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2022/2023  KAN-CICOO1012U  Visual Communication

English Title
Visual Communication

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Mandatory
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Spring
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Study board
Study Board for Master of Arts (MA) in International Business Communication in English
Course coordinator
  • Chris Zimmerman - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
  • Daniel Barratt - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
Main academic disciplines
  • Communication
  • Marketing
  • Business psychology
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 23-06-2022

Relevant links

Learning objectives
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the basic properties of visual communication, and how visual communication differs from linguistic communication.
  • 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, emotion, and decision making.
  • Have a good understanding of the basic characteristics and building blocks of different types of visual media.
  • Have a good understanding of some of the primary methods for communicating information visually, including the visualization of quantitative data.
  • 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.
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 2 weeks to prepare
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Summer
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

Vision is one of the main human senses and visual communication one of the main forms of human communication along with language. Examples of visual media are to be found everywhere we look: they include still images (e.g., drawings, paintings, and photographs), moving images (e.g., film and television), and an ever increasing number of digital images and associated platforms (e.g., computer-generated imagery, internet web pages, video games, and virtual reality). In a business and society context, meanwhile, the visualization of information is becoming an increasingly important means for understanding the “big data” generated by companies, brands, and users/consumers.


The primary objective of this elective course is to understand the role of visual communication in both everyday interactions and business/society contexts. The first, and introductory, part of the course will examine the basic properties of visual communication, with reference to work on communication theory, semiotics, and visual literacy. In particular, the question of how visual communication differs from linguistic communication will be addressed. The second 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, emotion, and decision making.


The goal of the third part of the course is to give students 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.


The fourth, and most applied, part of the course will focus on the visual display of various types of information, including quantitative data. Each class will introduce students to one of the primary methods for communicating information visually: for example, connections with networks, hierarchies with trees, spatial relationships with maps, temporal relationships with lines, and comparisons with bars. Students will learn basic design principles, methods, and tools for building data visualizations. A particular emphasis will be placed on practical applications and case-based examples. No technical or programming skills will be required beyond a basic familiarity with Excel. The overall aim is to expand students’ visual vocabulary, improve their visual literacy, and enable them to use data to make more effective decisions.

Description of the teaching methods
Lecture followed by group discussions and exercises.
Feedback during the teaching period
In preparation for the final exam, students will be given the opportunity (either individually or as part of a group) to submit a short analysis of a chosen example of visual communication and/or a visualization of a chosen dataset. Feedback will be given verbally during extra supervision meetings. Students are also encouraged to attend weekly office hours for general supervision and guidance regarding the course content.
Student workload
Classes (12 weeks x 3 hours) = 36 hours
Preparation for classes (12 weeks x 7 hours) = 84 hours
Exam (including preparation) = 86 hours
Expected literature

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



Communication theory, semiotics, and visual literacy


Fiske, J. (2011). Introduction to communication studies (3rd ed.). London, UK: Routledge.


Messaris, P. (1994). Visual “literacy”: Image, mind, and reality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.


Smith, K., Moriarty, S., Barbatsis, G., & Kenney, K. (Eds.) (2005). Handbook of visual communication: Theory, methods, and media. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.



Understanding visual perception


Fodor, J. A. (1983). The modularity of mind: An essay on faculty psychology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2010). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook (6th ed.). Selected chapters. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.


Land, M. F., & Tatler, B. W. (2009). Looking and acting: Vision and eye movements in natural behaviour. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.



Film, television, and visual media


Anderson, J. D. (1996). The reality of illusion: An ecological approach to cognitive film theory. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.


Plantinga, C., & Smith, G. M. (Eds.) (1999). Passionate views: Film, cognition, and emotion. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.


Nannicelli, T., & Taberham, P. (Eds.) (2014). AFI film reader in cognitive media theory. New York, NY: Routledge.



Data visualization


Tufte, E. R. (2001). The visual display of quantitative information (2nd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.


Few, S. (2006). Information dashboard design: The effective visual communication of data. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.


Cairo, A. (2016). The truthful art: Data, charts, and maps for communication. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Last updated on 23-06-2022