Tuesday, July 16, 2013

This is not what it looks like

It is a nice rainy afternoon. To add to the weather I am preparing a lecture on Semiotics and Media.Now you  may wonder in such a beautiful weather preparation of a lecture may not be a very happening idea. But the subject of semiotics is so interesting especially if you apply to various facets of media and communication, that it is not a hindrance in enjoying the weather.

So what is semiotics and why should its study even matter to media students or practitioners? To give a simple explanation it is a study of signs. Any sign. It could be in the form of an image or a word or even a sound. The way an object of attention appears is not exactly the way it has to be interpreted as. All signs have two parts to it : the signifier and the signified. The signifier is an entity that signifies, it could be words on a page, an expression on the face, a picture, or some graffiti. The signified is what you hold in your mind, the concept of the entity shown. Now hope I am not confusing you. For e.g. The picture below looks of a little kid enjoying the fragrance of the flowers.What if I tell you it is not? Well, then you are getting semiotics if you are able to read beyond it. Understand connotations.

An image can have several interpretations. It is thus important to put a picture the way you would want your audience to perceive it as. Kress and van Leeuwen studied how images could convey messages by examining formal elements and structure of design, the color perspective, framing and composition, which they called as visual grammar. Semiotics became a major field of study in the in the 1960s with the work of  Ronald Barthes. Other prominent names that will catch your attention are that of  Swiss lingusit  Ferdinand de Saussure and American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce.

The Handbook of Corporate Communication and Public Relations edited by Sandra Oliver explains that a media or public relations practitioner should use the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) principle when applied to semiotics; it will help in developing better semiotic objects in messages. This is so because how I choose a color or a material for print or a text is dependent on my social, cultural or psychological background, and imagine if I were in a team, then each team member will have his or her own baggage.Thus the AIDA comes to my rescue as a guiding standard template.

This a beginners note to understanding semiotics especially if you would want to see its application in the daily creation of messages in various forms.


  1. Interesting Post. I m currently reading more on semiotics online.
    Out of curiosity what is the interpretation of the boy smelling flowers?

  2. It will be in the context in which it is placed.

  3. I some how have a natural bend towards the application of semiotics on images,but i want to learn and understand on how to make a smiliar impact on the audience and thus present images in that form.
    One idea representation through an image to get across audience of different background. What factors do i keep in mind to do this?

  4. I think Tanvi a good idea would be first study the kind of images that your audience is currently recieving, maybe take a feedback on how do they find it appealing or otherwise. Culture plays an important role on the kind of pictures, colors, text appeals to a person, so maybe a thorough study of the group we sending the message to, would beg for an audience study before the actual transmission. Media Study also helps us to figure out what kind of text and images media prefer to use, so a content analysis would help here. I know this calls for a tedious effort, but then semiotics can only be useful then. Even a sharp eye for semiotics being applied in various forms of display also helps in at least initiating a research.