What Is Semiotics in Graphic Design?

Here you will learn What is a semiotic analysis?

Semiotics is the study of significance. This includes the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, similarity, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication.

What is semiotics?

It is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. However, unlike linguistics, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems. Semiotics is often divided into three branches:

Semantics: relationship between signs and the things to which they refer; its denotata, or meaning
Syntactics: relationships between signs in formal structures
Pragmatics: relationship between signs and agents who use signs

Semiotics is often considered to have important anthropological dimensions; For example, Umberto Eco proposes that each cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication. However, some semiotics focus on the logical dimensions of science.

They examine areas that pertain to the life sciences as well, such as how organisms make predictions and adapt to their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered by biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics).


Syntactics is the branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols. More precisely, syntactics deals with the “rules that govern how words are combined to form phrases and sentences.” Charles Morris adds that semantics deals with the relationship of signs to their designation and the objects they can denote; and, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological and sociological phenomena that occur in the operation of signs.


Using the Greek letters σημιωτικὴ, the term “semiotics” was introduced into the English language by John Locke as a synonym for “doctrine of signs” (Latin: doctrina signorum, the oldest name for the study of what is now called “Semiosis” or “The action of the signs”). This was in the final chapter of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding of 1690. The Greek term Σημειωτικὴ, “semeiotics”, already existed in Locke’s time (and long before) to name that branch of medical science related to the study of the symptoms of the disease or “natural signs” in today’s language.

Thus, before Locke, and before Augustine of Hippo introduced the notion of “sign” that transcends the nature / culture divide, a specialized study dating back to Hippocrates and Galen was firmly established. A man of medicine himself, Locke was familiar with this “semiotic” as the name of a specialized branch within medical science. In his personal library there were two editions of Scapula’s 1579 abstract of Henricus Stephanus’s Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, which included σημειωτικὴ as the name of “diagnosis,” the branch of medicine concerned with the interpretation of disease symptoms (“symptomatology ”).

Yuri lotman

Yuri lotman
Yuri Lotman – Semeotic 1922 -1993

Who introduced semiotics to Eastern Europe and adopted Locke’s coinage of Σημιωτικὴ as the name to subtitle his founding at the University of Tartu in Estonia in 1964 of the first semiotics journal, Sign Systems Studies (but did not have the advantage of examining all five of the editions of the Essay prepared in Locke’s Home and Life), were harassed by linguists to later alter and replace them as a subtitle of the magazine Σημειωτικὴ, a “correction” wrong, as noted above, which still persists to the present. One can only hope that the (my) “correction” is likely to be corrected (or re-corrected!) Eventually, as the real history of semiotics becomes more general and deeply understood.


Semiotics classify signs or systems of signs in relation to the way they are transmitted (see modality). This process of carrying meaning depends on the use of codes that can be the individual sounds or letters that humans use to form words, the body movements they make to show attitude or emotion, or even something as general as the clothes they wear.

To coin a word to refer to a thing (see lexical words), the community must agree to a simple meaning (a denotative meaning) within their language. But that word can convey that meaning only within the grammatical structures and codes of the language (see syntax and semantics). The codes also represent the values ​​of the culture and can add new nuances of connotation to every aspect of life.

To explain the relationship between semiotics and communication studies, communication is defined as the process of transferring data and / or meaning from a source to a receiver.

Therefore, communication theorists construct models based on codes, media, and contexts to explain the biology, psychology, and mechanics involved. Both disciplines also recognize that the technical process cannot be separated from the fact that the receiver must decode the data, that is, be able to distinguish the data as outgoing and give it meaning.

This implies that there is a necessary overlap between semiotics and communication. In fact, many of the concepts are shared, although in each field the emphasis is different. In Messages and Meanings: An Introduction to Semiotics, Marcel Danesi (1994) suggested that semiotics’ priorities were to study significance first and then communication. Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1987; trans. 1990: 16), who, as a musicologist, considered the theoretical study of communication irrelevant to his application of semiotics.


Linguistics difference

Semiotics differs from linguistics in that it generalizes the definition of a sign to encompass signs in any sensory or media modality. In this way, it broadens the range of sign systems and sign relations, and broadens the definition of language in what amounts to its broadest analogical or metaphorical sense.

Definition of semester

Peirce’s definition of the term “semiotic” as the study of the necessary characteristics of signs it also has the effect of distinguishing the discipline from linguistics as the study of the contingent characteristics that the languages ​​of the world have acquired in the course of their evolutions.

Subjective point of view

Perhaps more difficult is the distinction between semiotics and philosophy of language. In a sense, the difference lies between separate traditions rather than subjects. Different authors have been called “Philosopher of language” or “semiotic”. This difference does not coincide with the separation between analytical and continental philosophy.

On a closer look, some differences can be found regarding the themes. The philosophy of language pays more attention to natural languages ​​or languages ​​in general, while semiotics is deeply concerned with non-linguistic significance.

Semiosis or Semeiosis

it is the process that forms the meaning of the understanding of the world by any organism through signs. Scholars who have discussed semiosis in their subtheories of semiotics include CS Peirce, John Deely, and Umberto Eco.

Cognitive semiotics

Research on cognitive semiotics brings together the semiotics of linguistics, cognitive science, and related disciplines into a common meta-theoretical platform of shared concepts, methods, and data. Cognitive semiotics can also be considered as the study of the creation of meaning through the use and integration of methods and theories developed in the cognitive sciences. This involves conceptual and textual analysis, as well as experimental investigations.

Prominent cognitive semiotics

Prominent cognitive semiotics include Per Aage Brandt, Svend Østergaard, Peer Bundgård, Frederik Stjernfelt, Mikkel Wallentin, Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, and Jordan Zlatev. Later, Zlatev, in cooperation with Göran Sonesson, established the CCS (Center for Cognitive Semiotics) at the University of Lund, Sweden.


 Visible signs: an introduction to semiotics in the visual arts

Visible Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics in the Visual Arts by David Crow

Basic semiotic theories are taught in most art schools as part of a contextual studies program, but many students find it difficult to understand how these ideas can impact their own practice. Visible Signs addresses this problem by introducing key theories and concepts, such as signs and signifiers, and language and speech, within the framework of visual communication.

Each chapter provides an overview of a particular facet of semiotic theory, with inspiring examples from graphic design, typography, illustration, advertising, and art to illustrate the ideas discussed in the text. The creative exercises at the end of the book will help exemplify these ideas through practical application.

The third edition of Visible Signs features new material from international designers and new creative exercises to accompany each chapter. This new edition also features a new layout and design.

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