How To Narrow In On Final Concepts From Many Options

Here is a good short nugget from Tim Brown’s Change by Design, Chapter 3.

When IDEO needs to do some convergent thinking and narrow in on a few concepts from a possible universe of many, here’s what they do:

  1. Put the concepts on the wall
  2. Arm everyone with post-it notes
  3. Let the post-its fall where they may

IDEO calls this process the “butterfly test,” presumably because the walls start looking like they’re covered with butterflies. Kind of a weird name if you ask me; I would have gone with ‘the post-it thing.’

Here’s why they like this process.


It’s fucking simple. You don’t have to draw a complicated phase-gate, house-of-quality, decision-tree matrix diagram to see what ideas best address the consumer need. The process simply asks people closest to the problem “Which of these solutions is compelling to you?”


Though democracy is not necessarily what you’re going for in a design process, it is often good to attempt to build consensus. Giving everyone a “vote” helps everyone see the meritocracy at work. IDEO is big on nobody owning ideas and not giving extra weight to an idea just because it came from the highest-salaried person in the room (HiPPO = highest paid person’s opinion).


Nobody says you have to keep ONLY the concept with the most votes. Use the process as a data-point, not the end-all-be-all decision. Just be clear about the outcome process before you do the exercise or you’ll risk people feeling undercut.


Teams might think that just having a verbal discussion or debate is a suitable substitute for this process. Tim Brown could agree with you, but then you’d both be wrong. Casting votes in a visible and interactive way forces people to commit to their opinion. No more wishy-washy equivocating about sort of supporting an idea. Vote or don’t.


Walking around a room putting post-it notes on the wall is more fun than sitting around a conference table having a discussion. It’s not exactly as fun as jet-skiing or ‘not working,’ but it’s relatively fun.