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Innovating with design sprints: How to drive the GV Design Sprint process with continuous human insights

Lija Hogan  |  December 04, 2017

Many companies, from startups to established companies with decades of history, struggle with how to define and solve critical business problems. A popular approach they are turning to is the Google Ventures (GV) Design Sprint. This five-day process takes a big challenge and through a collaborative process with a small group, turns ideas into a prototype—and includes testing that prototype with target customers. The model is based on the design thinking structure developed by IDEO and Stanford’s Design sprints have been used not only to innovate around new product ideas but also to develop marketing concepts and define markets. The UserTesting platform drives better decision-making around deciding what challenges to address, understanding customers, and gathering feedback to generate insights to take the best next steps. You can think of the Design Sprint, and how human insights fit into it, in three parts:

  1. Setting the stage - In the weeks before you run the Sprint, be sure to run tests with target users to learn more about their needs.
  2. Design sprint week - Validate the prototype or concepts with target users.
  3. Turning ideas into reality - Take the idea from prototype to working code by gathering insights from users as you iterate and build.

Setting the stage

Before you even start the sprint, the most important thing you have to do is define the challenge that you want to address. To spend five full days with talented and busy people sequestered in a room working on a problem means that it is key to pick the right problem. Practically, this also means that you need to have a comprehensive understanding of your customers, what they are doing, what they need, the gaps they currently have, their goals, the tools they are currently using… a lot of information about the environment your solution might inhabit and challenges your customers have. To gather that information, user studies will enable you to ask those deep questions to define the challenge to answer questions like, “What should we build?” “Is there a market for this product?” and “Will this product help people solve their problems?”

How to find the ‘How’

Often, to understand customers, we want to know more about how they are currently solving problems. How do they use a product? How do they prefer to achieve a goal? Diary studies, longitudinal research that takes place over a period of days or weeks with the same participants, follows people as they go about their life at regular intervals. They create a log that tracks what they are doing and thinking about, their desires and frustrations. It is a great way to understand how people are currently living – their habits, the tools they use, their perceptions, needs, etc. Just as important to understanding how people are navigating their lives without the benefit of your idea is understanding why. Why do people choose the tools they are currently using? Why do people shop online for certain products and offline for others?

How to find the ‘Why’

Interviews: Using Live Conversation, you can connect with customers to dig in to How as well as Why questions. During interviews, you can tease out in more detail the stories that outline customers’ expectations, habits, preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. These will all inform how you define the challenge space. Interviews take some planning and upfront research because you need to be sure that you’re talking to the right people, asking them questions that are meaningful and help you to understand them, and interpreting what they said appropriately. Use the findings to create personas, representations of the people who would be using the product. These help the design team visualize and get into the heads of target users to avoid building solutions that do not make sense. Getting into customers’ environments: UserTesting’s mobile recorder lets you take advantage of the cameras on cell phones to capture people’s surroundings. By combining elements of an interview with having people show their environments, you create insights into what is important to customers, how they are currently solving problems, and the tools they use to do that.

The sprint


On Monday, you map the challenge based on the research you’ve conducted and the attending stakeholders’ awareness of the business space. You set an optimistic long-term goal to address the challenge you have selected in six, twelve, or even more months out. Then, you think about the issues and problems you might encounter. You create a rough draft of how people might move through the process you are seeking to create or improve. During the afternoon, you talk to experts across the company about their understanding of the current processes that might be impacted or improved.


Tuesday is about solutions – you come up with the ideas and put them on paper and whiteboard. Everyone on the team spends the morning pulling out and remixing ideas that have been floating around, as well as new ones, and sketching them so they are visible and accessible to the team. The afternoon is spent on further elaborating the work from the morning, creating the building blocks for the prototype you are going to build.


Coming in on Wednesday morning to a stack of sketches of potential solutions is exciting; you now get to make decisions about what you are going to build. In a structured critique process, the team rates the elements of the sketches they like. In the afternoon, the team brings those ideas together into a rough storyboard of what will become the prototype the next day.


Prototype building happens on Thursday. You are not trying to build a fully functional and pixel-perfect product, but rather a realistic façade – a representation that gets the idea across to target users – that you can use on Friday to get feedback about your design approach. Pick tools that people can use to create the prototype – and these may not be the ones you typically use – and focus on bringing together the ideas that you have generated. At the end of the day, do a trial run to make sure you have covered all of your bases and have a solid representation of the product you need to put in front of users.


On Friday, you can use Live Conversation to conduct moderated 1:1 interviews with five target users. Have the moderator walk them through the prototype and ask questions while the rest of the team observes and take notes to highlight what does and does not go well. You would need to schedule this in the UserTesting dashboard by Wednesday. Remote interviews enable you to access your exact demographic, expanding your reach beyond people who can reach your office. In addition, the time required to recruit, schedule, and pay participants is minimized, leaving you with more time to focus on other critical logistics in the run-up to the rest. Keep in mind, you might experience flawed success. That is, it is entirely probable that you have a solid idea, but it is not yet perfect. This is just fine; prototypes do not have to be perfect and are meant to surface ideas, challenges, and feedback that can help you to avoid failure in the final product.

Turning ideas into reality

The end of the day is another decision-making time—what are you going to do next? Often, what comes next is more research answering questions that might have surfaced during the week. In addition, you may move into the process of starting to flesh out requirements and design approaches and putting iterations of the product in front of users to get their feedback in concept and usability tests. You can use user tests to get feedback in hours or schedule interviews. Either way, user insights help to inform, reduce risk, and bring the voice of customers to the table, all things that result in making more effective and compelling products. The Design Sprint is an effective way to move quickly to find solutions to business challenges. UserTesting studies and Live Conversation make your design sprint even faster and more likely to succeed. By looking inwards and outwards—getting from idea to customer feedback quickly–the likelihood of success increases.  

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About the author:

Lija is a Customer Experience Consultant at UserTesting. When she's not helping UserTesting customers understand the wide variety of topic areas they can cover using the platform, she teaches a usability research methods class to undergraduates at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor.