Productive Failure

Productive Failure

How quick, failure oriented design sprints can benefit your clients.

Subject Matter
Graphic Design


July 11, 2014

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What is design sprinting?

As it sounds, sprinting is fast. It’s about generating a visual solution and then moving onto new ones in rapid succession. As little time as possible is spent on each sketch or exploration.

How do I sprint?

  1. Set some rules — setting visual restrictions like picking certain drawing tools, colors, material to work with, typefaces, etc. helps to focus a sprint.
  2. Set a time restriction — time limits around 30 minutes or less work best. Overly long sprints lead to frustration.
  3. Go! — get as many ideas out as possible. Try new materials, not just pencil and paper. Think wrong, be creative, forget about good and have fun!
  4. Sprint more than once — quick sessions multiple times in a day keeps your game sharp.
  5. Review — once you’ve got a body of work to share with your team view them together and discard the ones that aren’t viable options.
Review of sprint progress for a logo design.

Review of sprint progress for a logo design.

Why sprint?

Designer’s often face a perplexing question when a new project comes in the door: What direction to take? Or better yet, figuring out which directions not to take. When starting out it’s easy to follow typical design patterns. Sprinting frees a designer’s mind to attempt unfamiliar approaches while reducing the risk of wasted time. The result is a refreshing fracture in the creative shell. Once a few sprints have been completed it’s easy to review and walk away from impractical visual options — clearing the path towards better ones quickly. This I call productive failure. A necessary visual experimentation when forging the framework of a brand.

Things to Consider

Keep in mind that when a new project comes through the door, you’re never just sprinting out there in left field by yourself. You and your team should have a process (see, for example, AWP’s brand articulation process) capable of thoroughly articulating what your client needs to accomplish with what you’re designing. This will give all your sprinting a productive tension that can be better evaluated when you bring your most promising experiments back to the team.

Failure Leads to Success

A design project needs to be pushed to its limits. In the context of brand identity there can be an overload of directions to choose from at the start of a project. The most viable options love to hide beneath hundreds of sketches and failed experiments. It takes a lot of hard work to get uncomfortable, think wrong, and design in new and unfamiliar ways. Through this rapid process you’ll be fast-tracked towards a successful design, and a happy client.