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The University of Southampton

ARTD6156 Exploring the Visual Language of Display

Module Overview

The module provides thematic examples of the theories and practices of visual presentation and display explored through interdisciplinary and critical contexts appropriate to the MA pathways. It offers a number of critical “tools”, enhanced through references to fundamental critical theories, which will diversify, and contextualise the individual expertise accrued within the different pathways. These tools will help you expand the scope of your work, assess its impact and relevance across a number of fields and arenas, and generate the confidence to present creative material informed by relevant contextual analysis. Critical discourses drawn from art and design history, fashion and textile theory, sociology, anthropology, institutional critique and media analysis will be evaluated and applied in this module. In addition examples from film, literature and popular culture will illustrate and emphasise models of presentation and display. In short the module will aim to equip the student with the ability to recognize, interrogate and utilize strategies of display encountered in retail, art and design spaces.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • current theories and practices relevant to the history of display;
  • a range of theoretical and philosophical contexts relevant to the history of display in Design/Fine Art in the global creative industries;
  • a range of historical and contemporary strategies of display and how they apply to your practice.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • think in a critically reflective and creative manner related to display;
  • undertake detailed research into specific examples of display;
  • apply critical judgement on how display principles relate to your own practice.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work effectively as an independent researcher;
  • demonstrate in written form an understanding of the module’s content;
  • produce work fully aware of ethical considerations and conforming to academic integrity guidelines.


Taking DISPLAY as a key concept, the module will consider how modern and contemporary critical thinking has shaped and been shaped by developments within visual communication and design. The sites of display are increasingly diversified, and in addition to historical spaces such as the department store and the museum, we now experience display strategies in malls, online as part of e commerce, and temporarily in pop-up or guerrilla retail and art spaces. Similarly the strategies of display are informed both by historical examples, psychological influences and technological developments that push the boundaries of what can be displayed and where. Major shifts in socio-cultural attitudes are accompanied by similar shifts in design and art practice and so the module will provide historical contexts for these changes. These will include an understanding of the development of the museum, department store and exhibition space, and how 19th century technological innovations such as photography altered and continue to alter, our visual perception of display. Our psychological need to collect and display will also be explored and how art and design has utilised our need to classify and order. In order for display to be successful it needs to command the attention of its audience. Whether in retail spaces, art spaces or the personal space of the body, we use signs, logos, brands, and indeed clothing as communication. The module will explore how we “read” the signs that direct us through the contemporary landscape of art and design culture. How a brand promises a certain lifestyle, how a gallery presents an artist’s work and how we choose what to wear or what profile to make virtually available is dependent on the viewer understanding the message. Increasingly our world is understood and experienced via the media through representation, and by exploring the historical origins of our commodified society we can recognize the prime position the sign occupies in contemporary art and design. In order to understand how display ‘speaks’ to us the module will present semiotic analyses of examples drawn from retail display and advertising.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Lectures • Seminars • Screenings • Guest lectures/presentations Learning activities include: • Peer-group learning • Group presentations • Object centred learning • Independent research and study

Independent Study174
Total study time200

Resources & Reading list




Interim Report


MethodPercentage contribution
Illustrated report  (3000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Illustrated report  (3000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Illustrated report  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


Recommended texts for this module may be available in limited supply in the University Library and students may wish to purchase the mandatory/additional reading text as appropriate.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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