Vrai & Oro


Could Vrai & Oro pioneer the age of lab-grown diamond engagement rings and redefine the experience through a try-at-home service?

Video Still: Vrai & Oro


Vrai & Oro —
Vanessa Stofenmacher, Founder & Creative Director
Erin Roberts, Director of Operations
Helen Hong, Product Development
Alyssa Julian, Brand Personality
Liz Kelly, Customer Experience
Sara Workman, Office Manager
Kaitlynn Lucas, Content Creation
Courtney Peterson, Fulfillment & Logistics Director
Kimberly Romero Molina, Social Media

Elemental —
Jason Schoch, Co-Facilitator & Interviewer
Sean Locke, Co-Facilitator
Leila Attari, Sprint Associate


100 grams of gimMe Organic Seaweed Snacks consumed
31 hours logged in the War Room
10 Quartet Dry Erase Markers used
6 Usability Testing Sessions
5 Sprint Days
2 Sketching Soundtracks: Chill Coffeehouse to Chill Beats
1.8 pounds of 3×5 Post-it® sticky notes
1 Proposal of Marriage (after usability tester saw the engagement rings)



Beautiful minimalist gold jewelry from Vrai & Oro

Founded in 2014, Vrai & Oro has been making a name for themselves with finely crafted pieces of quality jewelry that are understated and transparently priced. It was only natural to explore the world of engagement rings. But what about the diamond industry? With profits filtering down to substandard labor practices and regional conflicts, diamonds had become notoriously suspect. There had to be a more ethical way to say ‘I love you’.

Through a strategic partnership with a local producer of lab-grown diamonds, Vrai & Oro felt they may have an answer. All of the bling, none of the blood. But how would consumers react? Is the average mental model of a diamond too strong to be redefined? And by offering a “try-at-home” model, could Vrai & Oro help alleviate the stress of buying an engagement ring? These were the assumptions that fueled the design sprint.


Elemental welcomed the challenge of creating a design sprint in which we partnered with the client to answer these assumptions. The goal was to land on a platform of confidence so that Vrai & Oro felt comfortable either moving forward with their plans, or pivoting in a new direction.

Whiteboard detail from Day One

Objectives —

1. Find out what the perception is of lab-grown diamonds.
2. Determine if a “try-at-home” option would alleviate some of the pain of shopping.

1. Women in a serious relationship (primary)
2. Men in a serious relationship (secondary)

Success Metric —
Through customer interviews and usability analysis, we were looking for moments of pure reaction. Those “wow” moments. In the process, we focused on comments and questions around the specific diamond qualities and whether or not sample rings were beneficial to the education and buying process.

Brand Strategy & Voice —
Vrai & Oro positions itself as fine jewelry without the markup. In order to create valid results, the goal was to prototype an experience that captured their spirit and aesthetic vision. Attention was paid to clarity of message, simplicity of structure and elegant presentation.

The Big Idea —
Through their desire to launch a separate line of business catering to engagement rings, the big idea was less to do with jewelry or fashion, but rather a test of the founders vision and the universal theme of brand expansion.


For this client collaboration we chose to run the exact sequence of Google Ventures 5-Day Design Sprint as defined by Jake Knapp’s new book, right down to their detailed recommendations on appropriate lunch choices.

“Innovation is a team sport.”


Why choose a design sprint for this challenge? In the world of product design, speed of innovation is essential. The design sprint process calls for an intense week of collaborative work from the clients and facilitators. Not a moment is wasted on any activity that doesn’t push the team closer to it’s stated goals on day one.

What follows in this case study documents the preparation, the five days of the sprint itself, the final prototype, and our reflections on what went right, what could be improved. We’re proud of the efforts everyone involved put into this, it’s a lengthy read but hopefully worth it.

Adding notes to solution sketches on Day Three


Set the Stage: Start with a big problem

Prior to the design sprint, we met with Vrai & Oro in their downtown showroom/studio to talk about the sprint process. The objective was to answer any questions they might have going into the week, but also to learn a little more about their business and get a sense of what some possible challenges might come out of the day one session. The sprint is meant to bring issues to light during day one, but we wanted the client to start thinking about some of the challenges they were facing.

Get a Decider, a Facilitator, and a diverse team —
Having six client and three internal participants provided a broad range of perspectives and opinions on the challenge. The diversity of the client team fortunately covered all aspects of their day-to-day business. The founder and CEO was dedicated to participating and spending every moment with the team during the sprint and was undeniably recognized as the Decider.

Ready for the design sprint

“It was stimulating to see the team make tangible progress day by day.”


Schedule five days and find the right room —
Through discussions with the in-house staff of WeWork/Gas Tower, a seven member war room was set up for the five-day design sprint. To accentuate the setup, we provided two moveable double-sided whiteboards, creative supplies to last a week, Amazon grift cards for the interview participants, and enough snacks for a small army.


