Sign symbol and-communication
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Sign symbol and-communication

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The introduction sets the context for the work by discussing the importance of the understanding of the difference between sign and symbol. To be able to understand the rest of this essay properly, ...

The introduction sets the context for the work by discussing the importance of the understanding of the difference between sign and symbol. To be able to understand the rest of this essay properly, all the aims and research methods are also explained.

The various ways that symbols and signs are defined is examined in chapter three. This shows the importance that has been attributed to the psychological, semiotical and typographical approach.

Chapter four concludes a brief introduction about branding and the use of signs and symbols. More-over it discusses three case studies: Vodafone, Bold and Shell. Most of them based on company material and articles found on the internet. The case studies show that there is a lot of similarity in the world of branding and they also demonstrate the theories explored in chapter three.

The conclusion based upon the examined information is written in chapter five, containing a more personal view on the subject. While this is only a five thousand word essay I was unable to explore other sign theories. They are also named in the conclusion.

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    Sign symbol and-communication Sign symbol and-communication Document Transcript

    • 2 Content 1. Summary......................................................................................................................... 3 2. Introduction..................................................................................................................... 4 2.1 What is meant by ‘symbol’ or ‘sign’?....................................................................... 5 2.2 Research methods ..................................................................................................... 7 3. How does the human mind understand signs and symbols?........................................... 8 3.1 History....................................................................................................................... 8 3.2 Different theories:..................................................................................................... 9 3.2.1 Adrian Frutiger................................................................................................ 10 3.2.2 Charles Sanders Peirce.................................................................................... 13 3.2.2 Ferdinand de Saussure .................................................................................... 16 3.3 Why is it important today?...................................................................................... 19 4. Symbols and signs in graphic design............................................................................ 20 4.1 When did it begin to occur?.................................................................................... 20 4.2 The concept of branding ......................................................................................... 21 4.3 Case Studies............................................................................................................ 23 4.3.1 Vodafone .......................................................................................................... 23 4.3.2 Shell.................................................................................................................. 24 4.3.3 Bold.................................................................................................................. 26 5. Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 27 Bibliography ..................................................................................................................... 28
    • 3 1. Summary Chapter two sets the context for the work by discussing the importance of the understanding of the difference between sign and symbol. To be able to understand the rest of this essay properly, all the aims and research methods are also explained. The various ways that symbols and signs are defined is examined in chapter three. This shows the importance that has been attributed to the psychological, semiotical and typographical approach. Chapter four concludes a brief introduction about branding and the use of signs and symbols. More-over it discusses three case studies: Vodafone, Bold and Shell. Most of them based on company material and articles found on the internet. The case studies show that there is a lot of similarity in the world of branding and they also demonstrate the theories explored in chapter three. The conclusion based upon the examined information is written in chapter five, containing a more personal view on the subject. While this is only a five thousand word essay I was unable to explore other sign theories. They are also named in the conclusion.
    • 4 2. Introduction Every day when we walk outside and look around all we see are signs, they do not only appear in advertising and design. Signs seem to be in every form of communication we use, for example: if you want to cross a street, the first thing you do is look at the traffic light to see if it is safe to cross over. It is a usual thing, but someone did invent that light, chose its colour and its shape, to make sure that everyone could understand this message. Most of the time, when people talk about signs they mean signs as in an actual shape. Only, a word is also a sign, the word refers to a certain image in our brains. Everyone will know what you mean if you talk about a chair, but no one can actually tell what the chair looks like, specifically in your head.
    • 5 2.1 What is meant by ‘symbol’ or ‘sign’? Starting off with this research about symbols it soon became clear that we are using the word ‘symbol’ in the wrong way. When we develop new signs we also call them symbols, but there is a difference between a symbol and a sign. Every symbol is a sign, but most of the time we use the word symbol instead of the word sign. Figure 2.1 Shows a nice comparative guide, when it comes to defining symbols and signs. In paragraph 4.3 we will show you that brands sometimes use those different appearances of the same thing. . This essay will contribute to a better understanding of the symbols and signs we use nowadays. It will tell you more about the similarities and contradictions between different signs. After reading this essay one will understand more about the world of signs and symbols and will be able to use this knowledge in future designs, without making common mistakes of using a misunderstood sign.
