Disruptive Images


It is becoming more recognized that if a company wants to have long-term success, innovation is the key. But some will argue that the engineering design process still lacks important aspects of the creative process, especially when it comes to inclusion, mention, and considerations. Therefore, it is argued through social studies that the creativity element is an essential part of the designing process, hence it is often created which has the biggest impact on the outcome of a product. Without creativity, there is no potential for innovation that can be transformed into commercial value for a company and long-term failure is a certainty (Howard et al., 2017). 


What is this technique about

As the name suggests, the disruptive images method is a series of images that deviates from the perception of normality. With its partially paradoxical mindset, disruptive images can 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 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 innovative. 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

Disruptive Images - instruction

Disruptive images method – SOSU Workshop, 2021

Disruptive Images - 1
Disruptive Images - 2
Disruptive Images - 3
Disruptive Images - 4
Disruptive Images - 5

Tools needed



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


Creative thinking – how to get out of the box and generate ideas: Giovanni Corazza at TEDxRoma. (2014, March 11). [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.