Semiotic Analysis in Perspective: A Frame of Reference to Inform Industrial Design Practice

By João F. Figueiredo and Denis A. Coelho.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper is aimed at contributing towards the understanding of the process of embedding meaning in products, informing industrial design practice. The approach chosen commences with review of selected semiotic studies, to expose the relation between semiotics and the design of products. The purpose of understanding the usefulness and suitability of semiotics to support the design of products is rooted in the belief that semiotics may assist designers by informing their choices and decisions about paths to pursue in the design process. An analysis of design’s fundamental periods suggests a gradual but steady uptake of the elements of analysis of each of semiotics’ branches. The pursuance of symbolic connotation, beyond mere denotation of objects, is inherent to human nature. Evidence abounds of the purpose of embedding meaning into objects, even if the structured and purposeful inclusion of elements of semiotic analysis in the process of product design is not always done methodically, albeit intuitively. The orders of signification (connotation, denotation and myth) support the analysis of symbolism, when meaning is to be embedded into objects. Practitioners may further benefit from a structured and purposeful inclusion of elements of semiotic analysis in a methodologically supported process of product design. Another goal of this paper is, hence, to outline an explicit design methodology and highlight, in its several stages, the semiotic perspective that is viewed as most adequate to support the attainment of improved outcomes to the design process. The relation between design and semiotics is further elicited by retrospective analysis of two design cases. The semiotic elements of analysis may be positioned in complement to a systematic design methodology, with the aim of informing the design process. A frame of reference is proposed that shows a partial overlap between levels of semiotic analysis in their correspondence to the industrial design process.

Keywords: Product Design Methodology, Syntactics, Product Semantics, Pragmatics, Systematic Design, Signification

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.333-346. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.191MB).

João F. Figueiredo

Master of Science, Technological Industrial Design Program, Department of Electromechanical Engineering, Universidade da Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal

João F. D. Figueiredo was born in 1985 in Estarreja, Portugal. At the age of seventeen, in the academic year of 2003/2004 he entered the Engineering Faculty of Oporto to the Civil Engineering program. In the middle of the academic year he decided to leave these studies and his interest for design, as an academic discipline, began. He changed to the Industrial Design program at Beira Interior’s University when it started, in the academic year of 2004/2005. Two years later, he attended the Industrial Design program at Torino’s Polytechnic School in Italy by means of the Erasmus program. He concluded his master thesis in Technological Industrial Design at Beira Interior University with the theme of The Product’s Symbolic Expression, with tutoring of Professor Denis Alves Coelho. In his free time, João Figueiredo really enjoys hanging out with friends, going to the beach, listening to music, watching movies, practicing different kinds of sports to relax, such as football and kick-boxing, playing the trumpet and reading a good book. He currently holds the trainee position at a design studio in Barcelona, under the auspices of the Portuguese government’s programme Inov Contacto.

Prof. Denis A. Coelho

Assistant Professor (Tenured), Technological Industrial Design Program, Department Electromechanical Engineering, Universidade da Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal

Denis A. Coelho has been responsible for the creation and development in the University of Beira Interior of an entirely new program of studies in Industrial Design (undergraduate studies leading to a Bachelor's degree) and Technological Industrial Design (Masters program). He has also designed and helped design post-secondary programs of studies including Multimedia product development, E-commerce web applications and multimedia web applications. As a Mechanical Engineer with an Ergonomic Design and Production Management post-graduate education his research has focused in several areas. He has worked with car seat comfort (ergonomic design) and has also been interested in Management Systems in Small and Medium Enterprises, as well as providing a contribution to the advancement of ergonomic design methods. He has also participated and coordinated Multimedia design projects, focusing on the application of ergonomic guidelines at both the conceptual and application level. International exposure has included research performed in collaboration with Swedish and US universities, applied to the automotive and healthcare sectors.


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