Semiotics in Product Design

Topics: Semiotics, Semantics, Meaning of life Pages: 7 (2036 words) Published: December 22, 2010

In the 21st century design has become an individual language, which allows to make a choice in the world of unlimited opportunities as a universal device. People are trying to learn this language for a better interaction with products because design is everywhere. Modern society is always challenged by the choice of everyday objects. People are obsessed with innovations and trends. They demand more and more from designers. Human desire wants to avoid life monotony therefore designers tend to apply the latest technology using various artistic devices and techniques. Also, they put some meaning into the produced artefacts, considering economic, cultural and historical aspects as well as ergonomics and ecological demands. Dealing with design is reflecting the conditions under which it came out and giving the effect on the products .


In order to understand how to apply all the artistic devices, designers should learn some rules, which will help them to easily see and understand the social needs. This is a special study of design from the linguistic viewpoint and it is called product semantics. Let us say some words about semiotics. In order to understand the means of communication in design, one should examine the underlying values and concepts in design theory. When semiotics is applied on design it is essential to analyze identity, metaphors and visible comprehension of products. Contemporary semiotics have moved away from the classification of sign systems to study how meanings are made and are not only being concerned with communication but also with the construction and maintenance of reality . Studying semiotics can help to understand that information or meaning is not ‘contained’ in the products. And the meaning is not ‘transmitted’ to us – we create it ourselves according to different codes which we usually do not see at once. ‘Product semantics looks at form as language-like’ . Product Semantics is a theory developed by Reinhardt Butter and Klaus Krippendorf in the 1980s and is influenced by contemporary continental philosophy. They chose the word semantic (meaning) to emphasize this aspect of communication and introduced the idea of a product as a text with levels of meaning. Thus, according to this definition, product semantics is concerned with the relationship between the user and the product on one hand, and the importance that objects assume in an operational and social context on the other hand.

Language of design as a system. The usage of the objects in this system.

Semiotic scholars describe the distinction between dynamic and static aspects of designed products by the terms: •first usage, and
second usage.

Or, according to Umberto Eco, ratio difficilis (RD) and ratio facilis (RF). First usage is just to find or invent a new piece of syntax for something, invent it on the spot and speak it or make it or interpret something in a certain way, either deliberately or spontaneously. Second usage comes after that, reusing the same sign over and over again. What makes first usage difficult (difficilis means difficult) is to get the new sign into people’s memory so it can be used and understood by many. Memory is essential for language and for product semantics. It includes both personal memory and institutional memory. The personal memory resides mostly in one’s brain, but perhaps also partly in other areas of the sensor-motor system. The institutional memory resides in books, in the rules of schools and courts, and so on.

We ‘read’ an object as we read any text, then there comes our perception of this object. This perception is called the meaning. So, our actions are subordinated to the distinguished meanings of the objects. ‘Design languages are the means by which designers build meaning into objects, the means by which objects express themselves and their meanings to people, and the means by which people learn...

References: Bernhard E.Burdek, Design History. Theory and Practice of Product Design, Publishers for Architecture, 2005.
Donald A.Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, New York, Basic Books, second edition, 2002.
Paul S. Adler, Terry A. Winograd, Usability. Turning Technologies into tools, New York, 1992
Ronald Barthes, Routledge Critical Thinkers, Taylor and Frencis Group, 2003.

Daniel Chandler, Semiotics – the basics, Routledge, 2001.
Umberto Eco, A theory of semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1976.
Hendrik N.J., Paul Hekkert, Product Experience, Elsevier, 2008
William S.Green, Patrick W.Jordan, Human Factors in Product Design
Andy Ruddock, Understanding Audiences. Theory and Method, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001.
Kaja Silverman, The subject of Semiotics, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
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