This Means What?

Structuralism and semiotics can be viewed as a science of signs, the way they are transmitted and interpreted. By considering the relationships between these and graphic design, we can easily understand the importance and significance of how signs, such as words, images, sentences or otherwise are consumed and understood by an audience.

Within graphic design, and even more so within typography; an understanding of language and how it works is important in order to effectively communicate through signs and images. Author Lucienne Roberts (2000,p.76), introduces this idea, stating the importance of understanding language in order to move forward and experiment within design allowing new aesthetics to emerge.

The idea of semiotics was first introduced by Swiss Professor of Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure. He believed language was a system of signs. Saussure held the notion that the signifier and the signified were entirely psychological and one could not exist without the other, although his theory can be simplified when the signified is viewed as a real object.

Kosuth, J. (1965) ‘One in Three Chairs’

The above example ‘One in Three Chairs’ by Kosuth depicts clearly Saussure’s theory. It shows the chair itself, an image of the chair and a dictionary definition of the chair, symbolising the ‘signified’ and ‘signifier’. In this example the signified would be the actual chair, whereas the signifier would be the word ‘chair’ which leads to the sign. Neither the signified or the signifier would hold any meaning alone.


Roberts, L. Read Me! Part 1. Literacy in graphic design, Eye Magazine, number 37, 2000 p.76.

Semiotics (2017) Available at: (Accessed: 13/02/17).

Semiotics, signs (2014) Available at (Accessed: 13/02/17).

Slatter, A. Mason, A. (2017) This means what? [Lecture to BA Graphic and Media Design Year 1], London College of Communication. 16 January 2017


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