CATS Week 3: Semiotics 18/10/2013

Semiotics can be defined as ‘the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation’ (definition by Google). So basically, it’s the analysis of sign systems and how we use signs to display or understand numerous things ranging anywhere from emotions to directions.  The main point of interest within semiotics is exploring the links between words, images and ideas. We are also interested in the links between language and image and how our understanding of this helps us create meanings for signs and symbols. An example of this is using colour to suggest emotions or character traits, for example the colour red indicates passion, warning and even war.

Banksy, a UK graffiti artist, is well-known for using images and epigrams in order to produces pieces with dark humour within them typically related to politics.

This particular piece is called ‘Follow your dreams’ and is painted in a low-income area within Chinatown, Boston.  The piece shows a worn out male painter who has painted over the words ‘Follow your dreams’ with a cancellation sign. This signifies that the painter himself has given up on his dreams and is backed up with him looking worn out. Using semiotics we can look more into paintings by the use of colour, words and particular imagery; For example in this painting we can see the use of the colour black for the male artist which suggests death and is the symbol of grief. The colour navy denotes knowledge and power, and alongside the meaning of ‘Follow your dreams’ suggests that this man had his heart set on seeking the american dream in order to become something notable. The large red sign that says ‘Cancelled’ is red with white text, the colours white and red together in this piece connotes that the mans dreams have been boldly given up on and the use of red indicates warning and the white would indicate in this context that this is the honest truth.

Applying this to a game character rather than an artistic painting would use colours to help portray a character. In this instance I will apply semiotics to Pikachu, a well-known character from the Pokemon series.

The yellow which covers 80% (a rough estimate) of Pikachu’s body suggests that Pikachu is a joyful, smart character with an energetic personality. Yellow can also connote a different possible side to Pikachu, as yellow can indicate a warning or caution. With the use of red on his cheeks surrounding the yellow connotes passion and love, but again suggests war and danger. Finally, the brown on his body suggests stability and is seen as a masculine quality. All this evidence from a brief semiotic analysis, in terms of colour alone, suggests that Pikachu is a fun loveable character who can become hot-headed or slightly enraged but will always be a stable and kind character. Just this analysis has allowed us to see what Pikachu is like before the character is animated and has made me think that in future when I design characters this is something I will use a lot within my designs.

Semiotics is derived from the greek word ‘semeiotikos’ and thanks to thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle who began to think about the connection between language and its interpretation, has allowed us to know semiotics as we know them today. Plato believed that representation can be possibly taken the wrong way by creating illusions and that it was importance to monitor this or it could create antisocial activity and emotions. Aristotle thought it was important to imitate things as it allows humans to learn, even if its imitating animals.

Aristotle spoke of representation in three ways:

  1. The object: The symbol being represented.
  2. Manner: The way the symbol is represented.
  3. Means: The material that is used to represent it.

Two major key thinkers who played a big role in semiotics were Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce. Ferdinand de Saussure was born in November 1857 and taught general linguistics at the University of Geneva. His main interest and focus was the understanding of conditions for the existence of any language. He introduced the idea of using a dyadic to help determine the semiotics of an entity using;

  • Signified
  • Signifier


This dyadic denotes what Ferdinand thought about how an image can link with a meaning. This iconic image belongs to Facebook and is the signifier as it is the material aspect of the sign. While it stands for an aspect of social media and a form of expression, so this would make it the ‘signified’ as it signified social media.

Charles Sanders Pierce was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician and scientist but considered himself a logician above everything else. He was born 10th of September 1839 and was educated as a chemist. Charles developed Saussures ideas further and argued that instead of being a dyadic it is instead a triadic and consists of;

  • Sign
  • Object
  • Interpretant


Charles also proposed we can identify three categories within the relationship between signs and objects, these are;

  • An IconAn Icon is an image, text, or word that physically symbolises something. For example on most software packages you are given a printer symbol which suggests you are able to print.
  • A Symbol – A symbol is an object that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, visual image, belief, action, or material entity. –
  • An Index – An Index is defined by a sensory feature, for example dark clouds in the west indicate the possibility of rain.

So to conclude my blog post, semiotics is the study of signs and symbols which allow us to identify and interpretate entities effectively.

One thought on “CATS Week 3: Semiotics 18/10/2013

  1. Pingback: Semiotics: Recognising meaning, and creating meaning | Dragonling Designs

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