SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1973

Connotative Meaning of Visual Properties of Surfaces


The goals of the research efforts described in this paper were (1) to establish a rational technique for the selection of the visual properties of architectural surfaces and (2) to determine the psychophysical relationships between objective measurements of surfaces and their psychological meaning. Respondents rated samples of architectural surfaces (brick surfaces varying in size, texture, and color) and design concepts (home, prison, etc.) on a series of bipolar adjective scales selected to measure the meaning of the object on the three commonly identified dimensions of connotative meaning-the evaluative, potency, and activity dimensions (the semantic differential technique). The validity and reliability of this application of the semantic differential were assessed and found to be satisfactory.

Since each rated object receives a score on each of the three dimensions and can be localized as a point in three-dimensional semantic space, one can obtain quantitative differences between the connotative meaning of diverse objects. A rational technique for the selection of the visual properties of architectural surfaces would involve selecting surfaces whose meaning matched the meaning of the design concept.

Psychophysical relationships were obtained between the meaning of the visual properties of the surfaces on each of the dimensions of connotative meaning and physical measurements of the surfaces. Several of these relationships indicated an association between the physical and psychological aspects of the surfaces. Hence, it is probable that surfaces could be manufactured which would permit one to obtain a close match between the meaning of the surfaces and the meaning of design concepts.

The results of these preliminary studies indicate that further research on the connotative meaning of visual properties of surfaces is warranted.

Author Information

Burnham, CA
University of Texas, Austin, Tex.
Grimm, CT
University of Texas, Austin, Tex.
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Developed by Committee: E12
Pages: 54–69
DOI: 10.1520/STP34758S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-4633-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-0564-5