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Alan young presentation

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Presented to DeSForM 2013

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Alan young presentation

  1. 1. The Value of a ‘Semiotic Sensibility’ in Graphic and Communication Design Dr. Alan Young Auckland University of Technology alan.young@aut.ac.nz
  2. 2. a semiotic sensibility Roland Barthes describes this image thus: ‘The signified is French imperiality, that is: the idea that France’s empire treats all its subjects equally. That France has dominated the world and the World loves France for doing it.’ When Barthes ‘read’ the image from Paris Match, he was no longer a consumer, but a semiotician. That is, he had changed the context to one of racial politics.
  3. 3. a semiotic sensibility The power of semiotics is that it can be applied to any design artifact, from a film, to an iPod . . .
  4. 4. a semiotic sensibility . . . to a building. Semiotics allows us to use the same language across a range of vastly different design artifacts, to understand how they ‘speak’ to us, through connation. They ‘hail’ us, as viewers, audiences and consumers, through signifiers and using a variety of myths. Through the continuous use of certain specific myths, objects can thus critique or maintain and support hegemonic ideological beliefs and values— what we might term ‘ideology’.
  5. 5. a semiotic sensibility The argument presented here is that semiotics is such a powerful way of understanding design artifacts, that rather than relegating it to the ‘theory’ part of design courses, it should form a fundamental basis for all design understanding. One common exercise for teasing out the semiotic meaning of products is the ‘Label Swap’ project, in which the key signifiers (excluding the actual words) of two different products are swapped. Thus, the colours, layout, typefaces, illustrative styles, etc. are swapped, and students are then required to describe the effect of this swap on how the product now ‘hails’ a target market.
  6. 6. a semiotic sensibility In many cases, the product ‘speaks’ in such an alien way of the product, that it makes no sense in our current ways of understanding markets. At other times, the product simply shifts from being directed at one class, or gender, to being directed at a completely different one. Either way, the power of signification and the sense of the ‘voice’ of a product is made dramatically explicit through the exercise. Importantly, semiotics can also be explored through exercises directed at typography, at the semiotic meanings of a film, or of an advertisement, to provide a ‘semiotic sensibility’—an awareness of how design infuses products with meaning, with a ‘voice’.
  7. 7. a semiotic sensibility Art therapists are able to analyse a specific image to understand the meanings which underlie it, by using a sensibility gained from performing similar analyses over many years, along with reading how others have also analysed images. They cannot be taught on an image by image basis, as it is impossible to cover every possible image a client might produce. Similarly, a semiotic sensibility can only come from exposure to semiotic analyses of a wide variety of artifacts, over an extended period of time. This semiotic sensibility becomes part of a student’s world view, and their tacit knowledge; and as such impacts on the way they create, as well as analyse work.
  8. 8. a semiotic sensibility As well as providing a language wih which to describe all design artifacts, semiotics also provides a political context from which to approach design work. Currently, almost all university courses call for a global awareness and a sense of social responsibility as part of their graduate attributes. As students learn the various contexts from which to view the designs they analyse—Marxist, feminist, racial politics, and the like—they are led to question the contexts and effects of the designs they also produce.
  9. 9. a semiotic sensibility Semiotics taught through real life projects serves to strengthen students’ political awareness, and provides alternative ways of envisaging design futures. Projects involving collaboration across disciplines, universities and even nations open up possibilities for deeper awareness of the political potential of design work. Some of the real life projects on which students have been able to work are: still frame from Housing Commission project Explosives Reserve: a project working with a local community to save important land from developers. Still Lives: a project which tells the stories of people living on a housing commission estate in Melbournes inner city.
  10. 10. a semiotic sensibility Equal Service was a project to help Melbourne’s homeless population—enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground every night—such that service providers would stop seeing them as a faceless group, but as individuals with individual stories of heartbreak and tragedy, but also of inspirational determinination and resolve. This project was a major contributor to the changing of the laws which dealt with service provision to homeless people in Australia.
  11. 11. a semiotic sensibility Same Difference was a project to fight discrimination against gay and lesbian members of our society. Students produced posters and t-shirt designs, an exhibition of which was launched at the Justice Museum in Melbourne, and which then toured Australia. Semiotics is more than just a useful element in the designer’s toolkit. When used over an extended period, it can form a semiotic sensibility—a foundational way of comprehending the world. As such it impacts not only how designers analyse, but how they work creatively.
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  15. 15. thank you

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