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2016/2017  BA-BIMKV1008U  Visual Communication

English Title
Visual Communication

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Bachelor
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn, Spring
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Study board
Study Board for BA in Intercultural Marketing Communication
Course coordinator
  • Daniel Barratt - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
Main academic disciplines
  • Communication
  • Marketing
  • Business psychology
Last updated on 22-02-2016
Learning objectives
To achieve the grade 12, students should meet the following learning objectives with no or only minor mistakes or errors:
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the basic properties and functions of the human visual system, including how vision potentially connects to the psychological systems involved in action and emotion.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the basic properties of visual communication, and how visual communication differs from linguistic communication.
  • Describe the basic characteristics and building blocks of different types of visual media.
  • Provide illustrative examples of the role that visual communication plays in everyday interactions, and the advertising and marketing of commercial products, political ideas, and social causes.
  • Analyse relevant theories, models, and empirical findings in a coherent and critical way, while observing academic conventions regarding the presentation of arguments and the use of references.
Course prerequisites
No course prerequisites.
Visual Communication:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 15 pages
Assignment type Written assignment
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-step scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Winter and Summer
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Course content and structure

Vision is one of the primary human senses and the ‘distance sense’ par excellence, while visual communication is one of the main forms of human communication along with language. Instances of visual media are to be found everywhere we look. Examples of visual media include still images (e.g., drawings, paintings, and photographs), moving images (e.g., film and television), and a variety of ‘digital’ or ‘new media’ images (e.g., computer-generated imagery, internet web pages, video games, and virtual reality). In a business and society context, meanwhile, advertising and marketing can be thought of, first and foremost, as exercises in competing for the visual attention of the user/consumer.

Despite the prevalence of the visual in everyday life, visual communication often does not receive the attention that it deserves. One of the reasons for this is that purely visual images lack the symbolic and syntactic devices typically associated with language. As a result, images are less suited to making explicit propositional statements, less assessable in terms of truth and falsity, less easy to legislate for in legal and ethical terms, and less conducive to understanding in general. Research suggests, however, that the human visual system is intimately connected – in both functional and neurobiological terms – to the psychological systems responsible for action, emotion, and various other response tendencies.
The primary objective of this elective course is to understand the role of visual communication in everyday interactions, with a particular focus on the perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes of the user/consumer. An additional objective is to understand the role of visual communication in the advertising and marketing of commercial products, political ideas, and social causes.
The first part of the course will give an overview of the basic properties and functions of the human visual system, with reference to research in both cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It will also give an account of how the human visual system is potentially connected to the psychological systems involved in action and emotion. The second part of the course will examine the basic properties of visual communication, with reference to work on communication theory, visual semiotics, and visual literacy. In particular, the question of how visual communication differs from linguistic communication will be addressed. The goal of the third part of the course is to give an overview of the basic characteristics and building blocks of different types of visual media, including examples of the still images, moving images, and digital images cited above. For example, the basic principles for constructing film sequences (cinematography and editing) will be discussed and recent digital developments will be considered.

Teaching methods
Weekly lecture followed by seminar consisting of group discussions and exercises.
Student workload
Lectures 36 hours
Preparation for lecture and seminar (12 weeks x 7 hours) 84 hours
Examination (including preparation) 86 hours
Further Information

This elective course references and partially overlaps with the proposed elective course ‘Cognition and Communication: An Introduction’ (BA-BIMKV1002U).

Expected literature

The following list of readings is preliminary and based on monographs and edited anthologies. The final list of readings will include specific book chapters and journal articles.


Understanding visual perception

Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2010). Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s Handbook (6th Ed.). Selected chapters. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.


Visual literacy and visual persuasion

Messaris, P. (1994). Visual Literacy: Image, Mind, and Reality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Messaris, P. (1997). Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Communication theory, visual semiotics, and visual metaphor

Fiske, J. (1990). Introduction to Communication Studies (2nd Ed.). London: Routledge.


Forceville, C. (1996). Pictorial Metaphor in Advertising. London: Routledge.


Sonesson, G. (1989). Pictorial Concepts: Inquiries into the Semiotic Heritage and its Relevance for the Analysis of the Visual World. Lund: Lund University Press.

Film and television

Anderson, J. D. (1996). The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to Cognitive Film Theory. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Bordwell, D. (1985). Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.


Nannicelli, T., & Taberham, P. (Eds.) (2014). AFI Film Reader in Cognitive Media Theory. New York: Routledge.


Plantinga, C., & Smith, G. M. (Eds.) (1999). Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.


Smith, M. (1995). Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

‘Digital’ and ‘new media’

Siapera, E. (2012). Understanding New Media. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.



Communication research

Bryant, J., & Zillmann, D. (Eds.) (1991). Responding to the Screen: Reception and Reaction Processes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Last updated on 22-02-2016