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Spring 2021 ︎ SUNY Purchase ︎ (DES3240) Design Issues

Topic: Semiotics

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965


This is probably the most “nerdy” subject that we’ll discuss. I still don’t, truthfully feel like I fully understand semiotics and a lot of the time it comes up in coversation in a hushed or fearful tone. The point is not to completely understand the readings or the topics but to get a sense of what the density of theory feels like.

With that in mind please give yourself some time to process the readings and use the videos to help provide some context.

The other point here is to think about how this relates to your practice as a designer or the practice of designing as a larger discourse. How does the study of signs relate to the development of logo? How does the cultural and societal construction of meaning around signs relate to conversations around human rights? 

This may feel like a departure in some ways but it relates to other things we’ve talked about in the past:Ramon Tejada’s “puncturing” of the accepted canon of design, Kelly Walters’ examination of typography in minstrel music sheet books, Michael Rock saying in Designer as Author that Cranbrook students and related designers misinterpreted these texts, or how corporate culture might use a geometric sans to seem “current”

At its heart we are talking about signs; symbols we use to represent things whether they be mental pictures, letters, etc. and the idea of the actual thing signified. In the Joseph Kosuth piece, there’s layers of meaning that change between the actual physical chair, the picture of the chair, and the description of the chair. In a photographic context there might be a discussion about the layer of meaning of this specific photograph. In a more philosophical context we might have a longer discussion about “the idea of chair-ness.” Again the point here is less to regurgitate your understanding (or lack of understanding) of this topic but to grapple with in what way you interact with it.

A reminder to avoid summary

Please do not, please do not, please do not, pleeeeeease do not simply summarize the content that you are reading. Find a take, a way in, ask a question that you then attempt to answer. 

Viewings/readings that are not required but should be extremely helpful in preparing you for the denser reading and giving you context.

  • This guy’s stuff is pretty digestible and just generally helpful at parsing the overview of the ideas here. These are not required but highly suggested to watch to just provide some context.
  • Course in General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure︎ This is one of the foundational texts on this topic, obviously not necessary to read this whole book but you may enjoy reading or hearing from the source.

Required Readings

“The Signifier and Truth” from On Grammatology by Jacques Derrida︎(A note that this is a .PDF of an entire book, I am not asking you to read the entire book, I am asking you to read a short section from within this book. In the book it is pg.10-18, in the .PDF it is pg.96-104. Please be prepared to read this more than once and to give yourself extra time to read something that is relatively dense)

Questions & Ideas to Consider While Reading

    • Is theory “necessary”? Should work speak for itself? Can form exist in a vacuum? Can you design or make work divorced from theory?
    • Should work speak for itself (again divorced from theory)?
    • How does it feel reading this content? Totally offputting? Unintelligbly dense?

Stuff from class (04/21/2021)

Art by black artists is “about” blackness︎ We were talking about the nature of art needing or not needing context, and how having context about an artist often reduces the depth of the conversation with artists of color, and often excludes them from being formalists and that their art must be “about” blackness.

Justification tutorial︎
This is a tutorial I made (when I think I probably had COVID? lol) and it talks about my justification settings and how to deal with and identify rivers. I believe there was an issue with Melissa’s response where there was some riverring. 

Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth︎I mentioned this because I brought up Joseph Campbell’s quote that “computers are like Old Testament gods, a lot of rules and no mercy.” I believe I was talking about the idea of the “privilege” of getting to make things as a designer and they don’t have to be fully understood or resolved. It looks like most of the series is up on this website. I found really powerful in highschool, and thing Joseph Campbell is just really great to hear talking, but your mileage may vary.

John Ashberry︎  Amy mentioned this as an example of poetry that I would like if I enjoyed what I characterized as intermitten poeticness of Derrida’s writing.

“Death” of painting︎ We were talking about the nature of other disciplines and how there are pretty robust discussions about the significance and relavence in painting in fine art and that the discussions there and in design are not simply evaluations of whether work is “successful” or not.

Digital Blackface in reaction GIFs︎ I believe we were discussing how things that signify meaning like emotion in a contemporary context or whether Derrida would be into Twitter, and how that stuff can also have other, more complex cultural associations.  

Ethiopian writing on Twitter︎ Similar situation that was happening around the time Trump got COVID. I kinda find this more fucked up in the sense that the meme-ness banks on people not being aware of this language. And is kind of strange to me when there are actual magic(k)al symbols in Unicode.

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