And, what it can teach us about Lightning Demos.


We hear about TurboTax a lot during Design Sprints, specifically during Lightning Demos. Lightning Demos are an exercise on the second day of a Design Sprint. During this exercise, each team member presents analogous inspiration that helps unlock creativity among the team.

An example artifact of a Design Sprint Lightning Demo exercise next to a Voltage Control designer, Ben Faubion.
An example artifact of a Design Sprint Lightning Demo exercise next to a Voltage Control designer, Ben Faubion.
An example artifact of a Design Sprint Lightning Demo exercise next to a Voltage Control designer, Ben Faubion.

These demos highlight products or services that are similar, dissimilar, or even competitive to what’s being explored in the Sprint. The facilitator sketches a thumbnail of the highlights on the whiteboard to serve as as a reminder during Day 2.

A prototype example

An example of the Lightning Demo consists of:

  • The product/service that is a source of inspiration.
  • The name of the company written beneath the thumbnail.
  • An identifiable feature that stands out in the thumbnail.
  • A big idea as a takeaway for the team to consider moving forward above the thumbnail.

So, you’re probably asking…

“Why TurboTax… and why Kevin Bacon?”

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a game where you pick any actor and within 6 movies they will have tangentially worked with Kevin Bacon… guaranteed. “Kevin Bacon is the Center of the Universe” was a newsgroup thread that highlighted this phenomenon. Once you point it out, it’s hard to miss and can be pretty fun to play using the Oracle of Bacon to research.

I personally have a Bacon Number of 5.
I personally have a Bacon Number of 5.

Just bear with me, but I believe that TurboTax has tangentially inspired every new product coming to market since their online service launched.

This is because I’ve noticed that TurboTax is mentioned in every Sprint we facilitate. Now that you know about it, you can be sure that someone will mention TurboTax during your next Design Sprint.

There is a reason that so many people resonate with the TurboTax experience. It has solved a few key pain points that were ubiquitous to anyone filing taxes. These are the attributes frequently observed about TurboTax:

  • Efficient and clear interface that enables users of all skill levels to confidently navigate a complicated process such as filing taxes.
  • Progressive disclosure of the necessary information that the user needs to know enables the person to complete filing.
  • Micro-experiences that encourage users to progress effectively towards completion.
An example of TurboTax’s approach to approachable messaging. Source: InVision
An example of TurboTax’s approach to approachable messaging. Source: InVision

It can be easy for anyone to discuss how TurboTax is so successful and what they enjoy about the service. However, it’s not always easy for Sprint participants to compellingly articulate the benefits of the examples they present in the Lightning Demo. Additionally, some people may not be comfortable with presenting in front of groups. To support more effective Lightning Demos, we have created a 6 Step Mad Lib that offers a clear outline for presentation.

The format we encourage team members to use is:

  1. The demo I would like to show you today is…
  2. This company is solving the problem…
  3. They did this by…
  4. This matters to me because…
  5. The important aspects of this example are…
  6. This applies to our Design Sprint and goals because…

Let’s look at an example of the Lightning Demo format using TurboTax as the source of inspiration for our team members.

The demo I would like to show you today is…

  • Introduce the product/service that you are presenting in a simple statement. This can be a quick example of the solution they used.

The demo I would like to show you today is TurboTax. Their tool assists users by guiding them through the complexities of filing taxes.

This company is solving the problem…

  • What is the purpose of the company? Why are they solving a problem?

TurboTax is improving the accuracy of filing, and tracking users progress through the journey so that they can incrementally complete their tax filing.

They did this by…

  • How did they accomplish the solution?

They did this by designing progress trackers throughout the experience so that you never get lost. Also, the audit meter enables users to feel confident that they have filed correctly.

Source: TurboTax
Source: TurboTax

This matters to me because…

  • Why do you care about the problem, solution, or company?

This matters to me because I have used the service before and I am now a life long customer because of how easy and innovative TurboTax has made it to file my taxes.

The important aspects of this example are…

  • Tell us about the significant features of the product/service. This helps repeat and reiterate the earlier point. This can be helpful to help reinforce why you are showing the example.

The important aspects of this example are the persistent audit meter and the progress navigation. The audit meter makes me feel confident because of the simple rating scale, bold colors, and encouraging language.

Source: InVision
Source: InVision

This applies to our Design Sprint and goals because…

  • Put a bow on your Lightning Demo with a strong statement about how this applies to your problem.

This applies to our Design Sprint and goals because we can very easily implement a similar method so that our users can track their progress within our ecosystem.

It’s simple to plug in any Lightning Demo you choose into this effective 6 Step Mad Lib. Share this with your Sprint team members to consider as they are exploring demos to present.

If you follow this format, your teams will resonate with your lightning presentation because it covers simple and declarative information that will help the team take notes. Remember an effective Lightning Demo is concise, meaningful, and identifies clear elements of inspiration that the team can use as ammunition during ideation. Happy Sprinting!

Design Sprint in action