100 User Experience (UX) Design and Evaluation Methods for Your Toolkit
This is the fourth in a series of 100 short articles about UX design and evaluation methods. Today’s method is called reverse brainstorming (or “negative” brainstorming). In traditional brainstorming, you look for possible solutions to problems; in reverse brainstorming, you ask a question that generates problems or criticisms rather than solutions.
Method 4 of 100: Reverse Brainstorming
Reverse brainstorming is a way to bring a new perspective to idea generation that can be especially helpful when a team is cynical about a project or lacking energy. If you have members of your team who are hostile or worn out, this approach can take advantage of the hostility or fatigue. The process is simple. Let’s say that your senior managers want to increase customer loyalty for the new e-commerce site that has just been launched. In traditional brainstorming, you would ask the question “What could we do to improve customer loyalty for our new site?” In reverse brainstorming, you can ask the negative question “What could we do that would reduce customer loyalty for our site?” or perhaps more strongly “What could we do to drive customers away from our site?” This negative question might yield answers like:
- Require users to read every line of the software license.
- Make it hard to log in.
- Ask for lots of personal information.
- Use deceptive defaults to make more money for us (for example, default to a 2-year subscription and put the default where it is likely to go unnoticed).
- Hide the fact that products might be out of stock.
- Use deceptive out-in/opt-out labels.
- Hide things behind general links; e.g., putting opt-out features behind a “More info…” link.
- Use double negative labels to trick users.
- Not be clear what links go to ads and what links go to actual content.
- Add things to the shopping cart in a sneaky way.
For some examples of things that might hurt customer loyalty see the Dark Patterns wiki site. Dark patterns are deceptive, malevolent user interface tricks that are likely to make people angry and reduce loyalty.
When to Use:
This method can be used simply to provide a different perspective on a particular problem. It is also useful when you have a team with low morale, serious cynicism, or open hostility. Reverse brainstorming can sometimes brings smiles to a group that has struggled with new ideas to old and difficult problems. You can use this method as a complement to other ideation methods.
- Develop a question for brainstorming and then convert it to a negative question.
- Let the brainstorming team know about the specific question and ask them to do a little homework and generate a few items before the group session.
- Write the questions on the board or display it on the online brainstorming tool.
- Describe the guidelines for the brainstorming session.
- No criticism of negative ideas.
- New and wild negative ideas are welcome.
- No war stories; just describe the negative item so that everyone understands what you mean (war stories waste time and prevent others from expressing their ideas – this is called “production blocking” in the brainstorming literature)
- Only one person can speak at a time.
- Conduct a short warm-up exercise using a negative question that is not related to your main question.
- Ask if there are any questions.
- Begin the reverse brainstorming.
- After you generate the negative ideas, schedule a “conversion” meeting where you convert the negative ideas into positive ideas as shown below. Each negative idea might yield more than one positive idea.
Reverse Brainstorming Ideas
Require users to read every line of the software license.
Simplify the license and use plain English
Make it hard to log in.
Eliminate log-ins; if the person is an intermittent user, provide an easy way to get at passwords and even user names; make the username email.
Ask for lots of personal information.
Minimize the amount of personal information required at all stages of purchasing; Explain why certain information is needed (“Why we need a phone number?”)
Use deceptive defaults to make more money for us (for example, default to a 2-year subscription and put the default where it is likely to go unnoticed).
Use good defaults that do not appear to take advantage of users; be clear about what the defaults are; develop a list of best practices for choosing defaults
Hide the fact that products might be out of stock.
Provide a warning about out-of-stock; provide an in-stock warning; provide a link to the closest alternative
9. Prioritize the ideas and decide which ones you want to consider (this can be done in a separate session, perhaps with different people).
10. Archive the negative and positive ideas and tag them for future use.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
+ Reverse brainstorming is sometimes easier than traditional positive brainstorming.
+ Criticism is sometimes easier than positive idea generation.
+ Does not require a lot of training.
+ Can be fun and help motivate teams that tired, cynical, or hostile
+ Can be used with in remote or face-to-face brainstorming
- Requires good facilitation to keep the ideas flowing.
- Requires time to convert the negative ideas into positive ideas.
How to Fail Horribly in 2009
Reverse Brainstorming: A Different Approach to Brainstorming
Van Gundy, A.B. (1984). Managing group creativity. NY: American Management Association.
What’s Next in the Series?
The next UX method posting will describe “Metaphor Brainstorming”, a method that uses metaphors to suggest new features and requirements and different approaches for conceptual design.