Faster to Product with Pack Design Sprints

Image of Fabienne Hübener
Fabienne Hübener

isi and MILK. are offering a more consumer oriented and faster method for developing packaging in the Food & Drink sector. The method, an enhanced five-day Design-Sprint, relies on continuous consumer feedback and proven tools to unlock the impact of design.


"Sprints offer a path to solve big problems, test new ideas, get more done, and do it faster. They also allow you to have more fun along the way. In other words, you've absolutely got to try one for yourself.“ (Jake Knapp in „SPRINT How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. Simon & Schuster 2016´)" 


About ten years ago, a new method made its way into the software industry that significantly shortened the development time for new software. The process, developed by then Google employee Jake Knapp, gradually caught on in other industries as well. We are referring to the Design Sprint. Startups such as 23andMe used it to fine-tune their product; Google Hangouts or Savioke’s autonomous, delivery hospitality robots were results of such breakthroughs derived from Design-Sprint.

More creativity through immersive contact

For the Design Sprint, the company’s designated team comes together for a five-day retreat to sharpen a product idea unhindered by distractions and with the help of a facilitator. During this time, 5 to 7 people develop a prototype, test it on consumers and make the decision as to whether to further develop the product.


Joachim Haag and Andreas Milk have one goal: to make product development more agile and consumer centric. The Design Sprint is the right tool for this.


Design-Sprints for Food and Packaging

Rarely, had the Design Sprint been used in this way, nonetheless the solution suitable for Software proved adaptable to the universe of food and food packaging. "The Design Sprint opens up a lot of opportunities, and we want to tap into this resource for the food and drink sector," reports Joachim Haag, Managing Director at isi, one of the world's leading companies in sensory and consumer research based in Göttingen. Andreas Milk, founder of the design agency MILK. in Frankfurt, 240 km away, had a similar thought. The agency, which won the silver award "The Best Agency" in the Top Tool category in 2018, specializes in the design of food packaging.

Design meets Research

Joachim Haag and Andreas Milk were both speakers at the epda Packaging Innovation Congress in Vienna in 2019. They subsequently got into con-versation during the coffee break. "Achim and I are united by our passion for driving innovation. And we both had accumulated experience with de-sign sprints. It quickly became clear to us that our work on the same topic is closely related and that we complement each other very well," Andreas Milk reports.

After several visits to isi in Göttingen and MILK. in Frankfurt, the team shared their experiences and techniques, combined their respective expertise and put together a Pack Design Sprint package that is targeted specifically food packaging.Even though The Pack Design Sprint is largely target towards packaging, it also fully encompasses the development of product concepts or the joint development of formulations and packaging. "The Design Sprint is flexible and adaptable in order to answer our customers' queries," says Joachim Haag.


Decisions that normally take weeks or months can be made much faster with the help of a design sprint. From my experience, the ideas that emerge during sprints are also better than traditional brainstorming.“ (Andreas Milk, founder of design agency MILK.)



The design sprint spirals seamlessly from idea to consumer feedback to prototype. The right environment provides the necessary concentration and inspiration.

Continuous Consumer Feedback

An important component of the Pack Design Sprint is the continuous consumer feedback on the product variants developed during the Sprint as it happens directly after each feedback round. The consumer has a bird’s eye seat at the table as a kind of guest of honor and is always asked for his opinion.

This continuous feedback is made possible by the well-developed consumer research provided by isi, which can answer a wide range of questions, from laboratory tests to focus groups or moderated online forums. With the right preparation, a design analysis or product test provides the necessary answers within a few hours.


In small groups, consumers analyze which design fits the product.


Create the Right Group Dynamic

The classic Design Sprint starts on Monday and ends on Friday with a testable prototype. The composition of the team is important for the Design Sprint. Experience has proven that the optimal number of participants is seven. The team should be cross-functional and come, for example, from the areas of design, marketing, sales, recipe development, consumer research, and finance.

In addition, the team should be comprised of decision makers within the respective company, such as the CEO, the founder or the product manager. This ensures that the resulting prototype maintains or gains momentum in the company after the sprint.

The Pack Design Sprint

The Pack Design Sprint is a collaborative effort supported by one representative each from Research (isi) and Design (MILK.). External support is provided by isi's research team and MILK's design team. The designers implement the product ideas, and the isi researchers take care of consumer feedback.

"Unlike the classic Design Sprint, in the Pack Design Sprint we don't just get feedback from consumers on the last day, but often throughout the week. In this way, we ensure that product development is continuously oriented toward the consumer." Joachim Haag, Managing Director isi.


Map, sketch, decide, prototype, test – that is how the classic Google Design Sprint works.


Monday: Set the goal (map)

In the morning, the group defines the task and gets an overview of the challenge. During the day, group members share their expertise with each oth-er; Joachim Haag refers to this process as "downloading knowledge”. At the end, the team agrees on a concrete goal that is achievable by the end of the week. A weekly roadmap that the group develops together keeps everyone on track.

Tuesday: Develop and Compare (sketch)

On day two, each of the participants develops ideas for the new product. Instead of a joint brainstorming session, everyone works on their own. "Brainstorming sessions have a good reputation, but the important ideas are not conceived there," emphasizes Joachim Haag.Throughout the day, team members, dubbed "Ocean's 7" by Jake Knapp in reference to the movie Ocean's 11, present, discuss and vote on their de-signs. The MILK. Design team prototypes the designs and isi Research team has the prototypes reviewed by consumers.

