Semiotics and medium theory

no_racism(Source: eyeondesign.aiga. Image by Vito Bica)

In the last few weeks, by exploring concepts of semiotics through Robin Marriner’s talk sessions I could progress with my research in terms of relation between signifier (what is seen visually) and signified (its meaning).

The  definition of semiotics formulated in the book Course in General Lingustics (De Saussure, 2011) was strictly related to the structure of language. According to De Saussure, while a sound-image would represent the signifier in language, the equivalent meaning or concept emerged from the sign in question would be defined as signified. However, the limitation in De Saussure’s theory was related with forms. Following his assumption, different colours or dissimilar letterform would not affect meaning of a message.

In contrast with these principles, I can recognize how images, colours, textures, forms and scale strongly affect the audience’s response.
It is clear, for example how certain typographic features have the power to fortify meanings or completely redesign messages. They can add values to verbal communication or speak even louder than oral messages.

In Weltschrift typeface (see image above), Vito Bica fights again racism using the Nazi’s symbols and subverting their negative meanings redesign them with a new positive approach, in order to deal with prejudice and race (Weltschrift typeface, released on April 2016).

In addiction to these reflection, we need to consider the context where graphic artifacts are experienced. In line with this factor, we can add another layer to the interpretation, where physical context is stated as medium and graphic signs as messages.

Marshall McLuhan explained that The Medium is the Message (McLuhan and Lapham, 1994). So, if I screenprint a poster, the paper I have printed on becomes the medium for my message but because McLuhan identifies as message the medium itself, the result of my process demonstrates how my poster’s paper has become the message.

In large scale graphic designs this theory is even increased due to the three dimensional context. Considering a physical space, the location of a graphic artifact can strongly affect its meaning; on the other hand a piece of graphic design in a specific place can alter the way we interpret the background.
In the image below, by using a container as medium on which the message is spread, Oxfam emphasizes the powerful connection between message and medium, in its communication campaign (Oxfam Make Trade Fair Campaign, The Netherlands 2013) .

truck-oxfam(Source: kesselskramer. Image by Unknown)

Despite the very large subject, through these reflections I am trying to clarify my research process, identifying the relation between semiotics and large scale graphic designs and increasing my knowledge in terms of future practice.


Bica, V. (2016) Weltschrift, image. Viewed: 4th Nov 2016.<>.

De Saussure F. (2011) Course in General Linguistics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Make Trade Fair Container, n.d. photograph. Viewed: 2nd Nov 2016.<>.

Mcluhan, M. and Lapham, L.H. (1994) Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man. London: MIT Press.


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