Design Thinking Toolkit, Activity 9 – Rose, Bud, Thorn

Welcome to our series on Design Thinking methods and activities. You’ll find a full list of posts in this series at the end of the page.

Rose, Bud, Thorn may be the most commonly used Design Thinking activity at Atomic due to its versatility and ease of use.

Rose, Bud, Thorn

Primary Goal To understand what’s working, what’s not, and areas of opportunity
When To Use At any point in a project (thus the beauty of this exercise)
Time Required 30 minutes – 1 hour
Number of Participants 1 facilitator and 2-5+ participants
Who Should Participate? The core team or any group of team members engaging in the project (think designers, developers, marketers, business strategists, or preferably a mix of everyone)
Supplies Large chunk of wall space, pink/blue/green Post-it notes, and Sharpie markers

First let’s begin with some definitions:
a. Rose = something that is working well or something positive
b. Bud = an area of opportunity or idea yet to be explored
c. Thorn = something that isn’t working or something negative

1. How It Works

There are a couple of ways to use this method. One approach is to use sticky notes as labels to tag categories or single items in a data set. Using pink notes for rose concepts, green notes for buds, and blue notes for thorns works well.

At Atomic, we’ve used this method when creating an experience diagram to annotate breakpoints, opportunities for improvements, and things we liked that we didn’t want to accidentally break during the process of redesigning and improving something else. It’s an extremely rich and useful representation of the day-in-a-life type artifact.

Here’s an example of how Lyft might use this activity for their app.

Here are a few other ways you can structure this activity:


  • What was the highlight of your day?
  • How have you been successful?
  • What did you like?
  • Describe efforts that blossomed.
  • What are you most proud of?


  • What went wrong during your day?
  • What was most stressful?
  • Identify causes of difficulty
  • What impeded your efforts?
  • What makes you fearful?
  • Did you experience pain points in the process?


  • What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  • Describe opportunities that energize you
  • What possibilities need growth and nurturing?

2. Reflection

If all goes well, themes will start emerging, and you can start to cluster them by affinity (Affinity Mapping). The team will immediately see which areas are more problematic, promising, and  than others. You can synthesize this information in a Google Drawing document or Mural so that teammates can continue to add thoughts and evolve the activity.

Atomic’s Design Thinking Toolkit