On completing a Google Design Sprint
This past week, holed up in a stuffy Flocabulary conference room, I and several other Flocabularians took part in a Google Ventures Design Sprint. Since its public debut a few years ago, the praises of a Design Sprint have been sung all around the business and design corners of the internet - and, as I’ve learned, with just cause.
The focus of our sprint surrounded the problem of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) - an important yet very tenuously applied subject in k-12 schools. The value of investing in SEL has been well documented and the proven benefits for students are multi-valent: Studies show decreased dropout rates, school and classroom behavior issues, drug use, teen pregnancy, mental health problems, and criminal behavior.1 But successful SEL education isn’t as simple as adhering to a lesson plan - it relies on fostering a healthy relationship between student and teacher.
The problem we set out to address is how technology can aid SEL education. A Design Sprint begins with setting a goal for the week - a shared idea of what we’re setting out to accomplish. After a lot of discussion we arrived at ours
“Creating an integratable experience that is useful for teachers and students that doesn’t feel corny and strengthens student relationships and develops self-awareness.”
Buttressing this goal were a set of questions acting as gutter bumpers in our proverbial bowling alley.
- Will it feel truly collaborative (not self-contained)?
- Will it work for all teachers and students?
- Will it be used regularly and feel important?
- Will it integrate seamlessly and feel important?
- Will students want to use it again?
- Can tech really change relationships?
Once we were all on the same page we rounded out the day by inviting a few subject matter experts in for interviews to help us gain perspective through some really great conversations.
For homework we were asked to take the evening to think about some examples from the wild we could bring in to help us synthesis an idea to pursue for the rest of the week. The examples my sprint-mates brought in were pleasantly all over the place, ranging from apps, lectures, podcasts, instagram accounts, games, etc. After a few hours of sharing we took some time to identify and investigate some threads that ran through the examples. Some themes that stood out -
Self-awareness - promoting the ability to identify and, in some cases, take control of your own feelings - aka “name and tame” Purposeful activities - exercises for children with intended results - breathing, stretching, communication, etc. Knowledge sharing - useful and enlightening information to help a student’s social and emotional literacy.
So what to do with this? The rest of the day we were asked to spend independently sketching out ideas for a solution with the goal of creating a fleshed out user-flow wireframe.
Hump day begins with all the sprint-sters sharing and critiquing the wireframe they prepared the evening before. After some discussion each team member ceremoniously affixes a sticker to a wireframe (or specific section therin) he or she finds the most successful. Many of the ideas centered around strategies for integrating SEL into existing patterns in Flocabulary and / or Nearpod while some were ideas for completely new platforms which I found incredibly exciting!
Once we narrowed in on a solution we took some time to collectively unpack what we appreciated about it, its resonance with our original goal, and how it could resolve into an actual product. This ultimately involved breaking down the idea into a cohesive storyboard on a whiteboard that would drive the next day’s activity: prototyping.
Action items and roles are divvied up and everyone gets to work on building a prototype meant for testing the next day. For my part I mocked up a few screens (duh I’m a product designer). Other participants shot and edited video, drafted scripts, recorded mantras and even made a guided breathing gif. By then end of the day we had a prototype we felt comfortable testing.
The big show. All of our work has led to creating an SEL prototype and testing it with teachers. We made two different experiences: one for teachers and one for students. In lieu of testing the idea with students we asked for the teacher’s opinion on how a student might value the prototype. After all, being not corny was an important tenet of our goal.
We spent the day facilitating some user tests with a few teachers in the area, guiding them through the prototype and getting really rich, valuable feedback. By the end of the day we had some great insight on ways to improve the flow, elements that might need cutting, and general insight on whether or not we should pursue our idea further.
I’ve definitely come away from this experience a believer in the Design Sprint method. There really would have been no other way to get the result we came out with in such a short amount of time. I also think there’s something to be said about the team-building virtue of locking co-workers in a conference room for week.