Disruptive Images

Engineering Area
Ideation & Conceptual design
Group or Individual
Amount of People
Up to 15, 15-25, 25+
Type of Class
Duration of Activity
Between one and two hours
Type of Activity
Collaborative team setting, On-line Classroom activity, Self-work by students


What is this technique about

The disruptive images method uses a series of unusual images to make students think out of the box and create a new sense or understanding of a topic or problem. Creative thoughts from disruptive images can have a different outcome compared to other similar methods such as the photo story method because the illustrations will be more absurd and surreal. A good example of disruptive images is the purple cow from Milka’s chocolate packaging or cartoon versions of real persons, animals, etc. Another example is Tom Sachs’s “Prada value meal”, a McDonald happy meal that “is mimicked with a print of Prada logos to articulate the cheapness of the original.” (Eggink, 2011: 98). The combination causes the sort of alienation that is known as the basis for many creative problem-solving techniques.

Where does it come from 

The ‘disruptive images’ technique is a design technique used for visualizing the uncommon design visions “By combining different images, mostly of recognizable objects that are displayed ‘out of context’, the
The resulting visual should contain elements of surprise. Hereby stimulating the viewer to question conventions and propose a new perspective on the subject at hand.” (Eggink, 2011: 98)

For which purposes it is used (why in your engineering teaching)

As mentioned above, disruptive images allow the students to think out of the box in a different way than other methods. Because it breaks with the normal perceptions, it invites us to think more creatively and innovatively. It can thus be used for solution creation and ideation.

How to use it

The disruptive images are an ideal method to use in an innovation workshop when the teacher wants the students to solve a given problem in a very creative manner. Use the method as an opening session to make the student think out of the box by showing three illustrations that are disruptive and surreal. Keep track of time, hence the students will only look at the images in a limited amount of time, one by one. During that period, the students must write down all the words that come to mind when looking at the disruptive images. Make sure that the students save the words for later.

How to implement this technique online

Preparation, what do before the session

    1. Define the problem that you want the students to solve.
    2. Find images that relate to the topic or problem and represent the problem from an unusual perspective (recommended: three pictures for three rounds).
    3. Create a PowerPoint sheet with 4 slides. The first slide presents the main question to the students. The next three slides should include one disruptive image each. 
    4. If students are supposed to write down the words from the pictures in a shared document, create a Word/PowerPoint-document with a table or an Excel table. In the first column, indicate the number of the picture (e.g., picture 1). Put the names of the students in the other columns – here, they will write the associated words.
    5. Alternative: If you want the students to use paper and pencil, let them know in advance to bring them for the session.

During application, i.e., while giving the session

    1. Open the PowerPoint and share your screen. Make sure that the participants can see the slides. 
    2. Introduce the purpose and the steps of the exercise.
      • Let the students know that they are expected to write down ALL associated words they can think of when looking at the disruptive images. It cannot be crazy enough.
      • Tell them that the pictures are shown one by one for a certain amount of time, e.g., one minute.
      • Guide the students to the shared document and make sure that they find their column, or make sure that they all have paper and pen at hand.
    3. Tell the students that their first image comes now for one minute. Go to the first slide with the first image. Start the timer.
    4. Stop the timer after one minute. 
    5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the other images.
    6. Let the students know that the exercise is done. Look with them through the list of words.

Follow-up, about what to do after the session

    1. If the students were longhand writing, make sure that they will save their associated words for later use.

Examples and/or testimonials

Below is an example of how the method was prepared and facilitated in February 2021 by a student group during the course “Megatrends and Technological Innovation” held at the University of Southern Denmark by Prof. Dr. Patricia Wolf.

Facilitator’s instruction guide

Opening I: Disruptive Images 9:12


Start Presentation (in presentation mode!!):

Nicholas is screen sharing, (Amar is the main responsible) and explains the task to the participants – they need to have a pen and piece of paper ready now.


We are now going to show you 3 different images. Your task is to write down as many words as you can think of that come to your mind when you see the image, write them on the piece of paper in front of you. You will have 1min per picture, we will tell you when to start and when the time is over.



Show the images (one by one, after one minute each), tell participants to start and set a timer



Show participants the list on where to put in their 3 words and tell them how it works, then tell them which words they should copy from which person and tell them to write them down on their piece of paper.



Now please open the excel document “Opening I_ Word List” (show in screen sharing!!) and put in the asked word for each picture under your name. When you are done doing this, please write on your piece of paper the words from the person right from you.



list with 3 words from each participant, each participant writes down 3 words to further work with on his paper

Tools needed

You will need a platform to share screens and communicate with the participants, such as: MS Teams, Zoom or similar. As well as access to a shared document.

    • Miro
    • Mural
    • Concept board
    • Evernote
    • MindMeister
    • Padlet
    • Mindmup
    • Timer (e.g., on a watch, phone, or computer)
    • 1 sheet of paper and 1 pen at the desk of each participant



Method description on becreate.ch: https://www.becreate.ch/en/methods?tx_mxnbecreate_pi1%5Baction%5D=show&tx_mxnbecreate_pi1%5Bactivity%5D=194&tx_mxnbecreate_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=Activity&cHash=e49eb1d84e10481df2388cbc6db809a5&L=1

Miro: https://miro.com/

Mural: https://www.mural.co/

Conceptboard: https://conceptboard.com/

Evernote: https://evernote.com/

Mindmeister: https://www.mindmeister.com/

Padlet: https://padlet.com/

Mindmup: https://www.mindmup.com/


TEDxTalks (2014, March 11). Creative thinking – how to get out of the box and generate ideas: Giovanni Corazza at TEDxRoma. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEusrD8g-dM


Eggink, W. (2011). Stimulating Creative Solutions by Visualizing the Design Vision. In DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09. 2011 (pp. 97-102).

Howard, T., Culley, S., & Dekoninck, E. (2007). CREATIVITY IN THE ENGINEERING DESIGN PROCESS. Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMRC), University of Bath.