Design Sprints for Beginners – what I learned at the Spotless Away Day 2019

19 September 2019
Caroline Ingman

Caroline Ingman

Spotless Alum

Bringing you all things marketing at Spotless

“What is a design sprint and how do they work?” you ask.  I had the same questions before my first foray into the sprinting world. So if you are uncertain about what service design approaches can really unlock for your company, this blog is for you – come and dip your toe in with me…


At Spotless we like to practice what we preach.  We believe that design sprints can unlock powerful insights into your service; What better subject matter to sprint on than that of our own company? Last week, we took ourselves off to sunny Derbyshire do some meta-mini-sprinting – design sprints about design sprints- and also about our working methods, culture and our USP.  Get your mental trainers on!


As a business, we are a tight-knit team of 20 people;  We are made up of Service Designers, Experience Consultants, Researchers, Project Managers, Clients Services directors, Business Development execs and Marketers.  We discuss what we are working on but the nature of design thinking means that we can often go full-ostrich into our own projects, get dispersed through remote user testing, and rely heavily on sharing insights via cloud based documents and Slack. It was time to apply our own methods and tools to our own business, become more collaborative, and boot out the inertia that can creep into the process of turning great ideas into part of our business practices.  We are also an agency with an array of design and research disciplines, and as such we all have a slightly different view on what our strengths are. 

But all of us want to collaborate more, share a vision, measure outcomes and strengthen our design sprint skills with a view to ideating a Spotless Design Sprint style. So we turned the spotlight on our own service and made ourselves the stakeholders….


As an aside, I was particularly excited about this purposeful navel-gazing, as being a non-practitioner from a different industry background means I’ve not witnessed the kind of magic that can unfold in a sprint situation.  I’ve never participated in a sprint and to be honest there was some trepidation. What would we learn? How would I be able to participate if I didn’t know how they worked? Can we really all get to a point of agreement on such wolly topics?  What would we discover? What would we do with the information? Can anyone sprint? 


squeze a post it packet to burst it open

In what other kind of business meeting do you find a toybox, colouring pens and playdough on the table?  A design sprint meeting. And of course, sticky-notes – a LOT of them. I think I’m going to like this.

Nadja Toft taught us that if you pull the sticky-note DOWN, you retain stickiness and eliminate curl.  GAME CHANGER. Also, Post-it packs are designed to burst open on a squeeze, which is immensely satisfying.



On your marks….

Get set….


So firstly, we had THE RULES.  Far from being dreary and restrictive, the rules of the design sprints are actually there to encourage freedom, contribution and imagination but in a quickfire, no ‘analysis paralysis’  format.

Each team was tasked with one of our four crowd-sourced company areas of focus.  Ours was the Spotless USP. The groups mixed all departments up so we had fresh eyes on each topic and ‘inexperienced sprinters’ getting to feel the approach for the first time.



As a growing and evolving agency, we found that there was a need to review our USP to better communicate our values and skills both internally and externally. In order to do this, we needed to assess how we were viewed and by whom.

Each group had a facilitator, strict time limits and various charts, maps and guides to keep us on track.

Thoughts get simplified down to 2-3 word phrases on a sticky notes so immediately you are framing your thoughts in the most simple form which in itself is such a useful tool.

Spotless empathy map

Empathy maps helped us figure out who this was an issue for and what they needed. We focused on clients/prospects and what clarity of message would mean for them.

We are ALL stakeholders in this company and as such there was no such thing as a bad idea.  Some initial nerves from some participants about how communicate thoughts on paper ‘the right way’ were quickly vanquished when their ideas were chosen and carried through to the next stage.

Case-in-point being the final DEFINE task; Framing the issue in a ‘How 

Might We….’question.  (This gives the idea a whole new light as it then becomes an action on which to move forward, not just a statement.) “How might we engage Spotless staff and our clients in defining our identity?”  This one was initially written by the aforementioned participant who was uncertain due to having no real sprint experience –so there are no bad ideas in a design sprint. Every stakeholder and participant should hold onto that.

How might we....?


Now we knew what the focus was, and the question we were trying to answer, we look elsewhere for ‘How would XXX do it?’  We had Netflix as an example to prompt ideas.  There are a lot of strong feelings about Netflix and it allowed us to distill down those thoughts into how Netflix arrived at their own USP and how they maintain it.

Next came a ‘break it, fix it’ exercise in which we crafted ideas solving our issue, poked holes in it (like any discerning client might) and then fixed it again.  It’s nice to play devil’s advocate with business ideas without hurting egos. Framing the critique in the right way makes it an opportunity to pivot/adapt/change, not a dismissal.



It’s amazing what you can create from the contents of a country house kitchen to prototype your ideas – the other team had nabbed the playdough, grrr – and how the more visually led people could really see what the idea had potential to be when it took a physical form. Then once we had a prototype, we could test it on a ‘user’ and see how they reacted.  What issues might there be? How easy would it be to implement? Do they actually want it? Then instead of having to redevelop an ACTUAL product after testing (cries), we had a prototype to quickly adapt instead. So much faster, so much less anguish.

max prototypes during design sprint

Next came a chance to present ideas back to the whole group, get feedback, field questions, et voila! There you have it, a scoped-out idea – built, tested and considered – within a day and a half.



‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’, unless of course you follow a process for implementing them.

As a group, we took the ideas, voted on which ideas we thought we most effective to focus on for our business and then we assigned realistic timelines and most importantly, those responsible for each stage of getting it live.  

And there you have it. Within the space of two days, we untangled a problem, simplified it, understood it, built a solution, tested it and put a plan in place to make it happen.

*lies down


What did I learn during our design sprint?

I learned that people have different ways of thinking but design sprint activities seemed to unlock them in  everyone.

I learned that it’s hard to accurately pour a Prosecco magnum with one hand.

I learned that having time limits on idea creation means you really don’t agonise over them, you just get them down, which really unlocks your creativity and gets the brain firing.

I learned that the ‘kitchen dance’ (always shuffling out of the way of someone trying to get something) still happens, no matter how big the kitchen. 

But most importantly, I learned that we already hold the answers, we just need assistance in getting them out and making sense of them. So to me, design sprints feel a bit like therapy sessions for your staff and for your business that unlock powerful opinions, needs, wishes and ideas.


Signe, one of our senior service designers and session facilitators had this say:

Conducting a Design Sprint in the environment of your own backyard was very valuable to us as a team as well as to Spotless as a business. Through close collaboration across our usual teams, we got to immerse ourselves in each others lines of work and perspectives (whether that was project or account management, research or design and prototyping). By dealing with real-life organisational and business challenges, we had a chance to visit and optimise our line of work and what we offer to our clients. We got to be vocal and explore our weaknesses and pain points, in order to ideate and optimise how we work. 

The Playdough and Lego are now back in the office, and now we’re facing the next part of our challenge: implementation! Real innovation only happens when the ideas you’ve created are actually implemented – so watch this space. 

Spotless Away day Postcard

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