SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
ON SEMIOTICS

Semiotics
(the study of signs and symbols)
(the production and interpretation [of signs] in
the context of communication and interaction)

 

The dictionary describes semiotics as the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. Simply put, it’s “the study of signs and symbols". It is the complex relationship between written signs and the concepts they represent. Semiotics is the power of the messages images convey.

We take a look at definitions from Andrew Foster, illustrator and lecturer at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, Andrew Stiff, head of the Digital Arts MA at London's University of the Arts, Johnathan Barnbrook, typographer and designer and Paddy Whannel.

In a modest form, semiotics can be described as the study of signs in a much broader perspective which includes representing or standing for a separate meaning. Semiotics can also be defined as by Whannel: “Semiotics tells us things we already know in a language we will never understand.” On an instinctual level, semiotics involves things we already know, however semiotics is an important part of the designing process as it allows the viewer (the people designed for) to understand the relationship between signs, their meaning and the interpretation.

"Illustrators are visual thinkers, not stylists." Foster said.

Regardless, "[Semiotics] has allowed us to re-evaluate our surrounding systems and processes. No-one in a visual profession can ignore this subject's importance." says Stiff.

Barnbrook supports this statement: "Deconstruction is the reason I'm a typographer," he says. "There's always a difference between the signified and the signifier."

The creative potentials that surface from the breaches between meaning and object are open to exploitation by the crafty designer. According to Barnbrook, half the fun comes from playing with relationships, which are, "Often unconsciously understood by the viewer." As Foster notes, "Illustration can change people's opinions."

The viewer's unconscious ability to make connections is effectively the b-side of semiotics. "There may be a desired meaning in the relationship between signifier and signified on behalf of the creator, but it is the audience that has to interpret the meaning," says Stiff.

It's a balancing act, however design talent is a visual language of your own which others find attractive. "The method of placing signs and symbols in a piece of work - an advert, painting or film - will always be about craft," says Stiff.


 

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