Fundamentals of Graphic Design: Denotation Images and Connotation Images

Denotative and Connotative Images

I learned two new concepts about imagemaking: denotative and connotative images.

A denotative image is a direct representation of an object from life. For example, you understand the left image is a coffee cup, although it’s largely cartoonized. As long as you draw the essence of it (a white cup, some hot air, a small plate), people understand it even thought it’s not entirely photorealistic.

A connotative image adds a “meaning” layer to a denotative image. It may require some level of literacy, imagination and thinking to interpret the meaning. You notice on the right side, it looks like a coffee cup, but with the words “OUR MEMORIES” in the coffee whirl, it’s more than that. You may think it means recalling a happy moment from the past, or you even ask “Why are the words in the whirl? Does that mean the memories never come back?” Whatever it is, it makes people think, that’s a connotative image.

Credit: class – Fundamentals of Graphic Design by California Institute of Arts

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