A Semiotic Theory for Graphic Design

by Skaggs

ISBN: 9780262363990 | Copyright 2017

Click here to preview

Instructor Requests

Digital Exam/Desk Copy Print Desk Copy Ancillaries

Graphic design has been an academic discipline since the post-World War II era, but it has yet to develop a coherent theoretical foundation. Instead, it proceeds through styles, genres, and imitation, drawing on sources that range from the Bauhaus to deconstructionism. In FireSigns, Steven Skaggs offers the foundation for a semiotic theory of graphic design, exploring semiotic concepts from design and studio art perspectives and offering useful conceptual tools for practicing designers.

Semiotics is the study of signs and significations; graphic design creates visual signs meant to create a certain effect in the mind (a “FireSign”). Skaggs provides a network of explicit concepts and terminology for a practice that has made implicit use of semiotics without knowing it. He offers an overview of the metaphysics of visual perception and the notion of visual entities, and, drawing on the pragmatic semiotics of the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, looks at visual experience as a product of the action of signs. He introduces three conceptual tools for analyzing works of graphic design—semantic profiles, the functional matrix, and the visual gamut—that allow visual “personality types” to emerge and enable a greater understanding of the range of possibilities for visual elements. Finally, he applies these tools to specific analyses of typography.

Expand/Collapse All
Contents (pg. v)
Series Foreword (pg. vii)
Preface (pg. xiii)
Acknowledgments (pg. xvii)
Introduction (pg. 1)
Shift no. 1: a consolidation of trades (pg. 1)
Shift no. 2: ideology replaces style (pg. 2)
Shift no. 3: semiology and deconstruction (pg. 3)
Design is (yet) a folk practice (pg. 5)
Folkism 1: oral and repetitive tradition (pg. 6)
Folkism 2: the imitation of heroes (pg. 6)
Folkism 3: magic (pg. 6)
Visual Vikings paddling forth (pg. 7)
The way forward (pg. 8)
Part I: The View from Outside Sign Action (pg. 11)
1 Visual Perception Models (pg. 13)
A ladder of theories (pg. 13)
The metaphysics of perception (pg. 16)
Externalists (pg. 19)
Internalists (pg. 20)
Physiology and Cognitive Psychology (pg. 21)
Stepping from the perceptual rung of the ladder (pg. 23)
2 The Visent (pg. 25)
Being visual (pg. 25)
Being an entity (pg. 26)
Visent: both/neither mind and/nor matter (pg. 29)
The three visent types (pg. 30)
Part II: The View from Within Sign Action (pg. 37)
3 The World of Signs (pg. 39)
Semiology or semiotics? (pg. 39)
The sign and relations of the third order (pg. 40)
The semiotic moment (pg. 42)
4 Sign Classes (pg. 51)
Displays (pg. 51)
The three trichotomies (pg. 54)
The ten general classes of visual sign (pg. 62)
Focus on displays and assertions (pg. 77)
5 Syntax and Semantics (pg. 79)
Overview of syntax, semantics, and human factors (pg. 79)
Syntax (pg. 81)
Semantics (pg. 84)
Presence (pg. 86)
Expression (pg. 90)
The conceptual semantic register (pg. 91)
Denotation (pg. 95)
Connotation (pg. 99)
Characterizations by denotative and connotative emphasis (pg. 103)
Part III: Conceptual Tools (pg. 105)
6 Semantic Profiles and Display-Assertion Strategies (pg. 107)
Valency (pg. 107)
Semantic Profiles (pg. 111)
From displays to assertions (pg. 115)
Semantic display-assertion strategies (pg. 116)
Envisioning conceptual relationships as 3D space diagrams (pg. 122)
Conclusion (pg. 126)
7 The Functional Matrix (pg. 127)
The functional matrix: hard and soft attributes intersecting semantics and syntax (pg. 128)
Using the functional matrix (pg. 135)
Nomenclature -philia and -phobia (pg. 137)
Using the functional matrix: a case study (pg. 139)
Graphic design is a semiotics laboratory (pg. 143)
8 The Visual Gamut (pg. 145)
The gamut and some observations (pg. 145)
The apexes and opposing baseline spectra (pg. 152)
The problem of aesthetic typography (pg. 158)
Part IV: Analysis and Implications (pg. 161)
9 The Graphic Spectrum (pg. 163)
Marklike and wordlike visents (pg. 163)
Five states of writing (pg. 166)
Conclusion (pg. 184)
10 Typography (pg. 185)
What is a capital R? (pg. 185)
The sizzle is not transparent (pg. 192)
Traditional and International Style composition as symbols (pg. 194)
Conclusion (pg. 202)
11 Motif, Style, Genre (pg. 203)
Real-world analysis: visents and systems (pg. 203)
The unitary and the plural (pg. 204)
Style, genre, clichés, and lies (pg. 211)
Five (or six) engines of stylistic evolution (pg. 214)
Genre mixing and appropriation (pg. 216)
Brands (pg. 224)
Cliché (pg. 227)
Epilogue (pg. 231)
Metadesign: designing beyond genre and style (pg. 232)
Appendix (pg. 235)
Display-assertion strategy types (pg. 236)
Notes (pg. 241)
Introduction (pg. 241)
Chapter 1 (pg. 241)
Chapter 2 (pg. 242)
Chapter 3 (pg. 243)
Chapter 4 (pg. 245)
Chapter 5 (pg. 246)
Chapter 6 (pg. 248)
Chapter 7 (pg. 249)
Chapter 8 (pg. 250)
Chapter 9 (pg. 250)
Chapter 10 (pg. 251)
Chapter 11 (pg. 252)
Epilogue (pg. 253)
Glossary (pg. 255)
Bibliography (pg. 263)
Index (pg. 269)

Steven Skaggs

Steven Skaggs is Professor of Design at the Hite Art Institute of the University of Louisville. A semiotician, calligrapher, and font designer, he explores the connections between the visual and verbal worlds.

Go paperless today! Available online anytime, nothing to download or install.