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how to use design sprints for superior innovation outcomes

by: PLAY

Picture the scene: You’re lost in innovation chaos and under pressure to deliver the “next big thing”. You’re leading multiple projects that constantly threaten to derail your timelines and budgets. What’s more, you’re also attempting to maintain a reputation that feels vulnerable to being damaged by one bad decision.

Let’s all take a deep breath because although this situation is very common, there is also a simple solution.

Successful innovation requires lots of shiny skills and components that can feel quite intimidating, overwhelming and complex: boundless creativity, courage to try new things, company-wide collaboration, commitment to making it all happen and so much more!

The good news? Design sprints are a hothouse for all of the above.

In this article, we’re giving you the lowdown on all things design sprints so you know exactly how they can help elevate your innovation game.

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What is a design sprint?

Design sprints involve iterating rapidly with your stakeholders and consumers in real time. The journey is very collaborative and ideas are physically brought to life, rather than working from imaginary concepts.

“Innovation sprints are becoming an increasingly common work practice across the world as managers become more aware of their swift, far-reaching results. Tracing their roots back to traditional “hackathons”, they not only help the business identify new avenues and solutions – they’re also a great way to build team morale.” (Atlassian)

Here at PLAY, this looks like leveraging eye-tracking, 3D printing and industrial design along with focus groups to gain consumer insight, then using that feedback to create prototypes that can be put in front of consumers for review within hours.

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Why do we love design sprints?

Well, how long have you got?! PLAY is passionate about design sprints for SO many reasons.

Our process allows you to prototype earlier and bring your product to life sooner so that we can test what works and what doesn’t work with real consumers before spending more time or money on early-stage refinements.

And there’s more! Seriously, try reading the list below without getting excited. We dare you.

   1. Priortise

Design sprints can help you quickly sort the sparks from the ash, allowing your team to jump on red-hot opportunities and confidently abandon those not worth pursuing (saving time AND money!).

   2. We ❤ consumers

Successful innovation starts with understanding your consumer, and design sprints get you closer to them much faster than any other research method.

Creating new products for your consumers’ needs will help you extend your influence, reputation and reach with your team, suppliers, stakeholders and beyond.

   3. Free up time

By assessing and improving current innovation processes to streamline where possible and making design sprints central to your approach, you leave time to enhance the reputation of both yourself and your team.

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   4. Gates, what gates?!

Design sprints remove typical “gates''. This means you won’t be in danger of killing an idea too early if it doesn’t pass a “gate”, yet hasn’t even been trialled as a product or pack.

   5. A need for speed

Design sprints significantly condense the typical innovation process and bring ideas to life earlier through prototyping: a “fail fast” approach.

They’re also much more agile. This methodology is all about being able to pivot, change and trial again - something that should be at the centre of any creative process.

Add to this the fact your team is forced (nicely!) to get together and align, but for a shorter period of time, and you end up with much faster turnaround times.

   6. Aligned action

This kind of process eliminates innovations that don’t fit with your intended innovation goal, vision or opportunity gap and allows a heavier focus on upfront exploratory phases.

This not only saves time and money, but it also results in more successful innovations that are truly fit for purpose.

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When should you use a design sprint?

This approach can cover all consumer and shopper touchpoints in a compact and iterative bundle. That’s why everything from concept, pack and comms to shopper and product is on the table to be tested with design sprints.

The exact methodology can be tailored according to your project requirements, timelines and budget. In some cases, the innovation process has been up to three times faster than the standard 9 to 12-month turnaround.

So, anytime you want to test, adapt or eliminate ideas based on consumer insights with a tight deadline (when isn’t this the case?!), bringing your extended client and agency team into the mix for some real-time collaboration and decision-making is an extremely smart move.

Remember, the more opportunity there is to implement and test consumer feedback together, the more you stand to learn and optimise for the final launch.

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What are you waiting for?

Whether you conduct them online or face-to-face, design sprints are a potent tool to fast-track innovation in a way that suits your team, timeline and budget.

They combine the rigour required to validate your decisions with the speed you need to remain competitive in market.

If ever there was a solution that ticked all the innovation boxes, this is it!

Over to you

Eager to experiment with design sprints? Reach out to the innovation and shopper insights experts. We’ve got decades of experience in every aspect of the innovation journey, including concept, packaging, sensory and shopper-specific research.

Get in touch to find out more about how PLAY can support you with end-to-end consumer-led innovation and kickstart your design sprint journey today

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about the author


As the experts in consumer-led innovation in FMCG, we partner with manufacturers and retailers to lift the productivity and effectiveness of their NPD. It’s all in how we blend innovation advisory with tailored consumer insight using an agile, consumer-first approach. Think of us like the connective tissue within your innovation process. We guide you at every step of the journey, helping you align, focus and develop ideas and products that sell.

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