What is semiotics? It is the study of signs and how people interpret them. A sign can be anything – a road sign, piece of art, a colour, written language, an object. Semiologist Ferdinand de Saussure suggests that every sign has two parts. The first part is the signifier which is what the person can see, feel, hear and the second part is signified which represents the idea and cultural meaning behind the sign.
To put it simply: your mind creates meaning as soon as you see a sign. You might look at an apple and think that it represents health or look at soap and think cleanliness. All of these meanings are formed in our subconsciousness.
But what does it have to do with branding?
Well branding uses graphic design to visualise their identities. When we look at a brands logo or website we immediately create associations in our mind for what that brand stands for.
As an example lets look at some of these brands:
When you look at them you think of luxury or prestige or even high end pricing. Well that is because graphic designers know that certain fonts and colours are used to get the desired associations. That is also why when you look at logos from companies in the same industry you see a lot of similarities. Like green colour for healthy foods, heavy, bold and well balanced letterforms for construction companies.
But why do companies in the same sector look so similar? Surely they need to differentiate to compete. Well we have a shared cultural understanding of signs that designers use to create identities. If a luxury brand will look like a fast food chain because of playful typefaces then we will not perceive the brand as luxurious even if they have high quality goods and premium pricing. Their inner identity would clash with their outer shell.
Even if graphic designers don’t learn about semiotics they end up applying it unknowingly.