Map: Agree to a long-term goal

In order to define where we were heading in this sprint we solicited the client team’s thoughts on what an appropriate long-term goal could be, among the initial ideas were:

To disrupt the diamond industry.
To pioneer change.
To be the go-to destination for engagement rings.
To redefine the engagement diamond process.

While interesting, many of these ideas didn’t hold up for V&O. What if they focused on something more within their control? It was agreed that bringing simplicity & efficiency to the engagement process was both within their control and achievable within a reasonable amount of time, so we settled on “redefining engagement” as their goal.  VOW can weld together the streamlining of the engagement ring selecting & buying process, as well as seek technological alternatives to mined diamonds – all within the purview of the long term goal.

Sprint Questions —
How might we identify the primary appeal of VOW to their customers? How might we get the customers as excited as we are? How might we reduce skepticism about lab grown diamonds (if any)? How might we walk customers through the process without a huge time commitment? How might we maintain consistency while growing? Will we scale too fast (outpacing our detailed customer service) and destroy brand loyalty.

Diagram the problem —
Google Ventures encourages sprint teams to “Start slow so you can go fast.” So we invested time working with the V&O team to map the high-level flow of the engagement ring purchase process. By avoiding minute details and aiming for simplification, we uncovered a wealth of interactions that men, women, their friends & families engage in to come to a decision on the final purchase. And by drawing the interactions in front of the team we began to see repeated patterns in the process that would eventually become the target of our sprint.

Interview your teammates and other experts —
We scheduled to hear from each member of the sprint team as well as specialists in ordering, inventory, and fulfillment on the first afternoon. Their commentary allowed us to validate the general structure of our map drawn in the morning as well as making refinements, edits, and corrections to more accurately reflect everyone’s vision of the process.

How might we? —
As the experts weighed-in on their various subjects the rest of the team took notes. These notes had a specific consistent format: HMW (How Might We) written on the top left and took the form of open questions that came up during the expert interview process.

After a break we regrouped to post & organize the notes along repeated themes. The notes were then dot-voted to identify the most important questions. The top HMW notes were then brought to the map and coordinated with the flow of the process.

Organizing "How might we?" notes

Choose a focus for the sprint —
With the key questions organized on the map, the sprint targets came into focus. From there a discussion ensued and the decider made her decision.


Sketch: Look for old ideas and inspiration

After setting the long term goal and capturing the range of questions to be answered by the sprint, we move to the second day. Here we organized a series of Lightning Demos that the team wants to share with each other. As the lightning demos were given we captured the big ideas in a large whiteboard grid. These inspirational elements, sites, and components of sites provided a springboard for the day’s sketching.

Divide or swarm? —
Having a large team, we decided to divide and tackle two targets on the map: Education & Presentation (The “Box”). The goal was to create a single prototype that integrated the two large unknowns for the sprint…will customers buy engagement rings with grown rather than mined diamonds, and will a “try-at-home” model enhance the shopping experience?

Put detailed solutions to paper —
The afternoon’s sketching session was comprised of a structured series of exercises beginning with note taking: getting the team to highlight and internalize the elements identified in the earlier demos for use in their sketches to come.

“This experience gave us the chance share the vision of the brand in greater depth, and learn that we all have a crazy obsession with KIND® Bars.”


Individual solution sketching on Day Two

Next the team began jotting down ideas and exploring structural concepts based on the notes. These concepts would be further explored (rapidly) in the next phase.

There’s a reason why they call it Crazy-8’s. During the third phase of the sketching process, the objective was to create 8 distinct design variations in 8 minutes. Emphasis was place on speed and not falling in love with any one solution.

For the final stage of sketching, each team member focused in on the one design proposal that best address the sprint challenge and built it out in greater detail.

Storyboard & prototype assignments on Day Three


Decide: Choose the best solutions without groupthink

In the morning we moved to a larger conference room to tape up and evaluate each of the teams many sketches. We began by silently reviewing the proposed design options, creating a heat map of interesting parts with dots, a speed critique from our facilitators, clarification from each design’s creator, then a straw poll, and a supervote with the Decider making the final decision.

Keeping the evaluation of the designs in a largely unspoken fashion allowed the proposed designs stand on their own merits. This was a great rehearsal for the testing of the prototype on the final day. Overall the designs were skeletal and abstract, but designs that employed realistic copywriting seemed to be the most successful, pulling away from the more abstract solutions.

“The sprint provided us with the opportunity to understand each other’s thinking style. It made each person’s individuality very prominent.”


Evaluating the solution sketches on Day Three

Keep competing ideas alive —
After this process, one proposed solution was clearly selected as the right structural solution. As opposed to a rumble of competing ideas, we decided to combine supporting ideas in a single prototype, the all-in-one.

