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SUNY Purchase︎(DES3240) Design Issues

Topic: Semiotics


For context, 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. Additionally, this dovetails relatively well with Cult of the Ugly, some of this was part of the underpinnings for their design decisions. You might also remember that Michael Rock in Designer as Author, mentions that the Cranbrook students fundamentally misinterpretted these ideas in the pursuit (effectively, to Rock’s mind) of less legible or intelligible designs.  

In a more general sense, graphic design is wrestling with signs. Whether it be through logos, type or other culturally and symbolically loaded graphics, it’s worthwhile to know this can be part of the discourse and another axis with which to approach work; whether it be your own, your peers, or design you encounter in the “wild.”

Required Readings

The Signifier and Truth by Jacques Derrida︎

(Highly)Suggested Contextual Readings/Viewings

  • 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.

Questions & Ideas to Consider While Reading

  • How does it feel reading this content? Totally offputting? Unintelligbly dense?
  • Do you feel theory is “necessary” to provide a contextual framework for your “cultural intervention” as a designer? Should the forms “speak for themselves”? Why or why not?
  • What’s the texture of the sensation that you get from reading this stuff with a historical context in relation to the other readings we’ve done. Inevitably a lot of the “seminal” writing on these topics is older, white European dudes, so mostly I’m curious your guys’ thoughts there.  

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