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Applying Design Sprint to a Circular Design Challenge… once again.

TeaCup Lab
August 11, 2019

After the successful experience of 2018, last July we returned to Ecoembes Circular Lab in Logroño (La Rioja, Spain) to facilitate our traditional Design Sprint dedicated to Circular Economy in collaboration with Uxers School.

As usual, our CEO Stefano Serafinelli was in charge of leading the teams during the 5 days of the Design Sprint, during which they applied the principles of Circular Design to generate innovative ideas aimed at helping companies create more sustainable packaging.


Circular Economy was born as an evolution of the traditional linear economy, based on the production, consumption and disposal of the product.

In a context of circular economy, products are designed thinking on their entire life cycle and on how their components can be reused when they have stopped fulfilling their function.

To help designers create sustainable products that do not generate more waste, IDEO and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a Circular Design Guide, which contains a series of techniques that can be implemented during the design process and that also helped us in our Circular Design Sprint.


Design Sprint is a methodology created to solve business challenges through rapid prototyping techniques and testing with real users. Design Sprint has been developed by Google Venture and successfully applied to hundreds of Google startup products such as Uber, Pocket, Slack or Nest.

If you want to know more, you can check our several entries on Google Design Sprint.


Our initial challenge was complex and broad: to design a service that allowed companies to generate more sustainable packaging.


Due to the difficulty of the topic, the first day has been entirely dedicated to understanding the problem and to redefine the challenge, focusing on a precise moment in the lifecycle of a package.

During the comprehension phase the teams had the possibility to get familiar with the methodology and, above all, with the concepts of the circular economy and the recycling process.

The goal of this day was to create a common knowledge base about the packaging recycling process that would allow them to address the challenge with all the necessary information.

This last point was especially important because only a few members of each group had previous knowledge on the topics.

The understanding phase was carried out through 3 activities:

  • HMW (How might we): In which the members of each team identified unsolved problems and opportunities for innovating during the talks of Ecoembes experts.
  • Creating a map of the lifecycle of a package
  • Mapping the most relevant design opportunities and assigning each of them to a specific step of the package lifecycle.

At the end of the day, each team decided what opportunity related to the challenge they would focus on during the week and for which specific user they would design.


The second day of the Circular Design Sprint has been dedicated to exploring solutions.  

This was done by alternating moments of divergence and convergence, that is, generating ideas individually and then deciding together which idea will be taken to the next phase.

During the first round of ideation, the members of each team carried out a brainstorming session generating possible solutions to the challenge and briefly describing them in a post-its.

Similarly to the first day, all the ideas were first generated individually and then grouped by topics and voted by all team members

The ideas chosen has been further developed by the participants who created a detailed sketch of them.


All the activities of the third day were focused on taking a decision on which proposal, or mix of different ones, will be taken to the prototyping phase.

For this scope, the members of the three teams first carried out a silent review session of each individual proposal. Later, they reviewed and discussed them together.

Thanks to these techniques, the teams were able to identify which elements of each proposal contributed to better face the challenge and could be combined into a single design solution.

Before moving on into the next phase, the winning ideas were evaluated by Ecoembes decision makers, who assessed their technical feasibility and relevance to the challenge and helped the teams to reformulate and correct certain aspects of their proposals.


The fourth day has been dedicated exclusively to designing the prototypes that will be validated with real users during day 5.

A prototype is a simulation of the proposed service that is detailed enough to allow us answer questions such as:

  • Do users understand the proposal?
  • Does the proposal add value?
  • Do they know how the proposed service works?
  • Would they use the service?

In our case, the groups opted for different ways of presenting their ideas, from designing a computer interface to the simulation of a service that included the creation of physical prototypes.


On the fifth day the teams validated their proposals with 5 real users, willing to find out whether the service they have designed added value to them and to obtain information on how to improve the problems detected.

The three proposals were validated in different ways: from proof of concept sessions in Ecoembes facilities with end users connected by videoconference, to the simulation of the service carried out with citizens in the streets of Logroño.

After the validation phase the teams had time to gather the feedback obtained, draw conclusions about their proposal and then present the work done to the other participants and Ecoembes in a 5 minutes pitch.


One of the main features of the Design Sprint methodology is its flexibility. Its process can be adapted with very few changes to all types of topics and sectors, such as the circular economy.

The techniques used during the workshop encouraged the generation of innovative ideas that can effectively solve the proposed challenge, always putting the end user at the center of the process.


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