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Design Sprint – a method for the 21st century skills


Niina Moilanen

Senior Lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 02.05.2019

All Haaga-Helia Porvoo campus students start their second year of studies with an intense Design Sprint week. Design Sprint is a method developed by Google Ventures to save time and money in product development, “to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days”. It is a tool that allows companies to design, test prototypes and get customer feedback for their ideas in just a few days, instead of spending months with expensive development.

Since January 2018, all third semester students have come together with the teacher team and commissioners from the industry to learn 21st century skills, the so called 4Cs: collaboration, critical thinking and complex problem-solving, creativity and communication. They can easily be incorporated in the Design Sprint methodology and terminology.


Starting together with “why” and “how might we”:  The week starts by forming teams and mapping out the problem and goals. The companies are invited to present students with a current business challenge they want to solve. The students and teachers from various degree programmes, together with companies and customers, create a path to solve the problem. Based on the feedback collected from previous sprints, the students really value the commissions from the industry, and the feedback they receive for their ideas. Similarly, due to the role of a university of applied sciences in regional development, Haaga-Helia Porvoo campus wants to enhance co-operation especially with regional players, and that is why most of Design Sprint commissions are from the Porvoo area.

Critical thinking and complex problem-solving

Lightning demos, Crazy 8s, Speed critique: Through benchmarking and collected customer understanding, the student teams create and sketch alternative solutions. Emphasising critical thinking, they decide the best solution they want to work on. As a team, the students need to decide and agree on which ideas have the best chance of achieving the goal, they can take scenes from everybody’s stories to make a perfect journey. Together, they create a step-by-step plan for a prototype.


You can prototype anything: The students find it fun and inspiring to build imaginative, but at the same time realistic, prototypes for digital marketing campaigns and business concepts in forms of videos and websites or cardboard buildings. Based on student feedback, the chance to get creative, work in mixed teams and solve real world problems is very rewarding. Guest speakers, games and activities are also used in order to inspire students while working. During this phase, our campus feels and looks like a laboratory of innovators!


Pitching to perfection: In the Design Sprint framework, as in life in general, communication is the key. During the sprint, participants learn about communicating with people from different degree programmes and cultural backgrounds. They also learn to sell their ideas to the others in their team. In addition, they learn communicating their ideas effectively to a wider audience. The students need to present their prototypes to customers, interview them, get feedback and develop their ideas, which they then will present to the commissioner.

Usually, the team that pays attention to all the 4Cs, is the winning team. Being able to work together as a team, convey information, evaluate and tackle complex problems and innovate new ways of thinking are essential competences for the 21st century work.

All participants – students, teachers and commissioners – are asked to give feedback, and the sprint process is developed based on it. Although some students find the method overwhelming and confusing as there is limited time to complete the sprint, they all agree that mixing with students from other degree programmes and getting to know each other better during the intense Design Sprint week are positive experiences. Initially, we started off with the five day format created by Google Ventures, but based on the feedback we received, we developed the concept and now do it in just four days. But then again, we have allocated an extra day to a later date. We encourage our students to develop their ideas a bit further after the Design Sprint week to make the ideas even more concrete and useful to the commissioner. This is a work in progress, we all learn by doing – and keep developing the process and ourselves in the process!

We already look forward to the next implementation of the Design Sprint in the autumn of 2019. We know that this is a great tool to learn and embrace the 21st century skills.

If you are interested, these are good sources to start with:

Knapp, J., Zeratsky, J. & Kowitz, B. 2016. Sprint – How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days.

Sprint Stories from around the world.