In the Google Ventures open source product design process

Google Ventures is breaking new ground for venture capitalists, providing advice and services to its portfolio companies with in-house teams of experts in design, marketing, recruiting and engineering. I had an exciting discussion with Google Ventures Design Partner Jake Knapp about how he and his four design partners are helping Google Ventures portfolio companies design better products and better businesses.

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When portfolio company Pocket had to rethink App Store Discovery to install User Experience (UX), it worked with the design team at Google Ventures. So many mobile phone companies are obsessed with getting more downloads. Pocket was confused by the idea of ​​losing customers quickly due to a bad first impression after discovering, downloading and trying the app. The Pocket team has chosen to grow their business with an emphasis on customer loyalty rather than download numbers. They were obsessed with the first 20 seconds of UX, an obsession shared by the Google Ventures design team.

Using the design sprint methods created by Knapp, the designers at Google Ventures and the Pocket team ran three separate one-week design sprint sessions to focus on exactly that 20-second UX. This has paid off with a 60% increase in conversions from first download to first use.

Prior to joining Google Ventures a year and a half ago, Knapp spent five years at Google and then became an internal Google design guru, working with Google’s core product teams, such as Search, Chrome, Ads and Gmail, for a week or two at a time helping focus ideation on tough decisions, designs and finally products.

“Brainstorming” has become a bad word for Knapp. It’s too collegial and democratic, without thoughtful decision making that produces the highest quality alternative solutions. He has combined many experiences with hackathons, agile and waterfall development techniques, methods from renowned design studio Ideo, and art critic techniques into a method he calls a “design sprint”.

A typical design sprint engagement takes four or five days. Along with design and research partners, Knapp has worked with over 50 portfolio companies ranging in size from founding teams of two to “D-round” holding companies with 400 employees. Regardless of the size of the company by the end of the week, Knapp wants to deliver a prototype and test results from real qualified users interacting with the prototype.

The quality of the teams of the portfolio companies is obvious, since they were validated by Google Ventures before its investment. But not all start-up team members share prior design experience. So, at the start of the week, Knapp creates a level playing field for founders, engineers, and marketers to take picture notes that he calls a mind map to describe customers, product features, and marketers. business. The aim is to kick-start and capture the creativity and experience of the field uncontaminated by collaboration or personal branding so that each alternative can be objectively evaluated and difficult decisions made. Going forward, content becomes more descriptive in the form of thumbnails and then full story boards, capturing creativity and keeping as much objectivity as possible.

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“Democracy” has also become a dirty word for Knapp, in a sense, referring not to political democracy but to democracy in decision-making when designing a business and a product.

“It’s unrealistic to launch a design sprint and let startup teams make decisions democratically, one vote per person, when that’s not how it works in the day-to-day reality of a startup,” Knapp says. “If in reality the CEO gets six votes, the CTO gets three and everyone gets one, then that’s how decisions have to be made. What if the company is too new to have developed a cultural approach to decision making, it should be discussed during the design sprint. “

Decisions that limit options are made based on explicit storyboards created by the startup and design teams, unaccompanied by the rationale from the creators, so votes are not swayed by personality, sales skills or the ranking of leaders.

With one or two storyboard options decided upon, the startup teams and the design team create mockups and prototypes that are realistic user experiences. Knapp maintains a rapid pace throughout the week to get to user testing, with real people matching the customer profile included in the design.

The last day is devoted to testing the prototypes with 6 to 8 paid substitute customers. The test is carried out one-on-one between the tester and the test subject. The test subject’s reaction and the prototype screens are projected onto a large screen in another room, where the design and startup teams observe the interaction with the prototype and take detailed notes.

“By going that fast, we know we’ll make mistakes, sometimes a lot of mistakes. But that’s a good thing,” Knapp says. “We’re helping our businesses use design as a way to cut down on time, to not be too precise with every design decision, knowing that in iterative design sprints, decision accuracy will improve. What we are finding is that this is something they can learn to do on their own, even after moving on to the next project. And every time they do, their products improve significantly. “

Google Ventures gives the design sprint methodology to its portfolio companies. It also has “open source” methodology. The five-day experience was chronicled day by day in a blog, available at, for the community of product designers and developers. Not all startups can get money from Google Ventures, but all startups can benefit from its design sprint methodology

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Abdul J. Gaspar

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