Critical Thinking

In we are only able to interpret what

In this
essay, 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.

To be able
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 perceived.

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”
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 idea.

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” 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” 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.