Audience Reception Theory

Audience Reception theory has been studied for many years, with the main question being – is the audience passive or active? ‘Passive’ audiences are explained to simply consume the media’s messages and ideas, essentially saying that  the media is ‘injected’ into the audience like a hypodermic needle, or that it is like a “package that the sender (producers) throw to the receiver” (Alasuutari, 1999). More commonly audiences are seen as being ‘active’, in that audiences can receive messages from the media in different ways to which the producer intended them to be received. This could also mean that “different audiences may also decode a programme differently” (Alasuutari, 1999). Individuals personal taste, personality and opinions can effect how they understand and engage with media. One of the main theorists for audience reception theory is Stewart Hall, who explored this theory of Encoding and Decoding, explaining that a producer will encode a meaning into the media they produce, but an audience can decode the media in ways that they wish. Stewart Hall “proposes three potential decodings”, preferred, negotiated and oppositional (Louw, 2001). The preferred reading is the meaning the producers intend the audience will receive. The negotiated reading is when the audience understands some of the message/meaning the producers intended, and the oppositional reading is when the audience does not understand or completely disagrees with any of the messages the producers intended for the audience to read.

All of this shows how different audiences can perceive ideas and messages in completely different ways, so even if the media text is targeted at a specific audience, there are factors in individuals which will effect how they perceive information, such as gender, age, class, location, hobbies and interests etc. For example Morley composed a Nationwide study in 1980 and “discovered that readers decode as individuals, not collectively as a ‘class’” (Louw, 2001). Therefore showing that even if a text was targeted at a very specific audience, they would decode it in their own way rather than it being similar because they are the same class for example.

The reason I am researching audience theory is because I will have an intended reading for my design that I would want the audience to understand and see when engaging with it, but I am aware that people will read and understand things differently. This is why when I test my design in the public space, I will need to ask people questions about ‘what they feel’ when they engage with it, or what do they think it means. I know that the audiences will have to be active when interacting with my design as they will have to go out of their way to see it and engage with it, and I am hoping that people will decode their meanings to be able to give me back information about what they thought of it.

Some of my intended messages to be portrayed through my work are:

  1. 3D installations are bringing design closer to real-life
  2. The ferrofluid is almost life-like
  3. Audience engagement is key to making some designs work
  4. Science can be very interesting when combined with interactive design

I will complete a user test on my design once I have completed it and see if any of my intended messages are met.


Alasuutari, P. 1999. Rethinking the Media Audience: The New Agenda [online]. Sage, London. Available from: [23rd January 2015].

Louw, E. 2001. The Media and Cultural Production [online]. Sage, London. Available from [24th January 2015].


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