Assignment 2: What Images Mean

21st Century Design, Assignments

For Assignment 2: “What Images Mean” for our 21st Century Design module, we had been given the task to do an experiment that associated with three random images. Also, we had to go into our own teams so I teamed up with Amy Malcomson, Errin Miller and Morgan Daily. The images that we chose had to be random and they could not display any text. This is the three images we found:

All of these photographs were from the website “Stock.xchnge” and they were selected through the randomiser tool.

The images shown consist of a beach chair on a quiet beach, a woman on a bike in New York City and an old vintage clock. Each of these images are unrelated to each other so this helps our team to understand the meaning of semiotics ( symbols,signs, images that can mean more than one thing). Also, this assignment also gave us the opportunity to experiment to test the concept of Polysemy.

For this assignment, as a team, we had to ask the public about each photograph and what information they could get from it. We then had to ask them to suggest a story that links all three images. For this particular assignment, we could not ask art and design students but instead ask a range of other students, general public, staff etc. Here is some of our answers!

Person 1: Male, 20, Student at Abertay University studying Sports and Exercise.                                                                                                                              

  • Photo of the chair on beach: Seems like a chair that an elderly couple would sit on, quite relaxing.
  • Photo of girl on bike: In New York, warm, very busy day
  • Photo of clock: Beat up old clock that doesn’t work anymore.

Person 2: Male, 21, Student at Abertay University

  • Photo of chair on the beach: Looks quite lonely as the beach is empty/quiet, very hot.
  • Photo of girl on bike: Very hectic and busy, quite frustrating.
  • Photo of clock: Vintage, it’s broken and worn and the clock face is broken. Symbolises death.

Story connecting the three photos: The beach represents childhood, a place to have fun and relax. Then the next photo represented late teens – early 40s, a place where they have to work, it’s frustrating and everything is very rushed. The last photo represented the elderly, retirement and the broken glass suggested that it could symbolise the wrinkles or lines.

Person 3: Female, 20, Neuroscience student.

  • Photo of girl on bike: yellow taxi – well-known in New York. single girl on bike, contrast of busy car build up behind – picture for the environment? Also the calmness of the girl on the bike – very relaxed looking (no blurring of pedals – easy rider) again contrasting the business of the car build up behind. The obvious red lights everywhere – possible symbolism again, contrasting the easy riding being performed by the girl on the bike.
  • Photo of Clock: the face of the clock appears to have fallen to appear upside down contrasting the frame of the clock, possible symbolism to “change in time” ? The clock appears to be vintage (roman numerals rarely seen on modern clocks), along with the rusting copper – possibly a symbol, again, of changing time? The clock has a “brand” (Thomas) again a symbolism of its past. past – present – future?
  • Photo of sun lounger – lounger background – the beach. very natural scene. this contrasts the plastic bright yellow, man-made sun lounger.

Story connecting three photos – The future for our planet is bleak. Pollution from landfills, rubbish-burning and automobiles will soon fill our atmosphere, where clean, fresh air once was. Rising tides, as a result of that pollution, will soon see the end of relaxing sea-side holidays. It is time for change

Person 4: Female, 18, 1st year Geography student. 

  • Photo of girl on bike: new york, saving the environment by using a bike, hot day
  • Photo of clock: old, antique, broken & squint.
  • Photo of beach chair: bright, made for two people, relaxing on beach, hot day.

Story connecting three photos: A woman who likes to relax on the beach to pass time but likes to stay fit so she doesn’t age prematurely.

Person 5: Female, 48, accountant 

  • Photo of girl on bike: Looks like America, New York, Girl out shopping on her bike with basket, sunny hot day – shadows cast.
  • Photo of Clock: Looks like it has been salvaged from an old burnt down house or found at the bottom of the sea.
  • Photo of Beach chair: Thinks it could be some sort of beauty stall when you go to the beach to sit and get your toe nails painted.

Story connecting three photos: Girl is on a cruise ship holiday, stopped off at New York so she hired a bike to explore, then went to the beach to get her toes painted all in time for being back on the boat at 12

Person 6:Female, 18, Dance Student

  • Photo of girl on bike: America, Yellow cabs, L.A. Hot sunny, people have their legs out, busy, people crossing the roads.
  • Photo of Clock: Clock, old-fashioned, squint and broken.
  • Photo of Beach Chair: Beach, sun chair with shade and bits for legs, different looking, maybe for 2 people to share.

Story connecting three photos: Hot day in L.A, riding a bike to the beach and on the way finds the clock washed up on the sand

Person 7:Female, Bio medical Science student, 19

  • Photo of Beach Chair – relaxation at the beach, Blackpool vibe, looks like an advertisement for a holiday
  • Photo of Clock – old, time, broken, vintage
  • Photo of City – metropolis lifestyle, girl is main focus, busy, hectic

Story connect three photos: take time to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures in life

Person 8:Female, Psychology, 19

  • Photo of beach chair – relaxed, feet up, Thomas cook, holiday
  • Photo of Clock– age rusty,fading of beauty
  • Photo of City – annoying cyclists, slow, frustration

Story connecting three photos: Shes running out of time to cycle to her holiday destination.

photographed by Errin Miller

I found this assignment quite interesting as I thought it was really great to find out what different people thought and what information they got from just briefly scanning the photos. Also, I thought it was really interesting to hear what story they got from these photos even though they had only seen the photos for about 5 minutes! This part of the assignment helped me understand the concept of Polysemy ( Idea that images can mean more than one thing) This is true I think  because an image can mean something very different to what someone else thinks of the same image.

