What is a Design Sprint Hackathon?

DSA Team

Google, Facebook, and Microsoft all run hackathons, but each with a unique twist. Google's Code Jam is world-renowned, pushing its employees to innovate. Facebook's Hack for Change encourages out-of-the-box thinking, driving new problem-solving approaches. Microsoft's Imagine Cup, a global spectacle, aims to keep the company at the forefront of tech through fresh product ideas.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Why are hackathons so enduringly popular? They're hotbeds of innovation, melting pots of diverse ideas, and safe spaces where new products and improved processes are forged. They're where employees become creators and where customer needs meet groundbreaking solutions.

Now, imagine combining the hackathon energy with the methodical approach of a design sprint. The result is something truly unique.

Hackathons and design sprints, both innovation powerhouses, have distinct goals and structures. Here's a quick reminder.

At Design Sprint Academy, we're outcome-driven, viewing both hackathons and design sprints as tools for achieving goals. It's vital for organizations to set clear expectations at the outset of any innovation event. Is the focus on fostering creativity, launching tangible projects, or a bit of both? Clarifying whether the event is a practice run or a launchpad for real-world solutions is key.

When the goal is to blend learning with launching new products, hackathons require a refined approach. That's our sweet spot – combining the best of design sprints and hackathons into a perfectly balanced mix.

Imagine the excitement of a hackathon: fast-paced, focused on experimentation, and filled with the vibrant energy of teamwork. Then, infuse it with the best of design sprints:

  • Broadly inclusive teams, not just tech wizards.
  • Challenges grounded in business goals and customer needs, identified through in-depth problem framing.
  • The ultimate test: presenting these solutions to real customers for early validation and feedback.
A Design Sprint Hackathon is a two-day event designed to bring diverse teams together to solve strategic business challenges. The event is structured using a combination of hackathon and design sprint principles.

Enter the Design Sprint Hackathon

Welcome to the Design Sprint Hackathon, where we dive into challenges handpicked for their strategic significance. It's not just about innovation; it's about aligning with core business objectives, thanks to the groundwork laid in problem framing sessions with key players.

Here's what our unique approach offers:

  • Focus and long-term Impact: The challenges tackled in the hackathon are directly tied to your strategic goals.
  • Structured creativity: Innovation isn't just a flash of brilliance; it's a crafted process. Over a span of two days, we're diving into a structured yet creative journey, slicing through complex problems with a series of activities specifically designed to spark creativity.
  • Innovative Solutions: New ideas and AI-powered, realistic prototypes that don't require complex coding but still give you the essence of the actual product or service. It's about bringing those bright ideas to a tangible form, quickly and effectively.
  • Putting Users First: Every challenge is rooted in real user needs, ensuring the team’s solutions are as practical as they are innovative.
  • Break the silos: Our hackathon is all about inclusivity and connecting different areas of expertise. It's like a melting pot of ideas and skills, coming together for a unified approach to problem-solving.
  • Fast Feedback: Accelerating the feedback loop to refine ideas and solutions more rapidly than in traditional development processes, as real customers are involved in testing during the hackathon.

In essence, our hackathon is a crucible for sustainable, impactful innovation, driven by collaboration, user-centricity, and a keen eye on our strategic goals.

The setup

At the Design Sprint Academy, we've dedicated years to aiding big firms in conducting these events. We've crafted a format that's not only effective in raising awareness and fostering learning but also yields tangible results. It's designed to be efficient, requiring just the right amount of manpower to achieve outcomes without hampering the company's productivity.

  • Key to Success: Thorough preparation.
  • Event Format: In-person - one large room - four teams, each with 7-9 expert - all teams working in parallel
  • Topics: Four different complex challenges, aligned with business strategy; topic areas: process improvement, new product ideas, AI integration.
  • Participants: 28-36 employees, diverse expertise in relevant challenge areas.
  • Structure: all teams follow an uniform design sprint framework (playbook and slide decks); the teams are guided by specialized design sprint facilitators.

