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semiotics

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Semiotics is the study of the use of symbolic communication. Semiotics can include signs, logos, gestures and other linguistic and nonlinguistic communication methods. As a word, semiotics derives from the Greek sēmeiōtikós, which describes the action of interpreting signs.

The field of semiotics focuses on understanding how people create and interpret the meaning of signs and symbols, including how people visually communicate through metaphor, analogy, allegory, metonymy, symbolism and other means of expression.

Semiotics is a part of the broader study of communication, including visual arts, graphic design and basic visual literacy. Graphic designers, artists and others working in visual communication must consider how symbols, signs and colors affect the interpretation of their works. For example, it’s important for a graphic designer to create a logo for a company that is not only eye-catching and memorable but also communicates the impression the company intends to make on its customers.

When advertising, companies aim to properly communicate their brand essence to targeted demographics by understanding how individuals from different locations interpret communications. Depending on the context, symbols vary in meaning as well. For example, thumbs up can have various meanings when used in certain situations, like when in a conversation, scuba diving or hitchhiking by the side of the road.

Businesses use semiotics to successfully communicate with people who speak different languages because visuals often translate easier than text. However, semiotics can also negatively affect a business as cultural preferences can shape whether the population likes or dislikes a business based on their marketing. International organizations and companies must consider how different cultures interpret symbols and colors when creating products and marketing materials for their brands.

This was last updated in July 2017

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