    • 6 Figure 2.1 Comparative guide about symbols and signs
    • 7 2.2 Research methods Most of the information used for this essay, is from books. Not only books about signs and symbols are used, also books about: psychology, branding, logos and semiotics were also used to write this essay. To find some more resent documentation about the subject, the internet has proven itself to be a useful source. At last to evaluate all the knowledge gained from those sources, a case study was made.
    • 8 3. How does the human mind understand signs and symbols? 3.1 History Many scientists have tried to find out how our brain interprets signs. Ever since man inhabited the earth, he left a record of symbols behind, ages before he learned how to write. No one knows exactly how it all started, but you could compare it with the curiosity of a child. Whenever a child discovers something new he will try to imitate it. For example: a child sees a tree for the first time and afterwards he will pile up sticks and stones to see if he can reproduce that tree. At that moment the child is already communicating with the outside world. He is trying to transfer knowledge to his relatives, to see whether he is learning them something new or to find confirmation about the object he just saw. That is probably what happened when man first walked the earth. Discovering this new world in which all other creatures and nature itself are new enemies. Man developed an ability to leave record of himself and to fight for survival by using signs at first to communicate. But what happens if we see a sign and how do we categorize those signs? Questions like these, have kept scientists busy for years. Besides scientists, also psychologists, designers, artists, musicians and other professionals are fascinated by the meaning and use of signs.
    • 9 3.2 Different theories: The essay thus examines the importance of signs and symbols. However, while finding so many different theories about this subject, a choice had to be made. The following three paragraphs provide a brief introduction into the understanding of signs and symbols. Each paragraph explores a theory from a different field of study, namely, Psychology, typography and semiotics.
    • 10 3.2.1 Adrian Frutiger Adrian Frutiger was a well-known (font) designer in the twentieth century. He was born in 1928 at Unterseen, Switzerland. For four years he attended courses at Zurich School of Arts and Crafts, where he was being taught by Alfred Willimann and Walter Käch (two renowned professors. In 1952 he went to Paris where he started of working as a typeface designer and artistic manager at Deberny and Peignot. During the next couple of years he designed the fonts: Meridien (1955), Egyptienne (1956), Univers (1957), Serifa (1967)OCR-B (1968), Iridium (1975), Frutiger (1975), Glypha (1979), Icone (1980), Breughel (1982), Versailles (1982), Avenir (1988), Vectora (1990), Linotype Didot (1991). In his life Frutiger has seen a lot of movements in the business. He started his work while using metal, the same as Gutenberg, who invented processed type. Frutiger used a totally different way to define signs. In his book, ‘signs and symbols, their designs and meaning’ (1978), he describes three themes on which he bases sign recognition. The first one is disorder-order. Every sign contributes to our will to categorize the world into a less chaotic one. This is our way to keep grip on reality. Through the ages we have been improving on categorizing and classifying our environment. To prove that the human brain is more likely to produce a pattern than chaos, Frutiger shows us four Figure 3.1 Adrian Frutiger (2004)
    • 11 figures, while considering the following steps: We take an empty square (Figure 3.2), symbolizing the concept of emptiness. Than we try to draw sixteen dots, at random positions within the square. When we look at this square, our eyes will try to create a pattern out of these dots. On the other hand, it is very easy to arrange those dots within a pattern. Create a cross, for example, or divide the sixteen dots into groups of four. Looking at this study, it becomes clear that the production of an ordered form is easier than creating a disorder or nonform. Figure 3.2. Disorder - order The second theme is remembering a figure. When one looks at something as simple as a Dice (Figure 3.3), it is easy to explain that one looks at it because of memory. Figure 3.3 The normal dice There is not a single person who will count the dots on the dice to find out the amount of dots. Because a dice always looks the same, we know which side is what number. However, if we change the layout of the dice (Figure 1.5), one will first be a bit puzzled about this change. The reaction will lead to counting the dots. After counting about three sides of the new dice, our mind catches up again and one knows, without guessing, that the next three sides will probably be four, five and six.
