Our second reading assignment is an introduction to semiotics and models of communication. These two topics directly relate to how we understand communication design from a theoretical perspective.

…what is semiotics, and why is it important? Semiotics is defined as the theory of signs. The word “semiotics” comes from the Greek word semeiotikos , which means an interpreter of signs. Signing is vital to human existence because it underlies all forms of communication.

Hall, Sean. This Means This, This Means That : A User’s Guide to Semiotics, Laurence King Publishing, 2012.

We will be reading Hall, Sean. This Means This, This Means That : A User’s Guide to Semiotics, Laurence King Publishing, 2012 (Chapters 1 & 2). You can also take a look at an excerpt from the book that Sean Hall references: de Saussure, Ferdinand.  Course in General Linguistics pgs 65-70,  Trans. Wade Baskin, New York, Philosophical Library, 1959

Key Themes and Takeaways

A sign is composed of a signifier and a signified. The signifier is the sound-image that we see, speak or hear to refer to the sign. The signified is the concept that our mind conjures in relation to the sign. The sign is the whole of these parts.

The sign is arbitrary. We do not actively choose the components of language. The sign emerges from collective behavior, with no motivations or natural connections. Signifiers are linear. Meaning develops over time as we speak to one another.

Signs can take different forms: icon = signifier resembles the signified, index = signifier is caused by the signified, symbol = arbitrary relationship between signifier and signified.

Messages take different paths between the sender and receiver and back again via different mediums: presentational, representational, and mechanical. Analysis can help us understand when communication works and when it doesn’t.

Noise is the distortion in the meaning of a message, whether intended or not. It affects whether or not the message has successfully reached its destination.

Truth in communication. Where a message says it is from may be very different from where it is really from. It can sometimes be hard to determine the sender’s intention, and that can affect how we receive the communication.

Non-literal forms of communication use simile, metaphor, metonym, synecdoche, irony, lies, impossibility, depiction, and representation. These devices are important for design, advertising, illustration, filmmaking, fashion, and journalism because they help with the transmission of meaning.

For more information, review:


NOTE: Prior to starting this assignment, make sure you have reviewed and completed the Week 1 tasks: setting up Hypothesis, creating your Research Journal, and creating an OpenLab Post.

Following the instructions below, read and annotate the text with your classmates in our Hypothesis group. After reading and annotating the text, create a rough draft of your response in your Research Journal. Your response should be about 200 words and checked for spelling and grammar errors. Lastly, create a new post and publish your response.

1. Enable Hypothesis

Because this week’s readings are not hosted on a website, you will need to adjust the Hypothesis Chrome Extension or use Firefox to annotate in our group.

  • Open Chrome > Setttings > Extensions
  • Locate Hyposthesis > Details
  • Make sure “Allow access to file URLs” is switched on.
Hypothesis PDF Magic

Refer to this Annotating PDFs Tutorial for instructions on how to set up the Chrome Extension to allow for PDF file annotations in the browser.

Alternatively, you can use Firefox. Just make sure you have added the Hypothesis Bookmarklet to your bookmarks, and enable it. See Using Hypothesis for details.

Questions? Email with questions!

2. Open the reading.

In a new tab open the Week 2 Readings > Google Drive folder and download the three PDFs enclosed:

  • Signs and Signing: This_Means_This,_This_Means_That_Ch1.pdf
  • Ways of Meaning: This_Means_This,_This_Means_That_Ch2.pdf
  • Saussure_CourseGenLing_Exc.pdf (For Reference)

Next, drag the first reading (or choose File > Open) into Chrome or Firefox.

Click on the Hypothesis extension icon ( h.) or the Bookmarklet to enable Hypothesis.

Login to your account and select our group (IMPORTANT!) from the dropdown to ensure your annotations and highlights are recorded in the group.

You should now be able to add annotations to our group when reading these downloaded files. Pretty cool.

3. Consider these questions.

Here are the questions to which you should respond in your reading response:

  • Using an example, define Saussure’s terms sign, signifier, and signified in your own words.
  • How are signs employed in visual communication? Provide a visual example from contemporary or historical advertising and explain why the example is considered an icon, index, or symbol in Peirce’s terms.
  • In your own words, define the non-literal devices simile, metaphor, metonym, synecdoche, irony, lies, impossibility, depiction, and representation.
  • How are non-literal devices used to convey meaning in advertising and/or social media? Provide a visual example from contemporary or historical advertising and explain which type of non-literal device is being used and why.

NOTE: Please find unique historical or contemporary examples. Do not use those from the readings. Consider reviewing the Learning Graphic Design History videos to see if there are historical examples that will help support your ideas. Additionally, check out the Design Archives & Collections on the Course Resources page, specifically AIGA’s Eye on Design, to find out what contemporary designers are working on.

4. Read & Annotate.

Consider the questions/prompts listed above. Start to formulate the answers to these questions while practicing close reading with annotations. This will be part of your grade. Share at least 3 annotations in the Hypothesis group, including your questions, definitions, and ideas with your classmates. Add the tags: This Means This and That and Reading Response 2 to your annotations.

5. Draft your Reading Response.

In your Research Journal, write a draft of your 200-word response. Check for grammar and spelling errors using Grammarly or Google Docs spelling/grammar checker. Use the word count tool. Include visual examples with captions to supplement your reading response.

6. Post your Reading Response.

Create a new post in this OpenLab Course titled “Reading Response 2 – YourInitials.” At the top of the post copy and paste the following: Hall, Sean. This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics, Laurence King Publishing, 2012. pgs 21-67. Copy and paste the questions/prompts listed above. Paste your reading response from your Research Journal. Add links to your annotations in the Hypothesis group at the bottom of your post. Adjust any formatting issues that may have occurred while pasting.

Please be sure to add the following title, category, and tags to your posts. For help with adding Categories and Tags, see OpenLab Help.

  • TITLE: Reading Response 2 – Your Initials
  • CATEGORY: Reading Responses
  • TAG: Reading Response #2
  • TAG: Your Name

Due Date(s)

  • Your reading response is due the day before the next session to allow time for review.


More info

  • Tutorials > Using Hypothesis
  • Assignments > Research Journal
  • Tutorials > Posting & Commenting
  • Example Post > Reading Response (Example)


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