!) and where they saw the challenges, or what they liked about the idea.

The impact of this was two-fold. Big assumptions were immediately tested – visitors are great at spotting where a problem has already been solved (e.g. “well I’d just read the labels!?”), where they would expect this problem to be solved (“why would this be on my phone and not the map?”) or identifying where the value of what you’re offering is worth less than the effort of using it (“I probably wouldn’t want to get my phone out for that”).  Second in a world where often the only things that get reported are complaints, getting out and meeting your visitors – understanding their needs and interests, killing off old stereotypes – can change you. Its thrilling – it reconnects you with why you do what you do.

Where next?

The end of last week was spent prioritising and getting final agreement on the concepts that had made it through the design sprints. This is in preparation for the next steps which will be about presenting these to the executive boards and the trusts. Wish us luck!

Further reading

If your looking for some additional insights – I found this a useful reflection on Design sprints when I was prepping for the National Gallery design sprints: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-solve-big-problems-test-new-ideas-just-five-days-deborah-nas?trk=v-feed

If you’d like to know more about Value Propositions –  The Mom Test book is a great guide to help you ask the right questions when designing and testing – the ones that yield useful insights, constructive criticism rather than kind but misleading words 

This week’s links

First, a little self promotion – I’m going to be running a visitor journey mapping session at this years GEM conference  – http://www.gem.org.uk/cpd/conf/conference.php

MOMA have been doing a card sort for their website – interesting results around the collection – https://medium.com/digital-moma/sorting-through-moma-org-52c2d5ecdfb0#.jq4zz01eo

I enjoyed this on how Netflix are experimenting with A/B testing – it made me think about how we can plan physical experiences to be more able to respond to A/B testing… https://uxdesign.cc/how-netflix-does-a-b-testing-87df9f9bf57c#.9g5ve0yrw

Chris Unitt shared this brilliant article on creating a conversational UX – such excellent insights – https://uxdesign.cc/my-website-is-now-conversational-here-is-what-i-learned-7e943cc6ace0#.z6o0woqzj

Like many, we’ve watched the work of GDS with awe and pride too as they have set about making it easier to use Government services – I’ve even used a couple in the last week and they made my life easier. However, this week saw a number of posts about how the UK Government plan to take several steps backwards. There are likely to be some lessons “Digital transformation” in there for everyone. Here are a couple of posts we’ve been referencing




CODEWORDS is always a good thoughtful read but I particularly enjoyed this on dealing  dealing with digital life-creep and increasing reflective practice https://medium.com/a-series-of-epistolary-romances/mindfulness-intention-and-museums-87cf26a552c5#.a6tuxtd9l

Finally, this great article about the reality of attracting new audiences with digital “you will never increase your brand’s market share by targeting existing users — the task that digital media performs so efficiently” https://next.ft.com/content/cd1722ba-8333-11e5-8e80-1574112844fd

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