Can design sprints work in the classroom?

I’ve been thinking about how to teach design students to think like designers. There’s not much in the tool set we use that you need a college level course to learn. The hard part of product design isn’t figuring out how to export assets from Sketch, setting up artboards in Illustrator, or even writing HTML and CSS. The hard part, is learning how to think about a problem, propose solutions, get feedback, and use that feedback to make your solution better.

It use to be so easy

That’s a lie, it was never easy. But, we were just starting to really understand what could be done with the web. Just emerging from our silos, and sending our ideas down waterfalls. We’d “Lorem ipsum” our way to a solution and let the next person in line worry about the content.

In hindsight, this never really worked. Today we are agile and lean. Doing design thinking. I needed a new way to approach the curriculum that reflected this new reality.

Bringing design sprints into the classroom

I’m currently teaching continuing education students a class titled Usability and User Experience at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It’s a big topic with a lot of pieces to unpack and only 10 weeks in which to do it.

I started planning with the goals:

  • students should be working on a real problem
  • students have a demoable prototype
  • students should be able to explain why they reached their proposed solution
  • students should have artifacts and research to back it up

Retrofitting the Sprint

In my work, I’d been using something that resembled Google Venture design sprints. If you’re not familiar, it goes like this:

On Monday, you’ll unpack the problem. On Tuesday, you’ll sketch competing solutions on paper. On Wednesday, you’ll argue and decide how to turn your ideas into a testable hypothesis. On Thursday, you’ll hammer out a high-fidelity prototype. And on Friday, you’ll test it with real live humans.

More info on Google Ventures site

Since my class meets once a week, I decided to use the sprint model, but expand each day to each week. Our schedule allows for two sprints. I broke each session down like this:

  • Overview — lecture of the day’s theme
  • Practice — in class, hands-on application of the theme
  • Reinforce — homework assignments that include hands-on, reading and research

First Sprint

Week 1

Introductions and framing the project.

Week 2

Creating and using personas to frame your app

Week 3

User flows and storyboarding

Week 4

Introduction to user testing and building a prototype

Week 5

App presentations

Second Sprint

After a retrospective, we follow the same steps with greater focus on the hands on parts. Students are encouraged to rethink their assumptions and to approach the design from a different perspective. We tested the designs with real people at various stages of fidelity from paper to tappable prototypes using Invision.


Students not only have a product they could potentially develop into an actual app, but they understand, how and why it could be a successful product, where it falls short, and how to continue to iterate on the design. They’ve solicited real feedback and watched people use their product. You can see some screen shots from some of my students featured on Invision’s blog.

In the spirt of class, I will be getting feedback from the students and revising the curriculum for next term.