One of the most rewarding aspects of being in the business of helping companies with their digital strategy is the opportunity to work with interesting people and cutting-edge organizations.

Recently, we had the opportunity to partner with a fast-growing technology startup whose mission is to address workplace safety by eradicating a leading occupational disease. The company required both software and hardware help for their Internet of Things (IoT) project. More specifically, they needed to create an ecosystem whereby they could integrate IoT communication hardware, cloud-based software, and analytics into a unified wearable product.

To get started, the client and Skookum collaborated to employ Skookum’s Rapid Prototyping program (aka design sprint, based on the Google Ventures model) and user centered design principles to propel the product idea forward in five days.

Why Use This Approach?

Nobody wants to invest in creating the wrong product. In the case of a startup organization, careful management of scarce resources and funding are key, as is time to market. Fast, cost-effective and low-risk product/solution validation is critical for success.

Additionally, a solid design process ensures the right people come together to safeguard the project from stalling or breakdown due to unrealistic expectations, and differing definitions of the problem or the solution. Here’s how it works:

Getting Started

Success is tied to having the right people, right capabilities -- and the right process. Our team for this project included key client stakeholders as well as these Skookum team members:

Product Strategist: Brings a blend of technical understanding, design, user experience, and business strategy and logic to get to the core of the business requirements.

Technical Lead: Possesses technical depth across a variety of contemporary programming languages and frameworks, systems architecture and design, and security technologies.

UX Designer: Provides a breadth of product/solution perspective with competencies spanning information architecture, interaction (human-to-human), and visual design.

The Process

A design sprint is a rigorous process well worth the effort, because it delivers results in a compressed period of time. In this case it was a design prototype: low-fidelity mock ups that convey the flow and experience for users. It’s a process that is driven by end-customer needs, is highly collaborative -- and reduces the risk of failure, or creating the wrong product or feature-set. It employs short feedback cycles to constantly deliver value, check feasibility, and close any gaps between expectations and reality.

Here’s an overview of what the process looks like and what each phase is meant to accomplish:

Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a concrete and humanistic approach to help us consider how other people (in this case our clients’ users) are thinking and feeling. Information is captured and the notes from this research are organized based on what the research interviewees were feeling, thinking, doing, seeing, or hearing as they interacted with the product. The value in this is helping our team avoid solely focusing on behaviors and instead considering the user's emotions and experience as well.

User Flow Diagramming

User flow diagrams outline the path the user will take as they engage with your product or service both digitally and physically. The flow informs storyboards, design direction, and content needs, while creating a foundation for developing the user experience and hence required features.

Storyboarding

Storyboarding employs user flow diagrams and helps those designing the product visually predict and explore a user’s experience with it. It helps us to think about the product as a series of scenarios in terms of how people would actually use the product. This part of the process is essential to developing an understanding of how people would flow through interacting with the product over time. It provides clarity in order to generate a strong narrative to support the product design approach.

Interactive Prototype

An interactive prototype creates low-fidelity wireframes (or screen blueprints) of your product, then connects them together into a clickable design prototype. This prototype provides a preview of how the product will actually look and work, making it easier to clearly present your ideas to other stakeholders, validate your concept, focus on the features that actually matter -- and fix usability flaws early in the process.

User Testing & Validation

Usability testing seeks to validate assumptions, test hypotheses, evaluate users’ reactions to your product, as well as test the product’s ability to facilitate key user tasks. It provides a plan that articulates the goals, methodologies, script, and results structure, providing an easy-to-follow guide for usability testing before, during, or after development.

Product Roadmapping

All great products require a roadmap, which is essentially a high-level vision of the future of the product. It enabled our product strategist to walk the fine line between managing inputs and distilling a plan. It is a living breathing plan that highlights aspects of the product development and lifecycle such as functionality, effort, and release dates. It’s a resource in this case that was instrumental in helping to prioritize and align the team on the product vision and clarity around the path forward. Product Managers must walk a fine line between managing inputs and distilling a plan.

The Results

Before starting this process, the client’s solution concept had involved the design and development of a very complex multi-platform, full-featured mobile application for it’s version 1.0 release. Working through a design sprint with the team proved a valuable (and cost-saving) exercise because it revealed that the original approach/vision and extensive scope of features, wasn’t required after all.

The team determined that the most valuable aspect of an end user’s journey and interaction would be during onboarding or setup of the hardware device. This was a compelling finding and enabled the client to achieve their business goals cost-effectively (one tenth of the cost of what they had originally asked for) and in a compressed amount of time through a targeted and simplified web app solution that met the specific needs of their target audience.

Our Design Sprint is an instrumental part of our digital practice/process and a tried and true method for delivering tangible value to our clients.

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