The Design Sprint needs a new name

7 Dec 2023

In the world of innovation, where ideas are the lifeblood of success, there's a method that has gained significant traction: the design sprint. This five-day process, championed by Google's GV team, has become a go-to tool for product teams seeking to rapidly prototype, test, and refine their ideas. However, as an expert facilitator with a passion for playful problem-solving, I believe the design sprint deserves a more encompassing name that reflects its versatility and applicability to a broader range of teams. Let's delve into the world of design sprints and explore why rebranding this powerful tool could make it even more accessible and effective.

What is a Design Sprint

At its core, a design sprint is a structured, time-bound innovation process that utilizes design thinking principles to accelerate the development of new ideas. It's a collaborative endeavor that brings together cross-functional teams, often including designers, engineers, marketers, and executives, to tackle challenges and generate innovative solutions. The sprint involves five distinct phases: Understand, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Each phase is designed to move the team closer to a tangible prototype that can be tested with real users.

Why rebrand the Design Sprint

While the term "design sprint" accurately conveys the process's emphasis on design thinking in a rapid way, I believe it inadvertently limits its potential application. The word "design" can subconsciously steer the focus towards product development, excluding other teams and areas of business that could benefit from this innovative approach. For instance, marketing teams can leverage the sprint to develop engaging campaigns, customer service teams can enhance their processes, and even HR teams can explore ways to improve employee engagement.

It offends Designers

It is also a touchy subject to call it 'Design'. For anyone who obtained a degree from places such as Stanford Design School or the Royal College of Art, design is a process that can certainly not be achieved in 4 to 5 days! You will see critical pieces from such people who degrade the design sprint as not being 'design'. However I wouldn't claim it is, in that sense. It is an accelerated design process for teams that aren't in a position to bring in Ideo or equivalent agencies and probably shouldn't be considering such as expense. Jake Knapp wrote the book SPRINT about the process he developed while at Google, he didn't call it the design sprint. Removing "design" is a good start to placing the process where it needs to be. So, we have a new name: Sprint

Now we are offending Scrum Masters

Sprint is arguable taken though. A sprint is part of the scrum master approach where teams work for a short period of time to achieve specific tasks. Agile extends way beyond the process a sprint provides in 4 to 5 days.

Agile practitioners are embedded with teams to help them adopt a way of working that is incremental and iterative. Teams focus on delivering a specific set of features or functionality. Agile teams prioritise customer satisfaction, continuous delivery, and adaptability to changing circumstances. Similar aspects but different... So what is a Design Sprint if it isn't truly design or a sprint in the agile sense of the word?

Alternative names for the Design Sprint

To broaden the reach and appeal of this versatile tool, I propose a few alternative names that capture its essence of rapid problem-solving and collaborative innovation:

  • Immersion Expedition: This name emphasises the immersive nature of the sprint, where teams dive deep into a problem and emerge with a solution.
  • Ideation Adventure: It captures the playful and creative spirit of the sprint, where teams embark on a journey of generating and refining ideas. Arguably childish and too solution-y focused.
  • Solution Sprint: This name clearly conveys the focus on developing solutions, highlighting the sprint's ability to turn challenges into actionable plans. I don't like it though and one of the biggest challenges as a facilitator is holding people back from solutions too soon in the process when the problem and challenge may not have been suitably defined.
  • Innovation Jam: It evokes a sense of excitement and collaboration, suggesting a collaborative effort to spark innovation. And who doesn't like jam?

What's in a name?

Whether design thinking, design sprints, agile or any other framework that has been developed and grown in popularity there is a potential faddish-ness to them. Delivered and implementated properly they all have examples of impact but many people will have been involved in versions that have been poorly executed, applied in the wrong circumstances or focused on the wrong challenge reducing the impact.

As a facilitator I use aspects of many frameworks so build custom workshops for teams, spending time understanding their stated and underlying needs to build a process that provides them with accelerated outcomes built as a team, for real people to solve real problems. Maybe one day I will bring all my experience together and write a book about it. Maybe whatever I decide to call it will catch on and then we have our new name.

Until then, let me know your design sprint experiences and thoughts. Does the name work for you, have you experienced the impact of design sprints or participated in some that missed the mark?

From the publication of Sprint by Jake Knapp the approach has been tweaked, adapted and rebranded, so let's take innovation approaches wherever they need to go in a changing world.

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However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in facilitation, because not every team has 4 or 5 days to put aside, some teams come with a clear vision but are not entirely sure how to make it a reality, developing products, services, or programs requires a different approach, and some teams need to start from scratch with an entirely new vision because things have become unclear, there is no alignment, teams have been merged, and there may be politics involved.

As a facilitator I am always learning new approaches that I can carefully weave into a custom approach for each client. I say carefully, because I would not call myself an agile specialist and do not currently have the depth of expertise to be an agile coach for a project. Though, within agile there are some principles of being customer-centric, open to short iterations and being adaptive that align closely with Design Sprints and the user-centric approach to workshop design I use. So, not being agile, doesn’t mean I cannot learn from it and enhance my own expertise.

Think of a facilitator as a tailor who carefully weaves together different techniques and approaches to create a custom suit that fits the client's needs and objectives. Just as a tailor considers the client's body type, preferences, and occasion when crafting a suit, a facilitator considers the team's dynamics, goals, and challenges when designing a workshop or meeting. And just as a well-tailored suit enhances the client's appearance and confidence, a well-designed workshop or meeting can enhance the team's collaboration, creativity, and effectiveness..  


Ben Rouse is the founder and head facilitator at Evolving Design, who help teams collaborate, problem solve and achieve their ambitious goals.

Ben worked as a teacher and trainer before moving into facilitation, bringing his expertise together to facilitate team experiences.