Semiotics is an investigation into how meaning is created and how it is communicated. Its origins lie in the academic study of how signs and symbols (visual and linguistic) create meaning. It is a way of seeing the world, and of understanding how the landscape and culture in which we live has a massive impact on all of us unconsciously. To explain further, here is a short case study:
We first came across the technique about 15 years ago. We were doing some work on new sports logos and the respondents were unanimous in totally rubbishing them.
The executive who was in charge of the branding exercise was in attendance at each group. We foresaw that his disappointment would be diverted to us. I had the premonition "those researchers just didn't understand, they were rubbish, never use them again".
My friend, who was conducting the groups, had previously lectured semiotics at Goldsmiths. He collected approximately 100 examples of sports logos from UK and the US, and from this he established a set of conventions, which included:
They all used primary colours
Names were usually in lower case
Names were literal (eg Speedo)
The lettering and logo all conveyed movement
The proposed designs used secondary colours, lacked movement and the names were meaningless (eg Zingo). They had failed on all of the above conventions.
At the presentation we went through the results from the groups followed by the semiotics. At the end the marketing director summed up "Not only have the design agency done a poor job but they hadn't done their homework either“.
What the semiotics did was establish the conventions of the market. The designers having ignored these conventions produced logos and brand names that the respondents did not understand nor like. In addition semiotics made us heroes in the eyes of the client. Since then we have used to evaluate websites, pack designs and brochures, and it always reveals the unexpected.
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