The Inspiration Lie
Tobias van Schneider

Work Backwards Badly to fix Lack of Inspiration

This is a combination of two techniques that work especially well for teams:

  1. Start at the end and work out the immediately previous step required to achieve that end.
  2. Imagine what a really bad version of your product or user experience is like.

In a team environment, possibly with alcohol assistance, you can have fun brainstorming how many ways a given feature or page can go wrong, confuse the user or just be plain unpleasant to use. Instead of Brainstorming, I call it Badstorming.

It’s well-established that we’re often better at self-doubt and thinking bad things about ourselves than good ones. Creative people in particular suffer from this and, whilst I’m nervous about opening gender-bias floods from generalising, I’d say many women tend to be more self-critical than men.

This technique is about turning all that skill at self-criticism into a strength — let rip on all the ways your product sucks and how miserable the user experience could be. Make sure this is all recorded (maybe select some especially violent colors for the whiteboard or butcher’s paper).

Don’t let the engineers in the room try to fix things yet.

Now we run the Five Whys technique on one of our bad situations.

What’s an immediate previous step that could have got us into that trouble? This may not be a list — it might work out better as a diagram, maybe a kind of mind map (or if you’re feeling particularly down about the lack of thinking, call it a Mindless Map).

Here’s a little walk-back example to get you started, which also shows how quickly this stuff can fan out and should really be a diagram!

  • Assertion: The user’s lost after they sign in as to what to do next.
  • Well, maybe that’s because we suddenly dumped them into a blank screen with a bunch of choices on the tab bar? (points for discussion: do we know what might be their highest priority on first launching the app? Is it their first time?)
  • Hang on, what about the users who gave up earlier? What do you mean earlier? Well, the people who didn’t want to sign up in a new app. Why wouldn’t they want to sign up? (points for discussion: Would they feel they are wasting time with signup, do they trust us yet, do they trust us at all? Do they have network access to use Facebook to sign up? Do we really need them to sign up that early?…)

Whenever I’m stuck for inspiration on how I can make the user experience go badly, I look at the criticisms on Samuel Hulick’s fabulous and for the specific example of what to show in a new app, check out

Enjoy (or don’t, but at least make use of your gloom)!

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