This paper presents a backwards design method for mechanical conceptual design. The method involves starting with a very idealistic semiworking solution and then systematically solving the unworkable parts of the solution until a complete solution is found. The method can work in conjunction with other methods such as Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) or brainstorming. The method tries to exploit the principle that it is easier to critique and modify a design than it is to create a fully working solution in one go. The visual nature of the method means that it is suited to design problems where geometry is important such as mechanism design and machine design. Three case studies of conceptual design are presented. The case studies involve a novel clutch, a novel rotary damping mechanism and a novel worm gearbox. Each of these designs won at least one national design competition in the UK. A simple design experiment has been carried out which indicated that the backwards design method was at least as effective as the morphological chart method for a simple machine design exercise.