Make a plan for the prototype —
After lunch we moved back to our workroom to build a storyboard for the prototype. A 5×3 grid of rectangles was drawn on the second whiteboard, and we were able to work out the major scenes to be executed. In striving to make as many decisions as early as possible – for this rough level of fidelity, we spent quite a bit of our allowed time making decisions on the specific areas of content and their sequencing. We agreed upon an opening scene, a Google web search result, and fleshed out the remaining scenes and screens.

We left our Day Three session with clear expectations on the scope of the prototype (including what would be left out) and confident that we had an executable plan for the next day’s prototyping.


Prototype: Find the right tools, then divide and conquer

Thursday was the most demanding day for the team. In the morning the tools for the prototype were selected and roles were assigned. With such a large team, we divided into pairs of Writers, Asset Collectors, Makers, and Stitchers that stayed together for the day.

“Fake it. Build a façade instead of a product.”


Prototyping teams at work on Day Four

As our Interviewer, Jason, shored up the scheduling of our test users, Sean organized teams to work together in an productive fashion. There were several hiccups during the prototyping sessions. A couple of the elements were worked on by separate teams which caused us to lose a bit of time, and there were some miscommunication between the Makers and the Stitchers. But these inefficiencies have to be seen in the context of a highly productive day.

Given the pressure of having five testers confirmed for the following day, we worked through breaks and during most of lunch to deliver a Keynote prototype of the VOW website.

While we didn’t hit our goal of running through the prototype by 3pm, we went about 90 minutes late, in the end we were able to send everyone home at 6pm knowing that we had an earlier start the next morning to test.


Test: Get big insights from just five customers

Taking Jakob Nielsen on his word, five one-hour interview sessions, with breaks to organize observations, was the goal for day five. By utilizing a combination of our own network and recruiting efforts through Craigslist, we found five individuals matching our qualifications and eager to participate. In targeting both women and men, preferably in long-term relationships, we hoped to learn about the subtle differences in how a customer approaches engagement and shops for engagement rings.

“Elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources. The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.”


Remote observation of a usability testing session

Ask the right questions —
Each session was split into two distinct phases. Of course we were going to test the usability of the client’s prototype in hopes of resolving key assumptions, but it was also essential to take advantage of the moment and ask all the questions we were curious about. Attention was paid to exploring the contextual setting of these individuals as they were contemplating engagement: How would they go about planning a wedding in general and shopping for a ring specifically? Did they approach the ring custom from a traditional perspective of male constructed surprise or a contemporary direction of male/female collaboration? When thinking about an engagement ring, what were some of the details that came to mind? These were only a few of the topics explored.

Find patterns and plan the next step —
Reactions to the prototype were overall positive. As we focused in on our two main questions regarding lab grown diamonds and the try-at-home option, we walked away with some solid insight.

Regarding the diamonds, we learned that the participating individuals didn’t have an issue with lab grown.  While the concept was new to all of them, the education portion of the prototype did a good job of describing what the diamonds were all about. While there appeared to be an opportunity to refine the education experience, the team found that the push back they were expecting didn’t materialize.

For the “try-at-home” model, the team also found welcome acceptance and curiosity to such an option. As with the lab-grown diamonds, there were a few nuances. Questions arose regarding the materials involved in the mock rings and whether or not they could possibly distract from the real thing. There were also some notes regarding the instructions on how the process worked. Overall, the team was quite happy with the results and gained helpful insight from the constructive feedback.

Prototype screens

From the CEO

“As a startup, our company is changing and evolving on a daily basis. This keeps things exciting but it also means that constant communication across the team is nearly impossible. While we’re typically heads down in our individual workload, the design sprint allowed us to come together and communicate as a team, far beyond Slack updates and weekly meetings. As the founder, it’s easy for me to get sucked into tunnel vision. This opportunity allowed me to communicate, share and expand the vision with the rest of the team.”



Could we really pull off a design sprint in five days? That was the overwhelming question we faced on day one of sprint one. Being proponents of the design thinking approach and lean methodologies, we welcomed a sprint model. But could we do it? Also, we were hoping that the client team would buy into the sprint process and give everything they had to the challenge…”hope” being the key word. So it was a surprise that not only could we see success within reach as the process was taking place, but also that the client answered the challenge 100%.

As the process unfolded, it was clear that each piece was building on the last and that there was never going to be a wasted moment. But there were moments when a little polish was needed. A section or two could’ve benefited from clearer direction, the prototype could’ve reached a higher level of fidelity, and the usability tests could’ve been staffed with one or two more accurate participants. Yet despite these improvements, the team gained extremely valuable insights into the product.

The most valuable lesson we learned, other than the confirmation of the client’s direction, is that the details matter. The sprint session is an intense week of thinking on your feet in both a solo and collaborative capacity. It can be mentally and physically draining. Along the way we made every effort to cater to the needs of our client to make them feel comfortable contributing and eager to make tough decisions. We were dedicated in making this feel like a team activity where everyone’s contribution mattered and it made all the difference.