Adapting the “Benny Hill” idea-sorting method for remote design thinking workshops

Kick-off your workshop using our favorite in-person method, an idea “dance” that brings the best ideas to the forefront in a fun, group-friendly, and *now* remote-friendly way.

Co-written by Molly Oberholtzer, Josiane Longhi Siqueira and Molly Oberholtzer. Miro board illustrations by Annika Plura.

As user experience and service designers at denkwerk, we often use workshops to create stakeholder alignment at various stages of end-to-end product design. Within these workshops, a common theme is ideation. After generating many ideas, we typically proceed with some sort of sorting or voting mechanism. Reviewing the ideas, everyone decides with collective input, which are the best to proceed with. Now, when you have a lot of ideas and not so much time, this can be a challenge. This challenge is perfectly suited to the “Benny Hill” method.

Before Covid times, the three of us had experienced this really engaging idea sorting method at a Government Service Jam in Düsseldorf. We instantly appreciated how it was a fun and easy way to find out which ideas participants were keen to work on. It was easy to then create groups around those top ideas. While planning the Cologne Service Jam we knew we wanted to use this fun and efficient method, but we faced the challenge, how to do it remotely?

In this article we will present what this method is, how it works in person, how to adapt it for remote, and finally, what are the do’s and don’ts for running it yourself! Plus, a link to the miro template is included 💪 😎

The Benny Hill (“Thirty Five”) Method

The original method was adapted and created by the fellows behind #TISSD, and they also happen to be the creators of the Global Jams, so really, all hat tips go to these guys, because this method is really great to form teams easily and dynamically.

Why use it

As Jam facilitators we know that the first ideas are not the heart of a jam, instead, fun teamwork is, and our job is to facilitate an environment and activities that encourage that. This method gets everyone’s opinions on ideas, is social, and still ensures that all ideas are exchanged and evaluated. It is good when you have a lot to choose from, and you also want to prevent idea ownership! The act of swapping ideas already helps participants to form a co-ownership perspective.

When to use it

Use this after you have created many ideas within a group, and you want to narrow down the options to the group favorites. It is especially good if the next step is breaking into groups or remixing ideas into the next steps.

How to use it (in person)

  1. Each participant gets an A4 piece of paper and sketches out (in 5 minutes) one idea of a service that they would like to develop.
  2. Start the music* to signal that participants should “dance” (really just moving!) around the room. While they move, they swap their paper with each person they cross paths with, doing it again, and again.
  3. When the music stops teams of 2 are formed and as a team they present and compare whichever ideas they are holding at that time. Each pair has 5 votes in total, to divide between the two ideas. They can decide to give all 5 votes to one idea or divide them. (like 4–1 or 3–2).
  4. Participants write down the votes each idea gets on the back of the idea paper, and signal they are done. When the music starts again, the ideas continue to be passed around, and this is repeated for at least 3 more rounds.
  5. At the end of the 3rd round, each participant counts the votes of the idea they are holding and share the score with the group. Ideas with the highest scores are listed on a whiteboard or in a clear space so everyone can see them.
  6. Next, the participants whose ideas got the most votes present them to the bigger group, taking a minute to pitch or explain the concept. After presenting, participants assign themselves to the ideas they are most interested in.

👏🏻 And ta-da, groups are made!

*Listen to the original soundtrack here (although we advise you to play another music for the remote version).

The Benny Hill Method (remote)

This is clearly a very physical method, that benefits from in-person mechanisms and interactions at every step… nevertheless we saw a potential to adapt it using the combination of Miro (a online whiteboard app) and a video conferencing platform (we used Butter but you could use Zoom or anything with breakouts). Here’s how we did it.

Note: This method goes after a collective brainstorm session to identify key ideas and central themes. Following the brainstorm participants draft out an idea that emerged from the collective brainstorm. Each participant fills in the same template (you can use your own or use a simple idea napkin template, we built our own)

Important: By this time, each participant needs to have a visual and easy way of identifying themselves on the board (we used emojis).

How to use it (remote)

  1. The idea dance begins. Instruct participants to move (click and drag, click and drag) their emojis around the ideas while the music plays. It helps to explain this moment like musical chairs, each idea is a chair. It is best to demonstrate this once in advance so everyone understands.
  2. When the music stops participants must place their emoji on an idea to claim it. No two people (emojis) can be on the same idea!
  3. Once each participant has claimed an idea, give instructions for the next step. Explain that they will be sent into breakout rooms to evaluate the two ideas they are both “on‘’ and allocate votes between the ideas. Take a moment to demonstrate the process and pause and see if anyone has questions. Then, when everyone is ready, send them to breakout rooms in pairs.
  4. In the breakout rooms, participants read the ideas to each other and vote on them. Same logic as before, participants have 5 votes to give. Each participant records the number of votes the idea gets on the template.
  5. Bring all participants back, and pause to make sure everyone documented the votes on the template! If needed, remind them to do it in the chat as well. Then start the dance again, and repeat for 3 rounds. (note: we highly recommend doing a test round in the very beginning).
  6. TAKE A BREAK! People will need a break now, and you can use the time to calculate the voting results. During the break, pull out and highlight the top voted ideas in a new board.
  7. When everyone is back, ask the creators to pitch their ideas to the rest of the group. After all the pitches, participants can start placing their emojis on the ideas they find most interesting.

👏🏻 When there are enough people on each idea, you have the teams!

Remote Benny Hill Takeaways

💪 Do 💪

  • Identify key ideas and central themes in advance with a shared brainstorm so that people are on the same page.
  • Have a standardized idea template for participants (use the one we have here or make your own!) so that ideas are comparable.
  • Share your screen to show how this works.
  • Remind participants that every detail needs to be clear in their idea because they will not be there to explain the idea, it must speak for itself.
  • Do a FULL test round that doesn’t count — in which you send people to breakouts and they actually use the method.
  • Have 2 example ideas to show how you would evaluate them together and vote.
  • Make it easy to understand by comparing it to a musical chairs dance.
  • Play fun music!

⛔️ Don’t ⛔️

  • Don’t move too fast — slower connection speeds will not see and thus lose the value of the demonstration.
  • Don’t let participants stress too much about “fair” votes, or needing a recount. Make sure everyone is clear on how to vote, and remember that people are pretty happy once they are in the groups, it can just be a little stressful getting there.
  • Don’t use this in high-stakes idea sorting scenarios or when there are multiple or elaborate criteria for sorting, such as 3 qualities to evaluate each idea upon.
  • Don’t let people have mics on during the dance, it will mess up the music/audio!

⚡️ Enough reading, time to start doing! Go ahead and try it out by using the template we have prepared in the Miroverse. ⚡️ We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on how it works for you!

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Abi Schreider

Abi Schreider

Service experience designer from Argentina — Currently based in Köln, Germany.