Visual Communication: Types of Images & Uses

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Read this lesson to learn how you can use a variety of images to communicate certain thoughts to your viewers. See how important it is to use the right connections in order to get the right message across.


It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words. And in the world of marketing, graphic design, and visual communication, this is more true than ever. In today's world, people are attracted to what they see. Commercials and other ads are ignored if the visuals don't catch the eye. Using the right type of image to send the right message becomes increasingly important. Just think to the last time you were watching commercials? Which ones caught your eye and made you want to see more? Which ones did you ignore?

You probably don't even remember the ones you ignored. But you do probably remember the commercials that used those images that had some meaning for you. If you like entertaining family and friends in your outdoor patio, then a commercial showing a really nice outdoor kitchen setup may catch your attention and make you want to see more, learn more, and eventually buy what it's trying to sell you. You just might end up purchasing that whole new outdoor kitchen setup complete with installation.

In this lesson, let's look at three types of images you can use to capture your audience's attention.


The first is called symbolic and it means anything that's culturally used to represent something else. For example, the word dog is used to represent the animal dog with four legs and goes woof and the word kids is used to represent a bunch of little children.

Text is an example of a symbolic visual
visual communication

Think of those commercials that use words to capture your attention. For example, some commercials use special typography to highlight certain features of their product as it is being talked about. Others use text to highlight a special event. Toyota, in their 2017 commercial uses text to highlight their slogan. Next time when you're watching commercials, see if you notice how text is being used to highlight certain things.


Next, iconic visuals are those that resemble the real thing. For example, an icon of a tree being used to represent a real tree.

This palm tree illustration is an example of an iconic visual
visual communication

Cartoon images are all iconic representations of a real thing. Sometimes, an iconic visual is better at reaching your audience than something real. This is because when a person sees an icon, he or she typically relates it to something personal. For example, as you're looking at the icon of a palm tree, do you find yourself picturing in your head a real palm tree that you've personally seen?

Looking at that little palm tree icon was meant to make you think of a real palm tree like this one, and everything that comes along with it, like the tropical environment

Visual communication happens not just in commercials and ads, but also in the store. For example, in a retail clothing shop, mannequins are used to display clothes. Because these mannequins are icons representing a human, people look at them and automatically put themselves in the mannequin's place. If a real person were to wear the clothing, it wouldn't have the same effect as using the icon. People won't think of themselves wearing that clothing if they see something much prettier wearing the same item, like the mannequin. Instead, people might think that they have to lose some weight before they can wear those clothes like that model. You don't want this.

Another way you can use iconic images is with branding. Just think of all the big businesses out there using icons for their brand. Apple uses what looks like an apple with a bite in it. Pepsi uses a circle with a swirl of red, white, and blue. You can likewise create an icon to represent your company's brand.


A third type of image is the indexical visual. This type of visual uses a relation to represent something else. For example, showing a foggy shower door means someone is taking a shower. You don't have to show a person taking a shower. As they say, where there's smoke, there's fire!

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