100 User Experience (UX) Design and Evaluation Methods for Your Toolkit
This is the 16th in a series of 100 short articles about UX design and evaluation methods. Today’s method is “backcasting”. This is a method for futures planning that can be done in a workshop format.
Method 16 of 100: Backcasting
Backcasting is a strategic planning method that asks a group of stakeholders to create ideal future scenarios and then work backwards as a group to figure out what is needed to get to the ideal states from the current state.
Frequently applied to sustainability, energy, and urban planning futures, backcasting has also been employed by UX design groups to model the user experience of a product 3, 5, 10, or even 20 years into the future.
When to Use:
You can use backcasting to:
- Develop visions of the future.
- Support strategic design projects that involve multiple products and users.
- Test assumptions for a complex, multi-year project that will certainly be the “next great thing”.
- Diverge from predictions that are conveniently extrapolated from what you already know (the forecasting approach) to freely envision a reality that is an extreme success.
- Find a location where you can stick things on a large wall or long table. You will need many small and large sticky notes in multiple colors.
- Recruit a group of stakeholders and thought leaders. Backcasting is an activity that is easier if all participants are in the same room (though you could envision a future where this is done remotely and use backcasting to work out how to have a successful remote backcasting session).
- Determine how far in the future you will start from; e.g., companies often develop 5-year plans that would be candidates for a backcasting workshop.
- Establish a set of questions about the time frame, current state, future ideal states, actions, indicators, risks and opportunities that the facilitator will use during the backcasting exercise. Matthew Milan has a good list of questions on these topics starting on page 52 of his public slide show on backcasting (http://www.slideshare.net/mmilan/backcasting-101-final-public).
- Brief your stakeholders on the purpose of the backcasting session and the ground rules.
- Conduct ideation workshops to identify the current state and future ideal states or scenarios.
- Describe the current state of the project, problem, or product. For example, you might explain the current user experience of a suite of products made by your company.
- Define one or more possible (and successful) future states. For example, you might envision futures with augmented reality, tablets, nano-technologies, ambient feedback, and brain-wave user interfaces.
- Consider each future state and work backwards to identify actions, assumptions, risks, benefits, and other indicators that could lead to these future states.
- Consult additional stakeholders who were not involved in the backcasting exercise and get their feedback.
- Publish the results using charts, maps, stories, list of actions required, risk/benefit trade-offs, and photographs of the actual items produced during the backcasting exercise.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
+ Simplified backcasting can be done on the cheap in one or two-day workshops using sticky notes, pens, paper, and string.
+ Backcasting is a way to reach a common understanding of successful futures and the steps required to achieve them.
+ Backcasting provides actionable information.
- Backcasting requires a strong facilitator and solid preparation.
-Valuable backcasting results can be easily lost, unless there is an ongoing campaign to keep the results in the eyes of the stakeholders.
Backcasting. Retrieved on July 25, 2011 from http://wearearising.org/2009/01/13/backcasting/
Milan, M. Backcasting 101: Retrieved on July 20, 2011 from: http://www.slideshare.net/mmilan/backcasting-101-final-public
Quist, J., & Vergragt, P. (2006). Past and future of backcasting: The shift to stakeholder participation and a proposal for a methodological framework. Futures
Volume 38, Issue 9 , November 2006, 1027-1045
Wikipedia. Backcasting. Retrieved on July 20, 2011 from:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backcasting
What’s Next in the Series?
The next UX method posting will be a summer surprise J.