To complement this, isi amplifies the process by using its innovative Design Decoding method. In this approach, a group of consumers systematically decodes the relationship between design and meaning under controlled conditions. How should the surface of a product be designed to express natu-ralness? Which color worlds do consumers associate with the product when the product carries a message of energy, enjoyment or sustainability?

The design elements extracted in this way can then be implemented by the designers into the subsequent iterations. (Here Joachim Haag explains De-sign Decoding in a short video).


"Although such group discussions are typically viewed as highly productive by team members, they often yield many fewer ideas and fewer good ideas than sessions in which team members generate their ideas individually." (Paul Paulus in „Managing the key processes for team innovation” in Creative Success in Teams, 2021 Academic Press)


Wednesday: Acquire feedback and decide

By the third day, the group's space has already transformed significantly. Participants have posted their ideas on the walls or whiteboard. Post-Its, papers, photos and sketches serve as a kind of short-term memory parking for the group. The "Creative Space" is located outside the company. For this, a meeting room is rented in an unusual environment, for example in the coworking space "Startraum" in Göttingen. "The important thing is that people can get other ideas, be freer and more focused at the same time. This works better when you get out of your usual environment," explains Andreas Milk.

The feedback and the results derived from the consumer research are then available to the group which allows them to vote on which ideas to pursue further."I didn't think I could be so creative," is one of the typical responses Joachim Haag and Andreas Milk often hear at the end of such a day. The struc-ture of the sprint enables participants to put their knowledge into new contexts and generate fresh ideas.

In the afternoon, the focus is on how the best ideas from the prototypes can be further developed. These prototypes also end up in front of the critical eyes of the consumers again in a second iteration. "The point of each new round of consumer research is to generate knowledge from which we then continue to learn," explains Joachim Haag.

Instead of group discussions, the Design Sprint focuses primarily on individual, concentrated work.


Thursday: Build the prototype (prototype)

With the help of consumer feedback, a few front runners emerge. The team decides on three variants, which are made into prototypes on the same day.These prototypes can take the shape of a 3D sketch on a monitor, a printout from a 3D printer, or a not-yet-perfect packaging variant. The ideas, hav-ing now been implemented, are once again being presented to the consumers.


Andreas Milk discusses new designs with the design team.


Friday: Presentation to the consumer (test)

In the classic design sprint, the final prototype, be it a robot, a website or software, is tested by consumers on the last day. The group watches via vid-eo while five select consumers experience the prototype and are questioned about it.

In the Pack Design Sprint, the team receives the results of the final consumer research on the last day. This final phase examines whether the product could realistically end up one day in their shopping cart.

The team uses the afternoon to analyze and interpret the results. Sometimes it takes until 5 o’clock on Friday until all the loose ends come together - with an eye on the deadline - and a product emerges that meets the requirements that were established on day one. The participants take with them a prototype that has prevailed in an intensive process in the "consumer - research - design" triangle.

To ensure that the findings of the sprint week are not lost, isi and MILK. prepare a summary of the entire process and the results. In this way, the sprint team, as well as colleagues in the company, can always refer to insights gained from the process.

Both isi and M.I.L.K have already used design sprints in their own companies to initiate innovations. "The enthusiasm we bring to the sprint is transferred to the participants in the Pack Design Sprint," reports Joachim Haag. Andreas Milk adds "That's a positive thing, because we don't mind if the method spreads into the food sector, bringing innovations to market even sooner."



"We work according to the Ping-Pong Principle"

Interview with Andreas Milk, founder of the design agency MILK.


How did you come up with the idea for the Design Sprint?

A bit of impatience. As a designer, I do not want to wait months for market research to give me feedback on a product I have developed. I want to know during the design process whether I am meeting consumer tastes. To do that, you have to dovetail design and consumer research. This is best done in a Design Sprint because the work here is cross-sectoral.

You used a food truck for a sprint. How did that work?

We drove a food truck in front of the university in Frankfurt and asked passers-by about a new product. It was about a bread drink. We wanted to know how we could innovate the taste and packaging. On the first day, we conducted around 100 interviews, and over the next few days we repeated-ly varied the packaging and taste - for example, making the bottle smaller, enlarging the organic logo, adding elderflower syrup - and presented it again and again to passersby. We were quickly able to sharpen our understanding of the consumers’ nose and developed a better and better nose our-selves for which product would best resonate with consumers. By the end of the week, we had achieved a prototype that fit.

Where does isi come into play for you?

isi is well known. Anyone involved in consumer research inevitably comes across isi. We have recognized that isi is an excellent research provider and delivers scientifically sound results in the shortest possible timeframe. This allows us to concentrate on our core business, the development of packaging design. During the design sprint, we work accord to the ping-pong principle. We develop new design proposals and isi immediately reports back to us on how consumers react to them. We then adjust the design, and the process repeats itself until we have a suitable prototype.

Is it difficult for the design team to work under time pressure?

In the beginning, my team had reservations. But the result has clearly demonstrated that the benefits of the Design Sprint are immense. I compare the process to that of a musician who first plays exclusively in the comfort of the studio and then eventually performs live in front of an audience. The audience's response makes the music more exciting and better. It is similar with a Design Sprint. By having an interdisciplinary and decision-making team around you, and by getting consumer feedback on your designs immediately, the design gains power. In addition, we have learned how to con-duct the sprint better and better through experience so that it works quite seamlessly. When given the chance, we certainly do not ever want to let this opportunity slip away.


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