Design Sprint vs Design Thinking: What's the difference?

Simon Tratnik
  • 4
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    Mar 24, 2023

In the ever-evolving fields of product management, leadership, collaboration, and facilitation, professionals face a common challenge: finding effective methods to drive innovation and problem-solving.

Two methodologies that have emerged to address this challenge are Design Sprint and Design Thinking. Both are widely used by leading organizations, such as Airbnb, Slack, Lufthansa, Salesforce, Uber, and the United Nations.

In this article, we will compare and contrast these two approaches and provide insights on when to use each method.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving that focuses on empathy, experimentation, and iteration. It has been popularised by IDEO by making the process more accessible a approachable for non-designers.

Key principles of Design Thinking
  1. Empathize: The first step is to understand the users' needs, concerns, and motivations by putting yourself in their shoes. This phase involves conducting interviews, observations, and user research to gather qualitative data.
  2. Define: The next step is to synthesize the data collected in the empathize stage and define a clear and actionable problem statement. This helps to focus the team on the most critical user needs.
  3. Ideate: In this phase, the team generates a wide range of potential solutions to the defined problem. Brainstorming, mind mapping, and other creative techniques are used to encourage out-of-the-box thinking and to explore various possibilities.
  4. Prototype: The team creates low-fidelity representations of the most promising ideas from the ideate phase. These prototypes can be sketches, wireframes, or even physical models, depending on the project's nature.
  5. Test: Finally, the team tests the prototypes with real users, collecting feedback and iterating on the designs to refine the solutions continually.
The Design Management Institute’s 2015 Design Value Index (DVI)
Benefits and applications of Design Thinking

Design Thinking enhances creativity and collaboration, leading to a better understanding of user needs. It also promotes adaptability and continuous improvement, making it an excellent tool for fostering a culture of innovation.

According to a study by the Design Management Institute, design-driven companies outperformed the S&P 500 index by 219% over ten years, highlighting the significant impact of Design Thinking on business performance.


What is Design Sprint?

Design Sprint is a time-constrained, structured process for validating ideas and solutions. Developed by Google Ventures, this method has been adopted by leading companies such as Airbnb, Slack, Lufthansa, Salesforce, Uber, and the United Nations.

Key steps of a Design Sprint
  1. Understand: The team first gains a deep understanding of the problem and the users' needs by conducting research, interviews, and reviewing existing data. This helps establish a solid foundation for the rest of the sprint.
  2. Sketch: Each team member independently sketches possible solutions, drawing on their unique expertise and perspectives. This encourages diverse ideas and helps prevent groupthink.
  3. Decide: The team converges on the best solution(s) by discussing, critiquing, and voting on the sketches. This collaborative process ensures that the most promising ideas move forward.
  4. Prototype: The chosen solution is transformed into a high-fidelity prototype, which closely resembles the final product. This allows the team to test the solution in a realistic context.
  5. Validate: The prototype is tested with real users, and the team collects feedback to refine the solution further. This step helps to minimize the risk of investing in a solution that may not resonate with users.
Benefits and applications of Design Sprint

Design Sprint accelerates decision-making and product development while minimizing risk by quickly validating ideas. It encourages collaboration and cross-functional teamwork, making it an excellent tool for driving innovation and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

A case study by InVision showed that Design Sprints helped AdvisorEngine, a Fortune 500 company save six months of development time and $500,000 in costs. This highlights the significant impact Design Sprints can have on efficiency and resource management.

Two team members from a Design Sprint actively prioritizing ideas on sticky notes. The image symbolizes the key steps of a Design Sprint – understanding the problem, sketching possible solutions, deciding on the best idea, prototyping, and validation. It emphasizes the collaborative and cross-functional nature of the process, which is instrumental in accelerating decision-making, minimizing risks, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

Comparing Design Sprint vs Design Thinking

While both methodologies share similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart.


  1. Both are user-centered approaches, focusing on understanding and addressing user needs.
  2. Both involve prototyping and testing, enabling teams to iterate and refine solutions based on real user feedback.
  3. Both encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary teams, bringing diverse perspectives and expertise to the table.


  1. Timeframe: Design Sprint typically takes place over five days, while Design Thinking is a more flexible and ongoing process.
  2. Focus: Design Sprint aims to validate specific solutions, whereas Design Thinking explores a wide range of possible solutions.
  3. Scope: Design Sprint is best suited for well-defined problems or challenges, while Design Thinking is adaptable to various types and scales of problems.

It's important to note that Design Sprint and Design Thinking are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other.

Using the analogy of Italian cuisine, Design Thinking can be considered the overall mindset and principles of Italian cooking, while Design Sprint is a repeatable step-by-step recipe for creating a Neapolitan Pizza.


How to Choose the Right Methodology

When selecting the appropriate methodology for your project, consider the following factors:

Project timeline and constraints:

If you need to validate a solution quickly, Design Sprint is likely the better choice. Design Thinking is more suitable for projects with a longer timeline and less stringent constraints.

Problem definition and scope:

Design Sprint works best for well-defined problems with a clear goal. Design Thinking is more adaptable and can be used to explore multiple solutions and perspectives.

Team composition and resources:

Consider the skills and expertise of your team members when choosing a methodology. Design Sprint requires a dedicated, cross-functional team, while Design Thinking can be more flexible in terms of team composition.

When to use Design Sprint
  1. When you have a specific problem with a clear goal
  2. When you need to test a hypothesis or solution quickly
When to use Design Thinking
  1. When you need to explore multiple solutions and perspectives
  2. When you want to develop a culture of innovation and creativity
An image of a sprint team dynamically engaging in the fast-paced process of a Design Sprint. The visual captures the spirit of swift validation of solutions, and the team's dedication to addressing a well-defined problem with a clear goal. The picture encapsulates the effectiveness of Design Sprint methodology for quick hypothesis testing and goal-oriented problem-solving in a cross-functional team setting.


Understanding the differences and similarities between Design Sprint and Design Thinking is crucial for Product Managers. By selecting the appropriate methodology based on your project needs, you can ensure a more efficient and effective approach to problem-solving and innovation.

Whether you're looking to improve your skills or seeking expert guidance, at The Human1st we offer Design Sprint, Product Strategy Sprint, and Training Sprint to help you navigate the world of innovation, collaboration, and product development.

Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting your career, understanding and implementing the right methodology can make all the difference.

So, don't wait any longer—immerse yourself in the world of Design Sprint and Design Thinking, and start unlocking your team's full potential today.

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