Staffordshire meaning”. Explain what this means and relate

Staffordshire University


We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Module Title: Visual Communication


Code: GRAPH40087


Semioticians claim that successful
and effective visual communication is said to produce a “unity in meaning”.
Explain what this means and relate it to the process of ‘problem solving’ or
finding a ‘visual solution’.




Matthew Hill


Date: 14.12.17


Word Count: 992 words


Tutor: Lucas Swann


In this assignment, I am going to explain how successful and
effective visual communication can produce a unity in meaning and how it
relates to the process of finding a visual solution.

In order to answer the question I must first look at the
basic foundations of semiotics and what different types of sign exist. There are
two parts of signs originally depicted, the signifier which is the form of the
sign, and then the signified which is the thing that is being represented by
the signifier. The viewer needs to be able to link the two parts in order for
it to be a successful sign and this linkage is what Charles Sanders Peirce
described as the third part of signage. However, the main point of the sign is
the first two as a sign cannot exist without them; the third is only how it is

As Steven Bradley, a designer and author, writes “Signs can
take many forms. They can be words, numbers, sounds, photographs, paintings, and
road sings among and more” (Bradley, 2016) this shows that from a brief
analysis of the types of signs that exist you can concur that there are many
different types of visual communication, some more effective than others but I
will discuss that further into the essay. Despite the many existing types they
can still all be placed into three distinct categories, these being icons,
indexes, and symbols. To briefly summarise them; an icon is a direct visual
resemblance, for example, a photograph, of the signified item, an index is
casually linked, for example, a fingerprint to represent a human, and finally a
symbol has no visual connection to the signifier only a cultural agreement to
its meaning, for example, a dove to represent peace. Out of the three, the icon
is the most effective as it is the literal resemblance of the signifier and
therefore will produce a greater unity in meaning across different than the
others as little to no cultural learning needs to take place to understand the

A unity in meaning is the same understanding of something
across different groups and cultures, for example, a red traffic light meaning
stop. This is a perfect example of a successful piece of visual communication
as it has provided a visual solution for the problem of needing a sign to
represent a halt in the movement of traffic. As John Storey wrote “Semiotics
makes us aware that the cultural values with which we make sense of the world
are a tissue of conventions that have been handed down from generation to
generation by the members of the culture of which we are a part” (Storey,
19960) this explains that our acquired understanding of language is developed
from our community and accumulated family knowledge, therefore, we are only
able to interpret what we already know in terms of language and would be unable
to recognise signs with foreign concepts. This, therefore, highlights the
critical importance of a successful sign being able to convey a unity in meaning
to get across its message to the audience.

Visual problem solving is finding the right language to
communicate with an audience, in terms of semiotics this would be something
that applies to all the different groups that would need to be catered for so
would need to have a unity in meaning throughout the entire audience to be
successful. A sign must therefore not only have a cultured understanding but a
basic human instinct to really get across its message. Following natural
cultured instincts such as red for danger means that there is no communication
barrier for the sign and the viewer which is vital for the sign to be
effective. As a language is a system of signs it means that sign must be
compatible to fit with the viewer’s language which again will derive from the
cultured instincts. Saussure wrote about the “role of signs as part of social
life” (Saussure, 1916) which shows how pivotal sign communication is to the
viewer and reinforces the point of how critical it is for the sign to fit with
the viewer’s language. In addition to this, Saussure is communicating his
consideration of how the cultured understand from the viewers social life
impacts their understanding of signs, for example how an inside joke is only
understood by people in the group it was created in, the same works for signs,
a person could associate a certain sign with a meaning purely based on their
social influences and those very influences are able to change the meaning of a
sign. Reverting back to the question, a sign is again successful if it can fit
in with the instinctual understandings of signs that the viewer has in order for
the signs perceived meaning not to be susceptible to change. 

Overall it is clear that for a sign to be successful it
absolutely must fit in with the cultured understanding of the viewer and
reflect a meaning that can be understood across different cultures and groups
so that the interpretation of the sign is a shared meaning. If the shared
meaning is achieved then the sign can solve the problem that it was intended
for a means of communication or a visual solution. While the theory of
semiotics has only been around in its modern form for around one hundred years,
its thought process can be seen throughout time in the form of cave paintings
and other visual ideas intended to tell stories or simply have a single
meaning. This is why we are able to understand those signs despite the cultural
and age differences, purely down to the cultured understandings that have been
passed down from generation to generation.







Bradley, Steven (2016): Icon, Index, and Symbol — Three Categories of
Signs Colorado: N/A

Storey, John (Ed.) (1996): What is Cultural Studies? London:

Saussure, Ferdinand de (1916
1974): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Wade Baskin).
London: Fo­­­ntana/Collins