    • 12 This is based upon our memory, for we know that a dice has six sides, and every side refers to a number between one and six. Figure 3.4 The adjusted layout of the dice According to this knowledge, one is able to know what number the last three sides will show. To Frutiger, his most fascinating theme is light and shadow - or black and white. "We recognize light only when comparing it to shadow. When we draw or write, we don't add black, we remove light" His way of looking is different from what is commonly accepted. Frutiger claims that all signs are based on this duality of light and shadow. Both need to be present to create a recognizable sign.
    • 13 3.2.2 Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce had a hard life. He never received any of the credit he deserved. Because he wrote down his thoughts, inconveniently and chaotically arranged, they are still trying to get them all organized at Harvard University, Illinois. After he finished studying chemistry at Harvard University, Illinois he worked at the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. This job made it possible for him to spend his spare time to find out about semiology. After twenty years he received his inheritance and chose a solitary life, living in a small town near Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He spent the rest of his life there, living with his second wife working on his brilliant ideas. While he was living his life as a hermit trying to escape from his creditors he finally found out that all our primary thinking is in signs. ‘We think only in signs.’(Peirce 1931-1958) because in everything we see we look for an interpretation, it is our way to organize the world. The base of Peirce’s work is a triadic model (Figure 3.6) and within the next few pages you will notice that Peirce was clearly fascinated by tripartite structures, because he uses it several times. What those categories contain becomes clearer according to the life cycle of signs. In theory everything can be a sign or can be read as a sign. That anything can be a sign is the Firstness. If a single individual lifts something up from reality and makes it a valid Firstness: The potential, the possible Secondness: The actual, the realistic Thirdness: The necessary, the systematic, the regular Figure 3.5 Charles Sanders Peirce (1958) Figure 3.6 The triadic model
    • 14 sign for himself that is the Secondness. The Thirdness is the sign group which is regularly accepted by a larger group. When Peirce mentions a First he is talking about ‘Feeling’ or ‘Quality’ a First is a ‘Perhaps’. Something independent and not connected to anything else. A Second on the other hand is dyadic or two-parted, which means a Second is identified by its relationship with something else. Secondness according to Peirce is like a ‘confrontation with the hard facts’. It is everything that exists or takes place in the outside world. When a Second starts a relation with another Second a Third could come into being. When this happens simultaneously the entire situation becomes triadic. A third could be a law, a convention or a conduct. The Third is at that moment our territorial gain on the struggle against chaos. This diagram is the base of Peirce’s semiotic research. Peirce also divided the kinds of signs in those three categories, based on the question ‘when is a sign a sign?’ When a sign functions on a certain quality, idea or feeling we talk about a qualisign. Such a sign is a First. We begin with a feeling about a certain quality suitable to fulfill a semiotic meaning, for example black means death and red means danger. Sinsigns are signs that are individual and not for institutes. Like the ticking sound of high heels or someone’s characteristic stopgap. In the social domain we have to deal with signs that are signs based on regular rules or agreements like traffic signs, nodding and handshaking. Peirce named them legisigns, every language sign is a legisign because they are all based on agreements. Peirce also found a way to distinguish signs in how they refer to things. If a sign looks like the thing it refers to you call it an icon, for example a map of England or a picture of the president. The sign and the object both share the same image. But if you see smoke in
