Synectics Trigger Questions

A thought process that is very helpful for creating and enhancing art. I’ve been using these trigger questions since the 90s.

Stuck on with your art or writing? Try any of these 107 questions and prompts. You’ll get your mind and process flowing with new ideas.

Printable PDF

I laid out all the questions into one page. Here’s a free downloadable PDF that you can print onto an 11×17 sheet (or onto an 8.5×11 if you want the text smaller).


107 trigger questions in 20 categories


  • Remove certain parts or elements
  • Compress or make it smaller
  • What can be reduced or disposed of?
  • What rules can you break?
  • How to simplify?
  • How to abstract, stylise or abbreviate?


  • Extend or expand
  • Develop your reference subject
  • Augment, advance or annex it
  • Magnify, make it bigger
  • What else can be added to your idea, image, object, material?


  • Move subject into a new situation
  • Adapt, transpose, relocate, dislocate
  • Adapt subject to a different frame of reference
  • Move subject out of its normal environment
  • Transpose to a different historical, social, geographical setting
  • Adapt a bird wing model to design a bridge
  • How subject can be converted, translated, transfigured?


  • Sympathize with subject
  • Put yourself in its shoes
  • What if subject has human qualities?
  • Relate to subject emotionally, subjectively


  • Mobilize the visual and psychological tensions
  • Control the pictorial movements and forces
  • Apply factors of repetition and progression
  • What human qualities subject has?


  • Overlap, place over, cover, overlay
  • Superimpose dissimilar images or ideas
  • Overlay elements to produce new images, ideas, meanings
  • Superimpose elements from different perspectives, disciplines, time
  • Combine sensory perceptions such as sound and color
  • Superimpose several views to show different moments in time

Change scale

  • Make subject bigger or smaller
  • Change time scale – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years
  • Change proportion, relative size, ratios, dimensions


  • Exchange, switch or replace
  • What other idea, image, or material can you substitute?
  • What alternate or supplementary plan can be employed?


  • Separate, divide, split, dissect
  • Take your subject or idea apart
  • Chop up, disassemble it
  • What devices can divide it into smaller increments?
  • How to make it appear discontinuous?


  • Separate, set apart, crop, detach
  • Take only part of your subject
  • “Crop” your ideas with a “mental” viewfinder
  • What element can you detach or focus on?


  • Twist subject out of its true shape, proportion or meaning
  • Make imagined or actual distortions
  • Misshape it, yet produce unique metaphoric/aesthetic quality
  • Make it longer, wider, fatter, narrower
  • Melt, crush, bury, crack, tear, torture, spill something on it


  • Camouflage, conceal, deceive, encrypt
  • Hide, mask, “implant” subject into another frame of reference
  • Conceal by mimicry, like chameleons and moths
  • Create a latent image that communicate subconsciously


  • Contradict the subject’s original function
  • Contradict visually and intellectually, yet remain structurally integrated
  • Contradict laws of nature such as gravity, time, human functions
  • Contradict normal procedures, social conventions, rituals
  • Contradict optical and perceptual harmony (eg. illusions)
  • Deny, reverse


  • Fictionalise, “bend” the truth, falsify, fantasize
  • Use subject as a theme to present ersatz information
  • Interprete information differently to mislead or confuse
  • Analogize
  • Draw associations
  • Seek similarities between things that are different
  • Compare with elements from different domains, disciplines
  • What can I compare my subject to?
  • Make logical or illogical associations


  • Ridicule, mimic, mock, burlesque or caricature
  • Make fun of your subject, roast it
  • Transform it into a joke, limerick or pun
  • Make zany, ludicrous or comic references
  • Make a humourous cartoon drawing of the problem


  • Cross-fertilise—wed subject with an improbable mate
  • What would you get if you crossed a ____ with a ____?
  • Cross-fertilise color, form and structure
  • Cross-fertilise organic and inorganic elements
  • Cross-fertilise ideas and perceptions


  • Transform, convert, transmutate
  • Depict your subject in a state of change
  • Change color, configuration
  • Make structural progressions
  • Make aging (cocoon-to-butterfly) transformation
  • Make “Jekyll and Hyde” transmutations


  • A visual symbol stands for something other than what it is
  • Design an icon for your idea
  • How can your subject be imbued with symbolic qualities?
  • Public symbols are cliche, well-known and understood
  • Private symbols are cryptic, have special meaning to its originator
  • Works of art are often integrations of both public and private symbols
  • Turn your subject into a symbol public or private)


  • Build a myth around your subject
  • Transform your subject into an iconic object


  • Fantasize your subject
  • Trigger surreal, preposterous, outlandish, bizarre thoughts
  • Topple mental and sensory expectations
  • How far out can you extend your imagination?
  • What if automobiles were made of bricks?
  • What if alligators played pool?
  • What if insects grew larger than humans?
  • What if night and day occurred simultaneously?


  • Repeat a shape, color, form, image, or idea
  • Reiterate, echo, restate or duplicate your reference subject in some way
  • Control the factors of occurrence, repercussion, sequence and progression


  • Bring things together
  • Connect, arrange, link, unify, mix,merge, rearrange
  • Combine ideas, materials and techniques
  • Bring together dissimilar things to produce synergistic integrations
  • What else can you connect to your subject?
  • Connect different sensory modes, frames of reference, disciplines