Antinomies of Semiotics in Graphic Design

By Storkerson, Peter | Visible Language, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Antinomies of Semiotics in Graphic Design


Storkerson, Peter, Visible Language


ABSTRACT

The following paper assesses the roles played by semiotics in graphic design and in graphic design education, which both reflects and shapes practice. It identifies a series of factors; graphic design education methods and culture; semiotic theories themselves and their application to graphic design; the two wings of Peircian semiotics and Saussurian semiology and their incompatibilities; semiology's linguocentrism, its affinity to cultural criticism and its seminal role in cultural and social anthropology, structuralism, poststructuralism and deconstruction. It examines the uses and criticisms of semiotics and semiology in design, their use in graphic design education, and their operationalization within technical communication and human factors as paths that might be applied to graphic design.

INTRODUCTION

This paper reflects an effort to understand semiotics within graphic design and graphic design education and its apparent lack of broad visibility. There are many possible reasons including defects in the theories, difficulty in understanding them or their obscure terminology, difficulty in applying them, or it could be that graphic designers are averse to semiotic theories or theories in general.

The history of semiotics in design indicates that there is no one underlying problem, but a series of antinomies or contradictions. Semiotics is a young field and not well worked out. Semiotic theories have been separated into the two schools of Peirce and Saussure. Saussure's is a theory based on language, not visual or sensory communication. Peirce can be applied to the broad range of communication, but it is difficult to understand, having a strange vocabulary. One might like to combine them, but there are some thorny incompatibilities between them. Peircian semiotics also needs a bridge to graphic design, but there is not the critical mass of people within graphic design to build it, and no one can build it for them. Graphic designers are largely averse to theory and the scholarly publications that could establish and develop a semiotics that would be appropriate to graphic design.

Semiotics and semiology are very much alive and used elsewhere. Semiology was a part of graphic design for much of the last century. It has provided a continuing critical base for social theory, deconstructlon and "the interpretive turn" in the humanities. Semiotics is used in technical communication and semiotic concepts are used in human factors to decompose and analyze interpretation. Semiotics can serve as a framework to unify quickly developing but scattered literatures in naturalistic thinking as they are relevant to design. The semiotic model of diagrammatic thinking has made possible a comprehensive understanding not only of diagrams, but the principles behind visual and spatial thinking. It demonstrates the profound importance of graphical communication in the human leap from experiences in the world to the ability to think about those experiences in abstract terms: to make order of what is and imagine what could be (Stjernfeld, 2007).

THE CULTURE OF GRAPHIC DESIGN EDUCATION

Graphic design has a longstanding and close relationship to the visual fine arts and the studio/atelier tradition of instruction by apprenticeship as practiced eighty years ago at the Bauhaus and at the Schule für Gestaltung Basel, now the Basel School of Design, which until recently functioned as a "vocational level school" (Maier, 1977; Visual Communication Institute, 2009). Vocational and atelier models share a non-intellectual approach to education, In which the knowledge acquired is largely tacit and not available for examination, even by the knower (Polanyi, 1966). As Dietmar Winkler has chronicled, the Bauhaus worked to rationalize formal aspects of design to be more in tune with industrial society, but in their own practice and teaching they were traditional.

Hans Meyer in 1928 and Mies van der Rohe in 1930, had been steeped in the trade school tradition, which saw non-applied research and intellectual pursuit as the dilettante activity of the rich and aristocratic. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Antinomies of Semiotics in Graphic Design
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.