DSGN 3100

Introduction to Semiotics

Assignments and Readings

Quiz: April 20

Quiz coverage

Pay attention to being able to explain (in plain language) and apply concepts such as:

  • Semiotics
  • Basic concepts and definitions from Saussure
  • Basic concepts and definitions from Peirce
  • Basic concepts and definitions from Barthes
  • Rhetorical appeals
  • Metaphor
  • Denotation and connotation
  • Code and myth

The quiz will focus on general concepts rather than specific details. Readings to review for concepts and terminology noted above:

Assignment 8

Metaphor and Interface

Choose an interface for a hardware device (not a piece of software running on a computer, phone, etc.). Re-design it using a strong metaphor (or metaphors.) The metaphor should be new, unconventional but still help explain and inform the interface.

Create a 1-page, landscape-format document depicting the interface. This is not a visual design exercise, but an exercise in communicating a concept.

Note your metaphor in the notation used by George Lakoff, that is: ARGUMENT IS WAR

Be prepared to present your concept in class via Zoom, April 6 focusing on the metaphor. You have 2 minutes to present your concept, followed by a 2 minute question period.

Due: 6PM, Sunday April 5. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

Name the file: YOURLASTNAME_DSGN3100_Assign8.PDF

Assignment 7

Tropes and schemes

Review the Rhetorical Handbook

Choose a single type of physical product - furniture, architecture, etc.

Create four versions of it using different rhetorical schemes and tropes. Label each one, specifying the trope or scheme; briefly explain how the scheme or trope is being used. You may use words or images (or both) to construct your versions. All of your versions must be of the same product - your task is to create different variations on it.

In the Rhetorical Hanbook, pages 10-11 and 16-21 have many examples of tropes and schemes. Make sure to adapt these defintions from the origial application to speech, and examples from graphic design, to product design.

Your design concepts do not need to be practical. Feel free to violate any, or all, of the rules in Dieter Rams' Design Manifesto.

For an example of variations on a theme, (although not directly informed by rhetoric), see One coffee cup a day..

An example of similar speculative design, https://www.theuncomfortable.com

Note: You may not use coffee cups as the project for your assignment.

Due: 6PM, Sunday March 29. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

Name the file: YOURLASTNAME_DSGN3100_Assign7.PDF

Assignment 6

This is not a place of fun

Your task is to create a playground that kids will not want to play in.

Background: Cities often require land developers to provide playgrounds as part of new housing developments. The land developer in this case must comply and build a playground, but doesn't want kids hanging around, because reasons. The playground you describe must follow the basic rules for playground safety and accessibility. You can review some of these rules here. You can't use obvious impediments such as fences, razor edges, land-mines, etc. Nor can you simply post signs that say, for example, "No playing allowed."

You must adhere to the basic formal requirements of a playground, including life safety. The playground must be located in this imaginary subdivision, but you can choose where.

The objective to not to create a playground children can't play in, but rather one they don't want to play in.

Emphasize semiotic aspects - that it, use meaning and signs to dissuade.

You may use images, sketches, words or other means to communicate your concept.

You can find examples of communicating playground designs here, but you do not need to use this style.

Any work not your own must be cited, using the MLA guidelines.

Notes: Typical rhetoric is based on persuading people to do something. What is the rhetoric of dissuading people from doing something?

Think expansively. This not a product design project, it is a communication project, in the broadest possible sense. Meaning is your primary tool. Think about the audiences - children and caregivers. Think beyond playground equipment - think about landscape, context, narrative and all the things that can affect the way people think about a place. What is the code, or vernacular of playgrounds? And how can you manipulate that vernacular to both communicate "playgroundness" but also dissuade use?

Include a written explanation of your "rhetoric" of playgrounds - the basic rules you observe in other playgrounds and are obeying or violating.

Due: 6PM, Sunday March 15. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

Name the file: YOURLASTNAME_DSGN3100_Assign6.PDF

Background readings

Some of these readings are for background, some are more vital. Skim for content and use your judgement to determine how deeply to read these. Use the readings to help understand how to communicate by manipulating the built environment. There will be no quiz on these.

  • WIPP Exhibit: Message to 12,000 A.D..pdf
  • marker concepts
  • wipp-expert-report.pdf
  • Conceptual_PM_design_images.pdf
  • Ancient Cementitious Materials.pdf
  • Materials Analysis.pdf
  • CCA_Appendix_PIC.pdf
  • SAND90-3036 Expert judgement, human intrusion.pdf
  • Ten Thousand years of Solitude.pdf
  • monument survey.pdf
  • Untitled.pdf
  • 6799619.pdf
  • SAND 92-1382.pdf
  • Optional: Podcast

    Assignment 5

    Logos, Ethos, Pathos.

    Locate three works of design - one for each of the three modes of rhetorical appeal. They need to have been published, in print, in the last 6 months. Include the source for each, using MLA style.