    • 15 the air, which means there is a fire and if someone screams because he hurt his thumb, the scream refers to the pain. This type of signs is called “indices”. The Third in this diagram is the symbol, when the relationship between sign and object is based on an engagement Peirce defines it as a symbol. Language is the most common symbol, if we talk about the sun everybody knows what we mean, because we all agreed that the sun is the round thing that comes up every morning and provides us light during the day. The most famous triadic model Peirce thought of is the semiotic triangle. He created this triangle to make it easier to understand how a sign works. Within his semiotic triangle there is a sign vehicle, an interpretant and an object. The sign vehicle is the carrier of the sign. The interpretant of the sign is our knowledge about the object. The object could be an international agreement about the meaning of this traffic light. Though it seems obvious that you can use this method with every sign it is more likely that you combine more than one triangle. Most of the time signs become interpretants and those interpretants function as signs and this continues. So you are actually moving around in a field of semiotic triangles. If you are moving through this field rationally, you follow a straight line, but if you move through the semiotic field irrationally you are rambling from one subject to another. Creativity is on of the things that start off by leaping through that semiotic field in an irrational way. It is the gift to notice strange connections that other people do not see. Figure 3.7 The semiotic triangle
    • 16 3.2.2 Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist, born at the 26th of November 1857. He wrote his first professional essay at the age of fourteen. In 1876 he started his graduation at the University of Leipzig. After that he taught himself the Indo-European Classical language: Sanskrit and attended a year of courses at the University of Geneva. Saussure developed a dyadic (two-parted) model of the sign. According to this model a sign was composed of: a ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’. In which the signifier means the form which the sign takes and the signified being the concept it represents (Saussure 1974-1983). When one combines those two, we can speak of a sign. The relationship between those two is known as ‘signification’ (Fig. 3.9). For example: if we take the word ‘tea’ (when written on a menu) it is a sign made out of: a signifier, the word tea and a signified concept: the drink made out of tea-leaves and hot water. The key role of this model is that there is not a single sign without a signifier or a signified. A sign most have both to become a sign. There is no such thing as a meaningless signifier or an amorphous signified. However, a certain signified can mean something totally different if it is combined with another signifier. At the same time, one can conclude that this also works the other way around. If we look back at the example of the tea (the signifier), only then putting it on a bag of tea leaves, the signified has come up Figure 3.8 Ferdinand de Saussure (1884) Figure 3.9 The dyadic model
    • 17 with a different meaning. It is no longer referring to tea, as in the hot drink made out of the leaves. It now refers to the tealeaves inside the bag. Within the last thirty years Saussure's model has been generally adopted, the actual meaning he wanted to educate has changed. The new model tends to be more of a materialistic one than Saussure's original model. The signifier is now generally known as the material, or physical, shape of the sign. Anything that can be noticed by our senses is the signifier. Though Saussure looked at the signifier and the signified as to be only psychological, they both were from rather than substance. He stresses the need for the meaning of his signified, as in not to be identified directly as a thing. He preferred to refer to that as a concept in the mind. While being a linguist, it seems rather obvious that Saussure focused more on the linguistic sign. Though not all linguistic signs are spoken words, he did prefer them to the written word. He looked at writing as a separate, secondary, dependent but comparable sign system. Nonetheless writing did relate to speech in the same way signifier related to signified. Another central argument of Saussure’s work is that every sign needs a history and connotations of its own. Those are well known to the members of the sign user’s culture. Signifiers seem to be freely chosen, but from the viewpoint of a linguistic member it is more likely to be imposed than freely chosen. When using a language one has no choice but to accept the inheritance from the past. (Saussure 1974- 1983)
    • 18 A linguistic sign is arbitrary, it knows no other law than tradition. This arbitrariness does not mean that an individual can choose any signifier for a certain signified. The bond between signifier and signified is not an individual choice. If that was the case, communication itself would be impossible. One needs to have an agreement whether the signified and the signifier are to become a sign.
    • 19 3.3 Why is it important today? Since our world is changing fast, we often forget to look back to our origins. The digital revolution makes it so much easier to communicate with the public. On the other hand, a medium like the internet provides us with a big blur. However, if we go back to the main message we want to communicate, we will be able to keep a better grip on this massive medium. What is the sign and what is its signifier or signified? Which sign vehicle is appropriate for the sign? Asking questions like these it is possible to keep a better grip on our current world.
