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When a Sprint Isn’t a Sprint: Running and Design


Ashley Putnam

On your mark. Get set. Whoa! The act of running and completing a marathon is no small feat. Neither is the process of designing an app. Both events require weeks of preparation and work. And sprints are only a small part of the story.

Running and app development

Getting up to Speed

I love running, and I love design. I recently completed my sixth marathon in New Orleans, my third since joining Big Nerd Ranch as a UX and UI Designer just under a year ago, and I’m currently training for my first Half Ironman.

Every Wednesday, a running group leaves from our Intergalactic Headquarters to flex their legs and lungs after a day of flexing our minds. (Seems like I found the right spot to merge my favorite things.) We’ve heard about development and triathlons, but how does one cross the finish line in both running and design? As silly as it might sound, the two have a lot of similarities.

The Starting Line

If only we could lace up our shoes and run without preparation. However, a lot of planning has to happen if you want the race to be a delightful experience. You have to ask, Where is the race? How many weeks away is it? Is it a hilly race? How many miles will I be running?

Similar questions must be answered in the design process. Who is the user? What is the budget? When is the launch? Which devices will an app be used on? If you don’t answer these questions in the beginning, your experience might not go well, and the preparation and solutions for one design problem will not work for others. You have to plan for specific experiences.

Building Your Base

Much like training, good design takes time. When training for a marathon, you don’t start with a 26.2 mile run. You have to build up your mileage over many weeks before making that final run. Each week is scheduled and has goals, much like our iterative process. Run iterations are based on your race goal and what type of race you are running. The design process works in in a similar way.

With user experience design, you have to include continual feedback in the process. This is where sprinting comes into play. You test your design each week instead of testing on race day. Did that form work? Was the user confused? Did it solve the client’s problem? You have to interpret what worked and see how to improve it.

As a designer, you have to remain aware of the user throughout the process. With running, I usually test new shoes, clothes and nutrition on my shorter runs. Did the shoes cause a blister? Did that gel make my stomach hurt? Waiting until launch day can lead to disaster. Training and design both take time, and the biggest challenge is to not lose focus.

Race Day

It’s go time. Your planning and training has put you on the path to a good experience. You have all the right tools at your disposal. Now it’s time to trust the process and preparation. It’s your chance to test the experience.

But even once you cross that finish line, the race isn’t over. There may be a celebratory beer and a bunch of high fives. But there is also a retrospective evaluation that must be completed. How did it feel? Would I do anything different?

And then, of course, you go and sign up for another one. If you’re ready to have Big Nerd Ranch bring an app of your own to life, let’s get started.


Ashley Putnam

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