In thisessay, I am going to explain how successful and effective visual communicationcan produce a unity in meaning and how it relates to the process of finding avisual solution.To be ableto answer the question I must first look at the basic foundations of semioticsand what different types of sign exist. There are two parts of signs originallydepicted, the signifier which is the form of the sign, and then the signifiedwhich is the thing that is being represented by the signifier. The viewer needsto be able to link the two parts in order for it to be a successful sign andthis linkage is what Charles Sanders Peirce described as the third part ofsignage. However, the main point of the sign is the first two as a sign cannotexist without them; the third is only how it is perceived.As StevenBradley, a designer and author, writes “Signs can take many forms. They can bewords, 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 canconcur that there are many different types of visual communication, some moreeffective than others but I will discuss that further into the essay.
Despitethe 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 isa 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 culturalagreement to its meaning, for example, a dove to represent peace. Out of thethree, the icon is the most effective as it is the literal resemblance of thesignifier and therefore will produce a greater unity in meaning acrossdifferent than the others as little to no cultural learning needs to take placeto understand the idea.A unity inmeaning is the same understanding of something across different groups andcultures, for example, a red traffic light meaning stop. This is a perfectexample of a successful piece of visual communication as it has provided avisual solution for the problem of needing a sign to represent a halt in the movementof traffic.
As John Storey wrote “Semiotics makes us aware that the culturalvalues with which we make sense of the world are a tissue of conventions thathave been handed down from generation to generation by the members of theculture of which we are a part” this explains that our acquired understandingof language is developed from our community and accumulated family knowledge,therefore, we are only able to interpret what we already know in terms oflanguage and would be unable to recognise signs with foreign concepts. This,therefore, highlights the critical importance of a successful sign being ableto convey a unity in meaning to get across its message to the audience. Visualproblem solving is finding the right language to communicate with an audience,in terms of semiotics this would be something that applies to all the differentgroups that would need to be catered for so would need to have a unity inmeaning throughout the entire audience to be successful. A sign must therefore notonly have a cultured understanding but a basic human instinct to really getacross its message. Following natural cultured instincts such as red for dangermeans that there is no communication barrier for the sign and the viewer whichis vital for the sign to be effective. As a language is a system of signs itmeans that sign must be compatible to fit with the viewer’s language whichagain will derive from the cultured instincts. Saussure wrote about the “roleof signs as part of social life” which shows how pivotal sign communication isto the viewer and reinforces the point of how critical it is for the sign tofit with the viewer’s language.
In addition to this, Saussure is communicatinghis consideration of how the cultured understand from the viewers social lifeimpacts their understanding of signs, for example how an inside joke is onlyunderstood 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 theirsocial influences and those very influences are able to change the meaning of asign. Reverting back to the question, a sign is again successful if it can fitin with the instinctual understands of signs that the viewer has in order forthe signs perceived meaning not to be susceptible to change. Overall itis clear that for a sign to be successful it absolutely must fit in with thecultured understanding of the viewer and reflect a meaning that can beunderstood across different cultures and groups so that the interpretation ofthe sign is a shared meaning. If the shared meaning is achieved then the signcan solve the problem that it was intended for a means of communication or avisual solution. While the theory of semiotics has only been around in itsmodern form for around one hundred years, its thought process can be seenthroughout time in the form of cave paintings and other visual ideas intended totell stories or simply have a single meaning. This is why we are able tounderstand those signs despite the cultural and age differences, purely down tothe cultured understandings that have been passed down from generation togeneration.