    • 20 4. Symbols and signs in graphic design. 4.1 When did it begin to occur? On can not exactly tell when branding first came into being. However, Nomadic tribes identified their ownership by branding their cattle and marking their tools with small engravings (Figure 4.1.). Those signs are called signature-signs, which you can compare, for example, with the sign an artist leaves behind on his artwork. In a cave in Mas d’Azil, in France, some painted pebbles (Figure 4.2) were found, they were dated around 12,000 B.C.. People often assumed that they were the forerunners of our script signs. But it is more likely that they were objects denoting a person or tribe. All those examples share the same key concept, the will to distinguish one person’s goods from those of another. This is also the key concept of branding. Figure 4.1 Ownership marks Figure 4.2 The pebbles found at Mas d’Azil
    • 21 4.2 The concept of branding Branding has changed a lot over the centuries, but distinguishing of goods is still the key concept. Things, such as trademarks, patents and copyright are quit new arrangements. However, nowadays they are commonly accepted. Because of all those new things branding has become a complicated thing. When people are asked what they think relates to the word brand, they come up with answers like: a logo, a product, corporate identity and so on. Only this has nothing to do with the main message within branding. Marty Neumeier says in his book: ‘The Brand Gap’ (2003), that the brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. It is a person’s gut feeling, because in the end the brand is defined by individuals. It is that person who decides how he wants to communicate this message to the public. There used to be a basic communication model (Figure 4.3), but in the past few years this model has changed. Companies want feedback to be able to optimize their services or products. This is why a new model was designed (Figure 4.4). Figure 4.4 The new communication model By using this new model, in which the sender receives a message from the receiver, the communication becomes stronger and more focused. Figure 4.3 Communication model
    • 22 However, to communicate this message one needs a visual identity. This visual identity communicates everything the brand stands for. So it is unlikely to make any mistakes. A logo is probably the first thing that comes up into one person’s mind, when one talks about visual identity. Only the term logo is translated from the Greek word ‘logos’ which means word. What people actually mean is a trademark. A trademark can be a symbol, monogram, emblem or any other graphic device. When one looks at different trademarks, one can divide them into six groups: name-only logos, name/symbol logos, initial letter logos, pictorial name logos, associative logos, allusive logos and abstract logos.
    • 23 4.3 Case Studies Within the next three examples we will use the previously discussed theories to explore some interesting brands. 4.3.1 Vodafone Vodafone’s first call was made in 1985. But when mobile phones were getting a big issue, it was then when Vodafone made his big entry into the world of powerbrands. The use of the logo known as, the suggestive quotation mark within a circle appeared at first in 1998. The quotation mark suggested a conversation. Because this message was not understood in every country they, now made a new logo without the quotation marks in the ‘O’. This logo has only been released lately. The new logo (Figure 4.5) has got a three dimensional look and by using this, Vodafone is one of the first brands adapting the logo to be able to use it within more than only two dimensional ways. What was done while searching for the logo from Vodafone, four other brands where found, that show a high similarity with Vodafone (Figure 4.6) Figure 4.6 Similar logos Figure 4.5 The new Vodafone logo
    • 24 4.3.2 Shell At first it does not seem to make any sense that an oil company uses a shell as a logo. When we look back at the history of Shell, we find out that the word ‘shell’ first appeared in 1891. It was the trademark for the kerosene Marcus Samual shipped to the Far East. Marcus Samual originally dealt antiques, curios and oriental seashells. At some point those seashells became the trade mark of his company (Figure 4.7) Figure 4.7 The journey of the Shell emblem
    • 25 The first time the trademark appeared as an emblem was in 1904. A pecten seashell was used to give Shell a visual identity. During the years, the pectin or scallop shell has changed from a true to nature shell to a simplified version of it. The latest version of the logo is even used without the word shell. The color of the logo is red and yellow, those colours were chosen because of the strong connection Shell had with Spain. If we identify the Shell logo in 1900, the shell its signified concept was its origin in the antique businesss. Nowadays the shell has become a signified itself. Show people the logo and they will define the signified to be the company itself.
