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Service Design Sprints vs. Product (GV) Design Sprints — What’s the Difference?

   

The phrase “Design Sprint” has been trending for years, especially since American Designer and former Google Ventures design partner, Jake Knapp, published his book Sprint in 2016. But what exactly is a Sprint? Well, in his own words: 

Sprints offer a path to solve big problems, test new ideas,
get more done, and do it faster.

– Jake Knapp
A graphic describing the 4 days of the design sprint 2.0 and the product launch cycle.

The Design Sprint, as prescribed by Jake Knapp and Google Ventures (also known as the GV Sprint) is a five-day time-boxed structure that can be used to rapidly ideate, build, and test a prototype of a product, to avoid the usually elongated and unproductive process leading up to an initial launch. 

At Neuromagic, we call the GV Sprint by another name: The Product Design Sprint. We make this important differentiation because there is also another kind of Design Sprint: The Service Design Sprint. Though these two methodologies can be confused, there are several fundamental differences between them.

The Service Design Sprint was introduced by co-founder and former CEO of the Latin American branch of Livework, Tenny Pinheiro (one of our own service designers, Felipe Pontes actually co-authored his book Design Thinking Brasil in 2012). Unlike the GV Sprint, the Service Design Sprint focuses on basic elements of service design, which require thinking holistically, outside of a single product or user; from the production team, to the service delivery team, to the user, even reaching the users friends and family— the entire service ecosystem

In order to better understand both the Product Design Sprint and the Service Design Sprint, let’s take a look at their similarities and differences.

What’s the Same

Time-Boxing

The most basic advantage of a Sprint— whether focusing on services or products— is being able to ideate and prototype within a short amount of time. So, all Sprint activities rely on the time-boxing of activities. This helps to manage expectations, and puts pressure on participants to get their ideas out as quickly as possible instead of endlessly wondering whether they are good enough to execute. The best ideas can sometimes be the ones we are most doubtful about sharing!

Prototyping

Students creating a cardboard service prototype at Yokosuka high school.
Prototyping a service at Yokosuka Highschool with Neuromagic.

Again, this relates to the intended speed of a Sprint. Though the style of prototype might differ for products and services, both GV and Service Design sprints should end with a prototype. By making a quick, usable model of a solution, the team can gain a clearer understanding of their goal, while securing a specific, agreed-upon image in all stakeholders mind before beginning proper development.

Together, Alone

Both Sprint styles encourage individual ideation followed by convergence with other team members to discuss, compare ideas, and make decisions. This is one of the key elements to successful ideation. When participants work together all the time with no individual ideation, conversations can be taken over by the loudest voice in the room, and great ideas can get lost in the mix. By working individually first, we ensure that everyone’s ideas are accounted for, and end up with more unique solutions.

Voting and Decision Maker

Both the Service Design Sprint and GV Design Sprint involve sticker dot voting. It is an easy way to align your team while being democratic in the decision-making process. We find it is especially helpful to visualize opinions through the heat map that naturally arises out of the sticker voting process.

What’s Different

Team Composition

The GV Sprint requires a team of experts from a variety of different fields. For example, in the development of an app feature, your team might need a UX Designer, UI Designer, Graphic Designer, Marketer, company CEO, HR person— each to provide expertise in their field. On the other hand, a Service Design Sprint team can be composed in a variety of different ways. Certainly, it can also be composed of a group of experts, but it could also be composed of members from the same company, or even the same department, depending on the issue at hand.

Interviews and User Research

An interviewer and an interviewee during an in-depth user interview at an office in Tokyo.

Service Design in general (not only in Sprints) has a strong emphasis on user research, and particularly on the usage of qualitative, rather than quantitative data. The GV Sprint does not need to have a heavy emphasis on research, because its main goal is the rapid production and testing of a prototype— if the prototype doesn’t work, the team can just build another one to test the next time they have a Sprint. For more information on user research in service design, check out our blog post You Do the Research– Meet Your User!

The GV Sprint does not need to have a heavy emphasis on research, because its main goal is the rapid production and testing of a prototype— if the prototype doesn’t work, the team can just build another one to test the next time they have a Sprint.

Persona

A woman drawing a persona on a canvas created during a design sprint workshop.

The GV Sprint does not use a personas. Again, it emphasizes user testing of prototypes created with expert opinions— users enter the equation at the end, rather than the beginning of the Sprint. However, in a Service Design Sprint, the persona is an important and early element that effects the entire sprint process. It is used as a starting point to create the Customer Journey.

Customer Journey

In the GV Sprint, teams create a very simple map to demonstrate how users interact with their product, in order to clarify goals and touch points. In the Service Design Sprint, a much more thorough customer journey is created based on user research and personas. This customer journey is used to identify touch points, define problems, and discover new opportunities for interaction with users. 

Time Machine

A Time Machine Canvas that is used during a Service Design Sprint.
An example of a Time Machine Canvas we use to describe the way a segment of users have/will solve a problem in the past, present and future.

The Time Machine activity is one of the first steps in the Service Design Sprint. It helps to define the goals of the Sprint team by taking a look into the past, present, and future of their Sprint challenge. The Sprint team uses this activity to quickly do research and gather thoughts and information about who was/is/will be involved in their challenge, the tools they used/use, and how they interacted/interact with it. The GV Sprint omits this step completely. 


In general, the Service Design Sprint is more big-picture, holistic, and focused on user research. It is a great tool to use when kick-starting projects, and its broad activities lead to broad solutions. On the other hand, the GV or Product Design Sprint is much more focused on solving a single problem, usually related to a digital product. It is great at pin-pointing and spot-testing, but not always the best for gaining an in-depth understanding of an issue within a system. 

One of the most important things to note is that Service Design itself is a field, and the Service Design Sprint is just one tool within that field that can be used to quickly ideate and prototype. Service Design has a variety of different tools and methodologies within it, that can be employed in different ways to ensure the holistic implementation of services within or outside of an organization, for internal or external problems, and for non-profits, businesses, governments, or wherever services are being employed (which, in 2020, is just about everywhere).

Hopefully after reading this, you have a clearer understanding of each of these Sprints and what makes them different, so you can better understand when and where to employ them. Here at Neuromagic, we like to take a bit from each methodology and combine them, in whatever way best suits our clients’ needs!

Happy Sprinting!

Elena Iwata

Digital Marketer
Originally from Philadelphia, PA, USA, Elena is passionate about storytelling and designing for equity. Her current focus is on content strategy and creation, from research, to writing and photography.

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