Sunday, 20 February 2011

Assignment 2: What Images mean.

We had to undertake several tasks for this assignment to understand and test the concept of polysemy.

 Firstly we were asked to read an essay by Roland Barthes called ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’, take notes and then get together into groups of three or four to discuss it and suggest why it may have implications for our design disciplines. ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’ was a difficult essay to get my head around I think this may have been due to the fact it had been translated from French to English. Barthes suggests in his essay that an image has more than one meaning, the meaning may change depending on who is looking at it. He also uses the example of an advert to show that advertising images hold three particular messages; a linguistic message, a coded iconic message and a non- coded iconic message. He suggests that a linguistic message, an image with text on it, will direct a persons thoughts towards a meaning chosen in advance it also will limit the projective power of the image. A coded iconic message is symbolic. From the image he used, shown below, the message will represent something such as; Italian food is about to be freshly prepared. A non-coded iconic message has no symbolic meaning, the message from the image will simply be a bag of pasta and vegetables.




Polosemy creates a problem for designers as it means a persons interpretation of your work may not be the message you want them to receive or think of. Polosemy means that your work can be open to several different interpretations. This is a disadvantage if you want your design to speak for its self. The accompaniment of a presentation, text, additional drawings, image or even the context in which it is shown will be necessary to ensure everyone understands and sees the bigger picture you intended them to. I feel this is particularly necessary for interior design as not a lot of people realise that there is a lot of thought and meaning behind the design created. Shows like ‘Changing Rooms’ told the world all we do is thoughtlessly pick paint colours and a few pretty scatter cushions. Extra information should be provided along side our work so that people can see the depth of our designs or at least the story behind them.


After our discussions we moved on to the next part of our assignment. This involved selecting three images at random through the ‘randomizer’ on the ‘Stock.xchng’ website. www.sxc.hu Below are the images we selected.







We took our images out and about to start the first part of our experiment. Asking people (who weren’t design students) what their thoughts were on each individual image, then to think up a story linking the three images in any order they liked. As we asked each person their story we took a note of their name, age, nationality and occupation. We asked about ten people some had similarities in their answers but as the concept of polosemy tells us there were many interpretations of these three images. Here are a few examples:

Julia, 24, British, H.R. Advisor.
“A grandmother flies in to see grand-daughter perform in the spotlight.”

Lynda, 50, British, French teacher.
“Light in a parents head as she realises the urgent need to be present her daughter’s ballet. She takes a plane to make the journey on time to see daughter perform.”

Ryan, 21, British, Student.
“A wealthy business man and his wife take a private jet to a remote island where the lights light up the runway. They then have a relaxing evening at the ballet.”

Murray, 54, British, Self- Employed.
“I’m flying in to watch a performance. The lights light the way to the show. The last picture is me watching the performance.”


Julia’s story above was chosen to be our target story. We wanted everyone we asked to say this story and put the images in the same order. A fourth image was added to see if this would make people think of the same story, this was our fourth image.






We asked more people their opinions on these images and found the images were still polesemic with the fourth added.

Craig, 18, British, Student.
“The couple flew off to have a romantic weekend to see the sights and the lights are on the stage at the ballet they are watching.”

Meghan, 19, British, Student.
“The couple fly in to see grand-children perform then go for a stroll along a lit up bridge.”

Sharon, 19, Greek, Student.
“The dancer loved ballet from a young age, she then met a boy and they flew to the bright lights of New York to grow old together.”

We continued the experiment by adding a word to one of the original images but this did not help people reach the conclusion we wanted them to. Even by adding one word to all three of the original images gave a variety of stories.









Colin, 19, British, Student.
“Grand-daughter took a journey to perform on stage in front of lights for her Gran.”

Nicole, 20, British, Student.
“A couple in the spotlight take a journey but die in a plane crash. Their grand-daughter is left dancing without them watching.”


We decided to use all four images with one word on each. This gave us the results we wanted, everyone we started asking was coming up with the same story!



Alex, 20, Romanian, Student.
“Grand-parents take a journey to see grand-daughter perform in the spotlight.”

Anne, 50s, British, Librarian.
“Grand-parents take a journey to see grand-daughter at ballet in the spotlight.”

Well almost everyone. No matter how much you try to direct peoples thinking to come to a certain conclusion there will always be an exception. There is probably no way to completely resolve the concept of polysemy as some people will always think what they want.

Irene, 25, Polish, Student.
“Grand-parents on a journey to Paris to see the Russian ballet.”
(The word grand-daughter on our image was ignored)


After completing the experiment the rest of the group and I felt that our understanding of polosemy had improved. Our findings created what looked to us like a pattern. Most of the males we asked interpreted the images in a similar way saying that a couple were going on a romantic weekend away. Yet most of the females saw the images as telling a story about flying to see a daughter or a grand-child. It seems that a person’s interpretation will change depending on their sex. This agrees with Barthes as he says that different people don’t interpret an image in the same way, someone with knowledge of a subject will interpret an image differently from someone lacking knowledge. “The variation of reading is not, however, anarchic; it depends on the different kinds of knowledge…” Maybe a person’s sex makes them react in certain ways they may be different people but the connection through being male or female can make someone tell a similar story. Females in general are more maternal than males so this may be why they interpreted the images to tell the story of watching a child perform.

I found Bathes easier to understand when I went back to read the essay. We can see that one image without a linguistic message is open to many different interpretations. Even by adding text, if it’s not the correct word or not enough words, a universal message will not be formed.

1 comment:

  1. Very good - I think you might be the only person who suggested the gender of the person made a difference... mmm...

    ReplyDelete