The language and nomenclature of semiotic theory may be a useful tool for undergraduate students in critiques, written self-analysis, and design ideation. When introduced in approachable, example–driven instruction and paired with application in the process of design, students have shown the ability to internalize and utilize this theoretical system. The educational process begins with an introductory reading that specifically avoids the terms “icon” or “symbol” in an attempt to acclimate students to such ideas as the abstraction inherent in the printed page and the viewer as interpreter of information. After this material is considered, a second, more difficult, reading introduces Pierce and Sassure’s theories of meaning formation and categories of sign classification. In the discussion of the second text, it is helpful to reinforce the content through “practical” application. The instructor leads “readings” of the semiotic content in clothing, posters, and even music videos.
This in-class activity is followed by a “scavenger hunt” where students are asked to photograph examples of environmental signage that utilizes iconic, indexical, and symbolic signs. Students classify printouts of their images, explaining and discussing their rational with the class. Finally each student begins to create a four-element symbol system. In a very practical application of theory, students are asked to generate thumbnails using iconic, indexical, and symbolic depictions of their subject matter. As the forms are moved from thumbnails and into working roughs, students and instructor use semiotic terminology in critiques. Students are also encouraged to draw on indexical content in further development of their forms. Once students finish their symbol system, they compose a written analysis of the semiotic content of their final design solution. This pedagogical technique helps many conquer what is difficult content and shows students how it may be applied to the design process in a positive, and useful, way.
|Keywords:||Pedagogy, Semiotics, Ideation, Popular Culture, Design Process, Music Videos, Peirce, Sassure, Semiotic Theory|
Assistant Professor, Department of Visual Arts and New Media, State University of New York at Fredonia, Fredonia, NY, USA