Can heavy constraints and a ridiculous deadline create marvelous and complex outcomes? We wanted to know. That’s why we tried the crazy idea of crunching a full 4-day design sprint into 1 day.

So what does this have to do with Apollo 13?

Apollo 13 was supposed to be the 3rd lunar landing attempt by NASA. There is some emphasis on “supposed to be” as the mission went critically sideways. 

Once the crew was in outer space en route to the moon, an oxygen tank failed onboard causing the spacecraft to fill with CO2. The astronauts needed to convert that carbon dioxide back into oxygen or they were going to suffocate. 

The spacecraft got in touch with Houston (ground control), and the base engineers began problem-solving. The engineers needed to construct a CO2 scrubber with only the parts available on the craft. With limited time and materials, the engineers designed while the astronauts built the device. As a result, Apollo 13 safely returned to earth with no casualties.

Apollo 13 = 1 day design sprint???

The Apollo 13 mission is proof that extreme time constraints can lead to remarkable discoveries and innovations. We aimed to create a similar environment with the 1-day design sprint. Our goal was to see if we could successfully condense a four-day design sprint, into 8 hours. 

How did we do it?

To successfully test the 1-day design sprint, we needed participants who were unfamiliar with the 4-day design sprint. Fortunately, three of the five on our team had never gone through a design sprint before. Everything was brand new.

We divided the day up to be more manageable. The first half was focused on ideation and designs. During this portion, our goal was to get all of our ideas out and choose a direction to move in.

“I wouldn’t consider myself an ‘ideas’ person but after the first two hours I was shocked at what I was coming up with. The design sprint exercises tapped into a part of my brain that I struggle to get to on my own.”
- Jeremy (SH team member)

The second half of the day was spent creating and testing our ideas. We each had different jobs. Some of us were searching for content, some were creating a user flow, and others were designing the wireframes. 

“The afternoon flew by. It felt like all of our ideas started coming to life and I got excited that what we had made was working.”
- Chance (SH team member)

While it seemed unlikely at times, our team managed to finish the 1-day sprint with a clickable prototype of our new app. We were proud of what we created but also exhausted by the process. 

What led to our success?

We found a few things that led to our success that might not be available to others.

  1. We started with a pre-determined idea for the app. The app was a digitized experience based on a Strategy Workshop exercise we already had. We didn’t have to create from scratch, while the full 4-day design sprints start from scratch. 
  2. Our team is used to engaging the creative side of our brains non-stop.
    Our team wasn’t afraid to come up with bad ideas. This allowed us to run through the design sprint exercises more quickly than normal.
  3. We had previously created an app similar to the one we designed in the 1-day sprint.
    We were able to use that similar app as a design template to start from. By using the similar app as inspiration, we spent little to no time creating elements or choosing colors.

Where did we fail? (or what things didn’t work?)

  1. We didn’t get to the user testing (day 4 of our typical sprint)
  2. Because we didn’t take enough time to properly explain, some of our team members did the exercises wrong. That made them feel bad, even though it was the fault of the facilitator and the time constraints.

Will we run another 1-day design sprint?

Overall, we had a fantastic experience and felt good about our outcomes. We made significant enhancements to the workshop exercise as a result of our 1-day sprint. More importantly, we learned so much about the processes we followed. And our team had fun. It was another way for us to experiment with very low risks. We would consider running another one, and will likely offer a modified version as an option for clients.

Should everyone else adopt a 1-day design sprint?

Our team members all agreed that the 1-day design sprint would probably not work for others as is. The pressure and constraint is too great to ensure the correct product is created. The 1-day limit is very exhausting and not ideal for most people. Hmmm.


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