According to the Thwaites, Davis and Mules reading, signs are “anything which produces meaning”. The examples used in the reading are of typesetting, letter headings, and other written forms of communication not explicit in the words. But if signs are anything that produce meaning, at what level should be begin or end our analysis of a piece of work. For the letter example, the language itself is a sign. It produces phatic, connotative and contextual information about the recipient of the letter which would be different if it was written in Japanese. But is this informative? I feel that when looking at this example, its quite easy to assume something not only about what signs are relevant to us (they are everywhere) but also to our audience.

But I think this begins to open up an important issue. When analyzing a work, at what level should we assume who our audience is and what signs would be important to them? Obviously we create an artifact for a specific audience, but often this is not the whole demographic or it expands to a new audience. This shouldn’t be a surprise from our exploration of re-attribution of artifacts or how a product changes once its released to the public. Thus, signs that we didn’t think important suddenly may become problematic.

There are tons of advertisements from tv or online that are pulled due to controversy in its signs, often distracting from the actual artifact they want to show. This proves problematic for advertisers trying to develop their brand. In the same way, we encode information of our culture or worldview in the products themselves. Sometimes it isn’t even intended or subconscious, I presume, when some of these misinterpreted signs are put into an artifact. Since we reflect on our designs, it can lead to developing products that are culturally sensitive. This makes sense, but if we are designing a product, to what level of analytic vigilance and rigor should we strive for when creating something? And does it matter if we step on some toes along the way if it reaches the intended purpose?

Advertisements