Design Sprint: National Gallery of Art

Staff brainstorming at the National Gallery of Art

Client: National Gallery of Art 
Project: Four-Day Design Sprint + Written Research Report
Location: Washington, D.C.


Atrium of the East Building of the National Gallery of ArtThe National Gallery of Art is one of the largest museums in North America. Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., it was established in 1937 for the American people by a joint resolution of the United States Congress.

The Gallery received a grant from a private foundation to develop and implement new, innovative digital offerings that promote access, relevance, and connection between the Gallery, its visitors, and its collection. At the same time, the Gallery had identified first-time and infrequent visitors as a critical segment of the audience they wished to engage more deeply.

The project team recognized that a visitor-centered approach would best serve the goals of the grant and ensure that the needs of first-time and infrequent visitors were being met, so they engaged Designing Insights to develop and facilitate a four-day design sprint and prepare a detailed research report of learnings and strategic recommendations.

This was our second engagement with the National Gallery of Art, our first being a three-day introductory design thinking bootcamp.


We developed a custom, four-day design sprint that blended the Google Ventures design sprint process with methods practiced at the Stanford, along with activities from the discipline of Applied Improvisation.

Sprint members doing solo sketching around a table.
Sprint members during a solo sketching activity.

We worked with the team at the National Gallery to ensure that sprint participants were diverse in roles, skill sets, working styles, and institutional seniority. The participants included staff members from across the institution, ranging from the Office of Protection to the Curatorial division. Three outside participants, representing the DC Public Library, the Smithsonian, and the local artists’ community, also joined.

Over the course of four days, the sprint participants interacted with a wide range of visitors. All of the participants embraced the opportunity to interact directly with visitors through interviewing and prototype testing, and reflected on how simple yet powerful it was to engage directly with the public.

Interviewing a visitor in the galleries
Interviewing a visitor in the galleries.


The sprint culminated with five prototypes, 10 personas, and a wealth of data and insights around visitor attitudes, needs, and motivations that will inform new services and experiences as well as the digital products. The team is now refining and iterating on two of the prototypes, and will produce and launch new digital products in the next year.

Testing a prototype for an interactive video in the atrium of the National Gallery.
Testing a prototype in the Atrium of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Following the sprint, we developed and delivered an in-depth written report that served as a tangible artifact of the sprint to share with the funder, summarized and synthesized the high-level themes and insights, and provided recommendations for next steps.

A page from the post-sprint report
A page from the post-sprint report.

One of the most dramatic and unexpected outcomes of the four-day Design Sprint was the effect it had on participants. Participants reflected on how transformative the act of creative, collaborative, cross-disciplinary work was. The project sponsor noted that the experience of “bringing together creative minds has had huge ripple effects on the Gallery” and will “change how the Gallery does business.”

  • 100% of participants reported that they would recommend a workshop with Designing Insights to a colleague or friend
  • 95% of participants reported that they will use what they learned in their ongoing work
  • 93% of participants rated the facilitators as excellent

Read more about the sprint in our blog post, Why bad ideas lead to good ideas: using “reverse thinking” in a design sprint.


I absolutely loved your instructional design, sense of humor, upbeat presentation styles, and dynamic mix of activities. You broke open our brains to go wild!
Sara Mark Lesk, National Gallery of Art
I can’t even begin to list all that I’ve learned about design sprints, our institution, our visitors, and my colleagues. I’m inspired and better equipped to strengthen our institution, and prepared to hit the ground running!
Brittany Bordeaux, National Gallery of Art


Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in this case study are those of Designing Insights and do not reflect the views and opinions of the National Gallery of Art or the federal government.


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