    Document each, indicating how it uses a particular rhetorical appeal, and then create two alternate versions of each, using the other appeals. For example, if the work you locate uses logos, create a version that uses ethos and pathos.

    You do not need to redesign each work - you only need to submit an altered concept, using words to describe the new version. Submit as a PDF file.

    Due: 6PM, Sunday March 8. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

    Name the file: YOURLASTNAME_DSGN3100_Assign5.PDF


    • Rhetorical Tropes

    • Aristotle, On Rhetoric, Book 1. The topics of enthymemes and syllogism are less important than the basic uses and appeals of rhetoric, the aim of the reading is to identify the most important concepts.

    • Design Papers 5: Rhetorical Handbook, available in bookstore. (review "Rhetorical Handbook" for appeals and basic rhetorical concepts.

      Be prepared to answer questions on the readings, Monday March 9.

    Assignment 4

    Dollar Store Semiotics

    A sign is anything that can be used to tell a lie.
    -Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics

    Make a visit to a Dollar Store, such as Dollarama.

    Choose a product that uses persuasion to suggest it is something it is not: healthy, genuine, effective, etc. The product you choose should be rich in signs. Clones, knock-offs, and other non-mainstream products are best.

    Carefully analyse the systems of signs present in the item, using techniques similar to those in class on the knockoff brand chocolate bar. Treat the item as expressing a rhetoric: a systematic series of signs and messages, all performing different tasks.

    Make reference to denotative and connotative language, types of codes and their audiences. Write a descriptive essay, outlining the semiotic aspects of the item. Use Barthes's "Rhetoric of the Image" as an inspiration, if you need.

    Length: 500-1000 words. You may use illustrations and other diagrams. Format it using the MLA formatting rules. Include a "works cited" page noting any sources you used, *including* the product you have chosen. Use the MLA Bibliography style for your citations. Zoterbib is a useful tool for generating citations.

    As MLA does not have a clear format for citing objects, use:
    Manufacturer name. "Product name." Date of purchase. Name of item.
    So, an example would be:
    Original Gourmet. "Chocolate Fusion." Feb 10, 2020. Milk chocolate covered biscuits.

    Due: 6PM, Sunday Feb. 23. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

    Name the file: YOURLASTNAME_DSGN3100_Assign4.PDF

    Presentation on proper essay construction.

    Assignment 3: Connotations

    Take a walking survey of the environment - choose a place - street, store or other site, and choose a category - cars, buildings, businesses, type of product or other element.

    The names need to have connotations - products that have, for example, numeric identifiers, will not work well for this.

    Record 25 names of the items of the type you have chosen, and then organize them into (possible) categories based on the names - a bestiary, to use Barthes' term. Make sure you organize based on the connotations of the names, not the products themselves. Connotatitive values of names are what is most important here. Think about why the names are appropriate. What conventions are there about naming in this category? What qualities are the names trying to convey. In Barthian terms, what myths are these names supporting?

    Once you have grouped and displayed your data, summarize your findings. What possible "codes" for your product or category can you suggest?

    Present your findings for on-screen use - as a Keynote or Powerpoint presentation, or PDF for on-screen use. Make sure to include a title page with your name as the first page or slide. Choose a method to organize the names into categories - a table (or matrix), concept map, or bubble diagram or clusters are all possibilities. The most important thing is to make the relationship between categories and items clear. Make sure to clearly state the categories you have proposed.

    Due 6 PM, Feb 2. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

    Read Creating Effective Brand Names: A Study of the Naming Process for background on practical aspects of naming.

    Assignment 2 (Reading)

    Assignment 1

    Visually document 25 signs, or, to be more precise, "sign vehicles" - that is, the physical object that conveys meaning.

    Label each one, and classify each example as indexical, iconic, or symbolic. Make sure each sign is one you have found and documented yourself - you may use photographs, sketches or text where appropriate. All work must be your own, and you may not under any circumstances use images created by others.

    Ensure that you are choosing a wide variety of signs, and not limiting yourself to obvious examples such as icons, wayfinding signs, etc. Some signs may be difficult to classify, or may be difficult to designate as signs, but be prepared to justify their inclusion. Use the "signs" chapter of Semiotics for Beginners as a reference.

    Make sure to understand the basic concepts behind both Saussure and Peirce before you begin.

    Mage sure you can demonstrate clear understanding of the three Peircean categories - indexical, iconic and symbolic.

    Submit as a PDF file. For each sign, clearly note:

    • the signified
    • the signifier,
    • and its Peircean category (index, icon or symbol).
    If sign spans multiple categories, note them. If there are multiple signs working in combination, be sure to make it clear what sign you are referring to. Neatly lay out the document with 5 signs per page, for on-screen presentation.

    Due: 6PM, Sunday Jan. 19. Upload the PDF file to Brightspace.

    Name the file: YOURLASTNAME_DSGN3100_Assign1.PDF