Design Sprint Hackathon Phases

Before the Hackathon

1. Securing Commitment and Identifying Key Challenges

Our approach hinges on collaboration and strategy. That's why we start by bringing senior leadership into the fold with a Problem Framing Workshop.

In these sessions, we dive deep with leaders to pinpoint and rank complex business issues. Early involvement ensures challenges are in sync with the company's growth ambitions, resonate with staff, and have a committed sponsor ready to bring solutions to life.

Outcomes: Expect a laser-focused identification of business challenges, backed by leadership support. This alignment with organizational goals and early leader engagement is our formula for driving impactful, valuable change.

2. Insight Collection and Team Formation

Every successful event with begins with thorough groundwork. That's why we take a rigorous approach to the preparation phase of our events.

First, we gather all the necessary information on the business challenges and incorporate customer insights. This helps us to develop a deep understanding of the challenges at hand and ensures that the teams solutions are aligned with the needs of your customers.

Next, we recruit and onboard the best teams of experts to solve the identified business challenges. This involves bringing together individuals with diverse backgrounds and expertise, who can work collaboratively to develop innovative solutions.

Third, we screen testers to validate/invalidate the final concepts. This helps us to refine our solutions and ensure that they are viable and effective.

Outcomes: Expect four expertly curated teams, ready for the sprint, and a lineup of users/customers to test and validate these solutions.

3. Build a Core Team of Design Sprint Facilitators

For hackathons to truly leave a lasting impact, it's key to have a strong internal skill set and the right tools. We assist organizations in forming a core group of Design Sprint Facilitators, armed with top-notch playbooks and tools for consistent success.

Our experience spans over seven years, training 3,000+ professionals globally. Our renowned Design Sprint Bootcamp has been embraced by major companies. It's a hands-on, immersive experience where participants learn through doing, led by experts.

Outcomes: We'll equip your team of facilitators with premier resources, enabling them to conduct impactful Design Sprint Workshops that bring real value and catalyze change within your organization.

The 2-Day Hackathon Journey

Turning Ideas into Prototypes in 48 Hours

We have four diverse expert teams tackling three distinct business challenges simultaneously, following the Design Sprint process.

  • Central and Team Facilitation: A lead facilitator from Design Sprint Academy ensures cohesion among teams, each also guided by their own facilitator.
  • Uniform Tools for Consistent Excellence: All teams use our specially designed toolkits and slides for structured and effective outcomes.

Despite normally being a 4-day process, we've condensed it into two action-packed days:

  • Day 1: Teams immerse in understanding customer issues and business challenges, setting their sprint goals, and culminating in unique solution proposals.
  • Day 2: It's all about refining these solutions, crafting AI-driven prototypes, and real-user testing to gather feedback for future iterations.

This intensive approach means rapid prototyping and valuable insights in a remarkably short time.

Celebrating Success - Demo Day Post-Hackathon

Post-hackathon, our facilitators and teams focus on distilling their experiences and refining their prototypes into polished presentations.

Demo day is a virtual celebration, open company-wide. In this hour-long session, the four teams showcase their hard work to the key stakeholders and fellow employees. It's more than a display of solutions; it's a demonstration of rapid problem-solving and customer validation. Senior leaders get a firsthand look at the innovations, deciding which projects will advance and which will not. This day is pivotal in demonstrating the power of quick, collaborative innovation in addressing complex challenges.


Design Sprint Hackathons are more than just a fad; they're a fusion of creativity and strategy, a veritable goldmine for companies serious about innovation. This isn't just about employee engagement or ticking off the innovation box. It's about tangible results – new products, streamlined processes, and solutions that actually resonate with customers.

The Design Sprint Hackathon isn't just a nice-to-have; it's a must-have in today's cutthroat business environment. So, here's the question: Would it be a mistake to remain on the sidelines and not explore how our Design Sprint Hackathons can move your ideas to early stage validation and spark a culture of innovation?