    • 26 4.3.3 Bold Bold is a national brand within the United Kingdom and Ireland. The brand was launched in 1972 by Procter and Gamble. Bold is a two in one product. It is the combination of a detergent and a fabric softener. Bold two in one is available as a Powder, Liquid, Tablets and now also Liquitabs Unfortunately there was not enough information available about the designing process of the logo. Nonetheless this logo is still an interesting example if you look for the borders between symbol and logo (emblem). The first thing you probably notice about the logo is the similarity with the Yin Yang symbol (Figure 4.9). Even though the colours are different the basic figure of the form remained. The Yin Yang symbol is originally from China and its roots in the TAO, which means ‘road’ and also ‘universe’ or ‘primal law’. The Yin Yang symbol contains two opposites in which you can find everything. Yin stands for the female, dark and cold part. While the Yang is male, warm and light part. According to this symbol there is a little Yin within every Yang. When you compare the meaning of this symbol with the logo of Bold you start wondering whether the product, the two in one solution, shows us the similar meaning as the Yin Yang symbol. Because there is a detergent inside the fabric softener and there is fabric softener inside the detergent. We cannot tell how much of this was meant by the designers, or that they just designed two drops and combined them together to become one. We do know that it is an intriguing design that provides us with a lot of questions like: ’is this similarity allowed?’ Figure 4.9 The Yin Yang symbol Figure 4.8 The Bold logo
    • 27 5. Conclusion While working on this essay, I developed the ability to understand signs and symbols much better. I started looking at signs in a different way. Still, there is a big mystery behind signs like the swastika and how it changed from a good meaning to a bad meaning. When looking at the case studies it appears that even big brands like Shell and Vodafone use the theories Saussure and Peirce used to find out about signs. If you look at the design Shell made for its trademark, you notice a big difference between now and then. Back in 1900 they remained true to the ‘actual’ look of the shell. While nowadays it had become an abstract version of the shell. Unfortunately there was not enough space in this essay to write about other theories like Carl Jung’s theory. Though a couple of things became clear while writing this essay, there is still a lot to explore. Because for example, what is the use of colours in our signs and how do they contribute to our interpretations of signs. And how did informational graphics changed during the years. Is there a reason why our sign system is slightly different in each country. Also the logo that looks quite like the Vodafone logo (the snake on page 22) is from a recycling company, but no one in Britain would have thought that, because we link green arrows with recycling. I hope that one day I will be able to answer one or more of those questions.
    • 28 Bibliography Books: Frutiger, Adrian. (1998) Signs and Symbols their design and meaning. Ebury Press Neumeier, Marty. (2003) The Brand Gap. New riders publishing Post, Karen. (2005) Brain tattoos. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Murphy, John. (1987) Branding: a key marketing tool. The MacMillan Press LTD Murphy, John and Rowe, Michael. (1988) How to design trademarks and logos. Phaidon Press Limited Van der Lubbe, Jan and van Zoest, Aart. (1997) Teken en betekenis. Aramith uitgevers Miller, Anista and Brown, Jared. (2000) Global Graphics: Symbols. Rockport Publishers, Inc. Journal: Chandler, Daniel. (August 2004) Semiotics for beginners. Internet: Texts http://www.brandchannel.com http://www.somethinkodd.com/oddthinking/2005/08/14/65/ http://www.identifont.com/show?110 http://www.wikipedia.org http://www.uk.pg.com/products/products/bold.html http://www.shell.com
    • 29 Pictures and images http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Ferdinand_de_Saussure.jpg http://www.fontshop.de/fontblog/C420185419/E1442013706/Media/AdrianFrutiger2004. jpg http://www.heinpragt.com/symbols/symbols.php