​Design sprints for charities and nonprofits

by Andy Mayer
Posted on 15 November 2016
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Earlier this year, we used some of our investment time to run a mock design sprint. Our aim was to get hands-on with the process. Putting theory into practice, we explored how we could run design sprints with charities and nonprofits. Our design sprints now help clients quickly unpack and test their digital ideas to see if they are what real people really want. And all without breaking the bank.

What is a design sprint?

The design sprint concept was developed by the Google Ventures team, who wanted a way to quickly mentor the 150 startups in their portfolio. Since then, it's been taken on and used by organisations of all shapes and sizes, all over the world.

A design sprint condenses months of potential design thinking and debate into one week. In just five days, a sprint team will ask important questions and test an idea's risks and assumptions by prototyping and testing it with real customers.

Investing large amounts of time and money in digital projects can be a tricky and sometimes fruitless business. Decisions are made without really knowing if an idea is either any good or, more importantly, something that people actually want to use. Design sprints are fantastic tool for testing the viability of an idea in a quick, cost-effective way.

Why are design sprints great for charities and nonprofits?

We've worked with charities and nonprofits long enough to know how difficult it can be to get funding for new projects and ideas. In many cases, an organisation can't be seen to be taking risks and don't have the in-house knowledge about how digital tools can solve specific problems.

Design sprints help solve both those problems. By condensing the process into a short period of time, organisations can get vital information about their idea for little cost. That information, whether it's hard data or feedback from users, can be used to present a stronger case for further funding.

What's the alternative? Take a punt on an idea for a new digital tool and hope that there is an audience for it once it's complete. That's not how we do things at Yoomee. We take an Agile, Lean Startup approach, which means we eliminate waste by testing assumptions quickly with real users.

Gaining and sharing regular feedback ensures that what we make is what's really required. Design sprints share this ethos.

Design sprint with the Comoodle team

What happens in five days?

A lot needs to happen in a short space of time when running a design sprint. This is from the Google Ventures site:

  • Monday – map out the problem and pick an important place to focus
  • Tuesday – sketch competing solutions on paper.
  • Wednesday – make difficult decisions and turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis.
  • Thursday – hammer out a high-fidelity prototype
  • Friday – test it with real live humans.

This is the ideal five-day process. In a perfect world, everyone clears their diaries and dedicates an entire week to the design sprint. We've run sprints in this way and it really does work well. However, we also know that every project is different and it can be difficult to get all the right people together in the same place for five consecutive days.

Our experience tells us that what's most important is the process itself. As long as you go through every step, it's possible to achieve the same outcomes from a design sprint in even fewer days. It really does depend on the idea you're trying to test, but we've done sprints in different ways and every time, it's proved effective way of working.

Our design sprints with clients

A design sprint doesn't have to be about testing a complete project or concept. You can run a sprint to test one part of a whole or to look at ways of improving something that already exists. Here are two examples.

A standalone design sprint

We ran a standalone design sprint on a new piece of functionality for Elefriends, the online community we developed for Mind. They wanted a way to help new users find relevant people and conversations that would help them get started with the platform.

We condensed the first three days – as outlined in Google Venture's example process above – into just two. In that time, we worked with the Mind team to map the problem against user engagement levels, identify key user journeys and examine relevant research. We then spent time generating and refining solutions before choosing the one that we felt would give us the most insight as we tested assumptions.

The next step was to create a lo-fi prototype – wireframes that we could share with the wider Elefriends team to get feedback and validate our work. The prototype was then turned into two interactive prototypes that were tested with a group of real members of the Elefriends community. This allowed us to A/B test parts of the user journey.

A design sprint as part of a larger project

We're currently building a new web platform for Kirklees Council, called Comoodle. Part of the sharing economy, Comoodle will allow people to easily share 'stuff, space and skills' with other people in the community.

We're developing the platform over several months, but we saw an opportunity to run three mini design sprints into the co-creation and service design phase of the project. The Comoodle team bought into the idea and helped us facilitate some ideation sessions with potential users. That gave us some key features to explore and test in the design sprints, including the tricky process of searching for and requesting to borrow something.

In this case, the design sprint process ran over three weeks. We began by working with the Comoodle team to develop and generate ideas for how we could implement key features of the site. We then spent the following week creating a prototype that showed those ideas. In the third week, we tested the prototype with users both face-to-face and remotely using a simple TypeForm form, which led people through tasks.

Though we strayed from the classic design sprint format of five consecutive days, we were flexible and followed its proven process, which led to fantastic results. The feedback gained at this early stage informed the rest of the project and shaped key features of the Comoodle platform.

Fancy a design sprint with Yoomee?

We think that design sprints are perfect for charities and nonprofits. It's a great way to test an idea with real people at lightning speed to see if it's what they really want and need. When time and budgets are tight, you need to make sure that what you do has real impact. Design sprints are perfect for that. We'd love to do one with you.

Posted on 15 November 2016 - By Andy Mayer
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