Published on

November 7, 2019

A design sprint in Morocco

We ran a design sprint in a Moroccan surf camp. Here's what happened!

Last Thursday Matt, George and I, along with our friend (and trip wildcard) Reine, travelled to Tagazhout, Morocco. We ran a design sprint, a 4-day structured creative process intended to rapidly progress against a key problem in our business.

For us, it was back to basics. After 5 weeks at Founders Factory we had taken in huge quantities of new information about the problem space and the industry. It was now time to synthesise this in light of our mission and re-draw our product from scratch.

Day 1: Understand and Diverge

On our first morning we zoomed out to look at the big picture. What problem are we solving and for whom? With the benefit of our dozens of customers conversations we redrew our map of the customer decision journey for travel and defined where we would and would not be. It was really useful to have Reine here. She challenged us when we devolved to groupthink, and added the voice of a user to our discussions.

We clarified that we are not solving the discovery problem. There are huge businesses built to piquing that initial interest (‘Oh, I really want to see Costa Rica’). Further into the journey, there are incredibly efficient aggregators to find the best products for your trip (e.g. SkyScanner for flights, GetYourGuide for tours). Right between these stages, however, is the need to begin financially planning. Questions arise, such as:

  • How much will this trip cost me?
  • When will I need to pay for flights and accommodation?
  • How will I afford this?

This problem, so far solved with a combination of spreadsheets, pre-existing savings and credit cards, is what we are interested in. And so our long term goal, and the north star for our product, began to emerge:

Translating travel aspiration into financial action

In the afternoon, buoyed by our morning breakthrough, we started ideation. We first conducted Lightening Demos, presenting inspiration from features in other products which we loved, before turning to the Four-Step Sketch. This, in my mind, is the heart of the design sprint.

Crazy 8s

We did three rounds of crazy 8s. I found the ideas came quickly. The isolation of our new working space, combined with the alignment we had constructed during the morning session, was conducive to deep work. When we evaluated our sketches I was pleased to see a real diversity of thought, but similar themes underlying each.

Day 2: Converge

Our first activity this morning was to construct solution sketches. These are elaborations of the most promising ideas from the crazy 8s, generally three-stage sketches with commentary to draw attention to important features. Usually these follow directly from Crazy 8s, but we decided to break it up to take advantage of the evening to ‘de-load’.

We ran three 20 minute intervals, with time after each for discussion and reflection. I was really pleased with the quality of debate. We picked out aspects which we liked and disliked in each, and further refined our common understanding of the look and feel of our product. Chat interface naturally gave way to a graphical user interface, as the types of interactions we plotted out became more complex.

In the afternoon we knitted the solution sketches together in our storyboard. This is a 5–15 frame user journey which illustrates the central interaction of our solution. In our case it involves the user logging in (frames 1–3), adding a trip (frames 4–6), linking with their bank account (frames 7 and 8) and getting a view of their trip finances (frame 9).

Our (unintelligble) storyboard

Day 3: Prototype

Day 3 was entirely devoted to constructing a prototype. Our objective was to build something sufficiently realistic to evoke real user feedback, but to avoid optimising or tweaking, which would simply chew up time. The artificial constraint of one day helped enormously.

George recommended we build with Marvel, and promptly tore into design. His facility for picking up new tools and applying good product management principles is remarkable. I made an opening ‘explainer’ sequence and Matt constructed a new landing page.

How many avocados can you fit on a landing page? 14.

In building the storyboard, we naturally identified and filled in the gaps from our previously abstract work. Questions like how to present savings options to users, and how to position the product relative to their existing bank accounts arose and were dispatched. We worked quickly, efficiently, and decisively. It was one of the most productive days of my life!

By the end of Day 3 we had the bones of our user journey. Here’s what we made:

Day 4: Test

(A small fudge here. George and I spent the morning of Day 4 frantically adding detail to our prototype. We couldn’t resist…)

On day 4 we tested with users. Matt had scheduled some video chats for middle of the day, before we went to survey the other surfers at the retreat.

As we only had a clickable prototype, the interaction was difficult over video chat. We found users were picking up UX issues (‘Oh, that button doesn’t work’) more than reacting to the overall proposition. It reinforced a lesson we had learned over the last month. It’s really hard to get users who have both the intent to use the product and the context necessary to interact successfully, and then have them act naturally.

All that changed with Lisa, a Dutch student who was our last interviewee of the day. She just got it. She loved the look and feel of the app, and when we asked her to explain back certain features or benefits she put it in exactly the terms we had conceived. Matt, George and I kept stealing glances at each other, astonished at how well the interview was going.

Lisa’s interview, along with a few other conversations, refined our concept of our target customer. Previously we’d always talked about this mythical ‘millennial’, the 27 year old digital marketing manager from Brixton. Now we are seeing the appeal of our product to a younger set; students just emerging from their university lives and discovering the magic of travel.

This group, who have limited appetite for credit and less financial acumen, can benefit greatly from organising their travel savings. They have more time to travel and more flexible behaviour around ways to manage their money. Another piece of the puzzle falling into place…

Reflection

At the end of four days, we were exhausted and very proud. The focus and isolation had wrought remarkable results and brought us closer together as a team. I’d recommend this style of ‘workaway trip’, where you have a clear structure and defined process, to any startup team. There are all the usual obligations and excuses of busyness, but nothing is more valuable than a week focusing solely on the biggest problem facing your business.

What could we have improved? Thinking back, we should have been clearer about roles and expectations at the outset. On Day 1 we launched in with little preamble, but it meant that at times at least one of the four of us had little to contribute. There were times when Matt was out hustling for interviews, or where George and I were designing product, when the others could have taken time to rest.

Oh, and we should have been pickier about the restaurants we went to. All four of us suffered from food poisoning to varying degrees. Suffice to say there are no secrets between us now…!

The goat tagine was not worth it...

What we will do next

With our new product and refreshed vision, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover!

  • I’ll be working on story, putting together a compelling deck and pitch for both investors and partners;
  • George will be working on product, fleshing out the prototype ready to conduct further tests; and
  • Matt will be hustling users, finding routes into university clubs and societies in order to get feedback from our target customers.

Thanks to

  • Adventure Keys for hosting our sprint;
  • Lisa for being the subject of such an inspiring customer interview; and
  • Reine for adding the voice of the user to our discussions.

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© Copyright Oliver Mitchell 2019