Difference between Design Sprint and Design Thinking

Design Sprint and design thinking have a few things in common. But the bottom line is that they are very different. In almost every design sprint that we facilitate, the question of the difference between design sprints and design thinking almost always comes up.

What is the difference?

While design sprints only became popular a few years ago thanks to the associated book, design thinking has its origins in the 1950s and became popular in the 1980s. As a result, many people can still relate to design thinking and inevitably make the comparison. We often hear the following questions in a similar form:

"How does this differ from design thinking?"
"Why use design sprints and not design thinking?"
"When should you use design sprints and when should you use design thinking?"
And every now and then: "Which is better?"

But before we really break this down, let's take another look at design thinking and design sprints in detail.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that uses the tools of the designer to unite the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.
- Tim Brown, President and CEO, IDEO

If anyone knows, it's Tim Brown: design thinking is an approach to innovation that is made up of a large toolkit. Imagine a toolbox filled to the brim with very useful tools. And depending on what the situation requires, you select the appropriate tool during your design process.

Learning about design thinking means, above all, learning the philosophy and mindset of innovation in combination with the tools.

Can we get specific?

All right. Let's take a mundane pasta dish as an example. We want to bring a breath of fresh air to the market and create a new, innovative pasta dish. Our need for innovation now gives rise to the drive to use a system or mindset such as design thinking.

pasta dish

And in the context of our pasta dish, we could see design thinking as a cooking course. In the cooking course, you learn the general cooking philosophies, how flavors work, which ingredients complement each other and how to prepare certain things (chopping onions, cooking meat, making a sauce).

So we have 2 key elements: We have the innovative product you want to produce and we have attended a cooking class. But what comes next?

What is a design sprint

A design sprint is a five-day process to answer critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers.
-Jake Knapp, author of SPRINT and one of the inventors of the design sprint

The design sprint is not a mindset, philosophy or toolkit, but a specific step-by-step system for producing and testing ideas (often product/service/business ideas).

Read more: What is a design sprint?

In our food analogy, the design sprint is a recipe. It shows you exactly what ingredients you need, what you need to do, when you need to do it and, in the case of a larger kitchen, who should do what.

So what's the difference?

A cooking class is a great thing. But without a recipe, you'll waste a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how to make an innovative pasta dish that tastes good.

A recipe will help you focus on the implementation instead of wondering how much garlic you should crush.

Enough cooking analogies:

Design thinking is a foundation, a philosophy, a toolbox for innovation.

But the Design Sprint is a precise guide to systematically implementing all of this.

When do I take what?

To put it bluntly: if I don't have any problems, I turn to design thinking. I see an opportunity there, but I don't really know where to start. Then I start to roughly define the problem area, observe the target group, encounter difficulties, come up with ideas, and so on.

Design thinking then moves on to prototyping and implementation. Design Thinking takes place at a very early stage and is intended to be Development new ideas lead.

However, the situation that we usually find in companies is that they already have or are aware of the problems, but find it difficult to find a solution.

And this is where a Design Sprint is the ideal choice. A Design Sprint also makes use of Design Thinking elements, but goes one step further to the final problem solution, which I test with test persons.

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