Design Thinking Vs. Design Sprints

We're going to talk about the difference between design thinking and design sprints, and I have a pretty straightforward, simple answer for you. The exact difference between design thinking and design sprint, so you never have to worry about it again or wonder about it too. You can use this explanation if someone asks you.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is like we're going to a cooking class. We're trying to learn how to cook, and we're trying to learn how to cook good stuff. Design thinking is like learning how to cook, specifically. 

For example, pasta it's like learning how to cut onions correctly. It's like learning how to use a knife correctly. It's like all of the individual elements that you need to know to cook a meal. 

Design Thinking is really like this philosophy, this mindset, and this toolkit, so you're learning all the different exercises, all the other things. As a team, imagine you are asked to make an excellent truffle pasta or something, and it was just five of you there. You all know how to do this stuff and now make an excellent truffle pasta. Well, that would take quite a long time because you don't have a recipe, and you don't know who's supposed to do that. Everyone will be flailing around. No one knows what great looks like; nobody knows what the result is supposed to look like. You'll be all over the place.

Design Sprints

The design sprint is straightforward. It's a recipe, so here's how you make the thing based on these tools, based on these ingredients, here's a recipe for executing something like a truffle pasta. It's also a prominent list of Who, Does, What. It's super basic, so if you're learning how to cook, you're going to need these two ingredients, you're going to need these two skills, you need to know how to cook things, learn how to cut onions, how to use a knife. Then you're also going to need the recipe. You're also going to need a step-by-step guide for getting this thing done, and that's what the design sprint is.

The design sprint is a recipe that takes the mindset and learnings from design thinking and it applies it to a step-by-step process. If you went and learned just design thinking, you would be able to create a persona, you would be able to do many individual exercises, but you wouldn't have this clear, exact step-by-step recipe. If someone said, "hey, validate a product for me," then you would have to figure out which bits and pieces do I pull together to make my recipe, and if you're an excessively skilled design thinking expert, you do know how to do this. Most people in most companies need a recipe given to them to execute it, a full bulletproof battle-tested recipe, and that's what the design sprint is. 


The design sprint is a recipe. It's an exact step-by-step recipe and a sort of rule set for Who, Does, What. So, you know if you've got three people in the kitchen, this person does this, this person does this, this person does this, there's also timing, and everything would be clear so you'd know what the meal will look like in the end.

Design Thinking is the mindset and the theory behind all of that. You need these two things to work together if you want an innovative product or create a new product. You need to understand the relationship between these two things.

Design Sprint and Design Thinking

Now one question that people will ask, "Could you validate a product with the design sprint without knowing the theories behind Design Thinking?" Well, the answer is Yes, it's like buying a cookbook from Jamie Oliver, and there's a cool complex meal, but all you have to do is read it step by step to execute it.

Now maybe you won't cut the onions entirely. Perhaps you won't cook the pasta exactly the exact weight needs to be, but yes, you would be able to make this pasta dish with a recipe and know who should do what. If you want to, if you only had design thinking independently, you have to be an expert. You have to understand how to play out these recipes precisely, so that's why the design sprint filled this missing piece of the puzzle. 

Suppose we look at how product design and how some innovative product processes worked before, there was design thinking, so that's almost like the research phase. We're going to design thinking to figure out the problem like understand the users you know, brainstorm and prototype and try out these things, and get deep into the user challenge, so the Design Thinking part is this human-centered approach. Then it would almost go from here to into the actual implementation. There was a missing part of the puzzle.

How do you validate that product? How do we validate the should even make this in the first place. Design Thinking was used for that, but there was no exact recipe for getting there, and that's really what the design sprint is. This kind of recipe allows you to take the learnings and the skill the mindset from design thinking and apply it to a production process. What I like about the design sprint as well is that it's design thinking is not super useful without a recipe, so you know before. When we used to get a project, people would say, " Hey, can you help us with this new app" we would say "yes," and we'd have to go away look into our design thinking tool kit and think about what sort of recipe will be used for this project? We would change it every time so we wouldn't be able to battle the test one recipe. Whereas the design sprint has been this recipe, we've been testing over and over and over and over again for years, and we know it is an excellent recipe for validating products for coming up with new product ideas, and for testing things exceptionally quickly. 

People are often afraid of design thinking because it's for creatives, and designers use design thinking. It's one of those things that turns a lot of like stakeholders and the product managers, and you know people who are just interested in designing products and making products it kind of turns those people off. Whereas the design Sprint is a freezing step-by-step robust serious process with very little creativity involved. Almost anyone in your company will feel comfortable being part of a design sprint process because it has this more strategic and business angle to it as well. Rather than design thinking, it is excellent for us designers to get everything out on the table. When it comes to executing and figuring out, should we make this product what this product should be, then the design sprint is the answer to that question. 


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