For the next part of the assignment, we had to choose a story from one of the participants we asked earlier on, this then became our target story. We decided to choose the story from person 3 as we thought that it provided the most potential and information.  As a team, we had to choose another photo that would connect/relate to our target story and then ask a new set of people about the four photos and what story they get from them. The purpose of this image was to relate to our story and so we could get similar answers/stories. The images didn’t have to be in any precise order as we had to let the participant put them in their own order so they could tell the story that they get from the photographs.

Our target story was from a  Neuroscience student at The University of Dundee.  Her story was very detailed and her views were quite interesting too! She discussed pollution and how we as a planet, are running out of time to change things. This is a true story I think and it is one that has been in the media a lot so we thought that by carefully adding a selected image , it would help spark the stories about the environment, global warming and pollution into the minds of our next participants. Ideas that would relate to our target story.

This was our final photograph linking to our target story.

As a team, we all discussed that this photograph was best because we felt it highlighted global warming and pollution very well. It suggested different ideas to each of us such as: Polar bears (extinction), Melting Ice Caps, Temperature rising etc. Also, it conveys how little time we have to fix these problems and that we are running out of time. Moreover, we thought this fitted in extremely well with our target story and we thought that it would help give a much more clear idea of the story linking all four photographs.

For this part of the assignment, we had to ask a set of different people but only ask what story they got from looking at all four photographs. Here is our results!

Person 1. Male, Library staff, 26.

  • A time travelling polar bear that would have to go to the beach to prevent ruining the city.
 Person 2.Female, History student, 21.
  • People vary in where and what kind of holiday they want depending on their age.
 Person 3.Male, Sport & Exercise student, 23.
  • Polar bears are being sent to zoos so they are out of their natural habitat, which shortens their lifetime.
 Person 4.Female, Cafe worker, 30.
  • Global warming not long left for it to be fixed, we need to be eco-friendly. Time is running out.
From this experiment, the fourth image wasn’t as obvious in our experiment. Some people’s stories were pretty much accurate with our target story but other stories were quite varied. So, after that, we decided to add some words under the photos in order to help people to guess our target story much more clearly. We added the word “Pollution” to our city image and the words “Soaring Temperatures” to our beach chair image. This really helped with our experiment when we asked a new set of people!
Photographed by Errin Miller.
These were our buzz words!
Here is our results from the next set of people we asked:
Person 1.Female, Zoology  Student, 19.

  • Global warming has had a big impact on nature, Time is running out and we are ruining some animals environments/homes.
Person 2.Female, Hairdresser, 23.
  • “Poor polar bears”. Their homes are being taken away from them through global warming (melting ice caps etc), pollution from cities is ruining the environment.
 Person 3.Male, Architect , 20.
  • We have to be more eco-friendly just like the woman riding the bike in the city photograph. Climate change is happening and something has to be done.

From conducting this experiment , it is clear that it all worked and people had a general story about the environment, global warming etc when they looked at the photographs with our added words (Finally!). When looking back at the four photos without the words, it wasn’t very obvious that it was something about the environment as most of the photos looked like holiday destinations and not environmental problems! Overall, I found this assignment quite enjoyable! I found it very interesting to hear the many different ideas and stories that different people got from each of the photographs. I feel that it really opened my eyes to how people can view things very different and can even spot things that may not be clear on the first viewing of a photograph etc. Also, really helps me understand all the different ideas in the book “Snoop” by Sam Gosling.

For part of this assignment, we had to read the chapter “The Rhetoric of the Image” by Roland Barthes. I have to say, it wasn’t the easiest read in the world but I think I managed to understand the ideas being put across in this chapter. In this chapter, Barthes discusses that there is three messages that are conveyed in the advertisement he was analysing.

Photograph from 21st Century Design Module blog.

The first of three messages conveyed was the text (text at the bottom corner of the advertisement), the symbolic message ( The food, Italian themed…) and the non-symbolic message (the pasta and sauce). It suggested to me that just from thinking about these three messages, it shows that there is a lot of different meanings portrayed in one simple photograph or advertisement. For an advertisement, this is a very beneficial factor I think as it would get the customer to think about what an advert is trying to sell, not only the product but the experience conveyed. So for this image, it suggested to me that the company is obviously selling the product but they are also trying to sell the experience if you buy this product. For example, they may want you to think that by buying this product, it will be very similar to Italian dining and their traditional cuisine.

So, in the context of this assignment, I think that this chapter has helped gain more understanding about the concept of Polysemy. Furthermore, it has helped give me a better understanding of the different meanings that the selection of people we asked for this assignment came up with when they looked at our four photos. Each meaning and story varied from person to person so I found it very interesting when  we conducted this experiment. When different people analysed some of the photographs, some looked beyond the obvious and tried to think about a deeper meaning to the image. They didn’t just point out the clock (Photo of the clock) but they pointed out that it had a vintage feeling, broken, conveyed a feeling of death and suggested a later part of life such as, the elderly, retirement etc. So, from reading this chapter by Bathes, I feel I understand the concept of Polysemy a little better than before. However, I did find this read quite hard to understand at times. However, it is interesting.

Here is a photo of the little leaflet we handed out to each of the people who kindly answered all of our questions!

Photographed by Errin Miller.

We thought that this would be a nice way to thank all of our participants and let them see what the results were for this assignment. So a big thank you to all of our participants and I hope you each like our posts containing the results!


One thought on “Assignment 2: What Images Mean

  1. I have been fascinated with Barthes and the Semiology ever since I read a couple essays by him for a Continental Philosophy course last semester. I’ve never heard of the term polysemy before, but it seems like the photos attempted to mediate between connotation, denotation, and implication. Great experiment! And I am going to have to find that ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ essay soon!

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