As discussed in our earlier post Nailing Down the Abstract: Design Thinking in the Workplace, Design Sprints are the practical extension of Design Thinking, a rather abstract concept that, nonetheless, can be very useful in problem-solving. Design Thinking is easily grasped when viewed in contrast to the Scientific Method:

Adapted from

Design Sprints incorporate Design Thinking in the frame of a highly-structured, proven methodology for creating at least one unique solution to a seemingly intractable problem. While the specific utilization of Design Thinking in a Design Sprint varies slightly from organization to organization – employing anywhere from three to seven or more steps – a five-stage process seems to hit a happy medium:


  1. Empathize – Empathy is central to understanding the user/consumer experience. Critical to this process is observing and interviewing the end users, the audience who will experience the solution – the Winning Idea. Diversity is the key here; interviews should encompass a variety of perspectives
  2. Define – This means analyzing and synthesizing the information gathered during the previous stage, then using it to create a problem statement that isolates the true nature of the issue to be resolved. Interestingly, the problem as originally stated often morphs into a very different problem statement as the process moves forward. 
  3. Ideate – This stage embodies exactly what the word “ideate” implies. Participants use creativity and innovative thinking to suggest ideas for solving the problem defined in Stage 2. Dozens of methodologies can be used, including brainstorming, loosening everyone up by challenging them to come up with the worst possible idea, storyboarding, crowdstorming, and many other techniques.
  1. Prototype – Creating a scaled down model of one or more possible solutions offers the opportunity to discover problems with the ideas developed in stage 3, perform market research with potential users, and refine the solution(s) as additional input is gathered.
  2. Test – Frequently conducted simultaneously with the prototyping stage, testing means gathering user feedback, learning more about your users and their needs and, ideally, using this feedback to improve upon the work done in all the previous stages to produce additional iterations and continuous improvement in alignment with the principles of Agile, mentioned in our previous blog here.

Finally, everyone votes for the Winning Idea and locks it down!

Ultimately, this process creates a sort of continuous loop of iterations: empathizing with the user, re-designing to meet their needs, coming up with new and better ideas on each attempt (ideating), and then testing the improved prototype until the solution feels complete.

One of the more interesting mindsets incorporated in this process is often called Permission to Fail. Failure, after all, is only a problem if it causes you to give up. If you learn from your failures and continue to move forward, evolving as a result, then failure is just another useful stage on the journey to success. If you do not give yourself permission to fail, you may just get stuck where you are, which is not a healthy or helpful alternative. Exercises encourage participants to get comfortable with failure as they cheer each other on through activities they are destined to fail at.

Read about how one man got unstuck and changed his life using Design Thinking principles here: How Design Thinking changed one man’s life.



While anyone can fumble their way through some Design Thinking exercises, bringing experts to the table makes all the difference. C-TRAC’s facilitators will not only guide your organization through the process and keep you on track, we will support you by inviting thought leaders who exist completely outside your box, to bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to your Sprint. If needed, C-TRAC can even provide a beautiful meeting space on Catalyst Campus in downtown Colorado Springs – or equally appropriate facilities in your city. Design Sprints can be a few hours, days or even weeks long – it’s up to you. Contact for more information on our Design Sprint services.