Some time ago I talked about media and gave you a short definition. This time I’ll take a look at signs.

First of all, there are three different types of signs:

  • Icons (depicting and actually representing the object shown)
  • Indexes (signs which are connected to what they represent through some kind of  a sensory feature like smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing, directly seeing EXAMPLE smiling facial expression is an index for happiness to us humans and sourness in milk products is an index for them being bad)
  • Symbols (having a deeper meaning and representing more than what is simply shown)

Here’s an example: Save Icon I bet you’ve seen this “icon” before now!  It’s one of the most famous save icons. Well let’s actually assume it is an icon. Every time you click on this icon you should get a floppy-disk since icons depict AND represent what is depicted! But since you do not get a real floppy-disk every time you click this image it’s obviously not a real icon (yes, this means the guys who started calling it this way didn’t do their homework). Naturally it’s not an index either since you do not have any direct contact to a floppy-disk in whatever way. So the only type of sign left is a symbol and this is exactly what most “icons” on our computers are: symbols. The floppy-disk represents the “action to save a file”.

I hope this example somehow helped you understand the distinction between the three kinds of signs 🙂

But let’s continue! What’s the difference between a sign and a medium you ask? Well as we already know a medium tells you about more than what it actually is. A sign on the other hand describes something it’s not itself. An example would be the color red in a traffic sign which certainly doesn’t just mean “red” but “ATTENTION! “ Or when your facials muscles pull together and form a smile. This doesn’t simply mean “flexed facial muscles” but more something like “I’m content and happy”.

But how do signs get their meaning? It’s very simple: As soon as you are taught a meaning to a sign it gets one! Let’s say you’re an analphabet then all the letters here would be just meaningless signs to you. Hence signs depend on your experience to get recognized! That’s the reason why the same symbol has different meanings for different cultures (or has none for some). A sign is useless without the necessary knowledge to be interpreted with!

Especially as a designer and artist you have to be really careful and thoroughly consider what reaction a sign (-combination) is going to evoke in the subject it’s directed to!

More on Typography Basics

This week we’ve discussed what typography/font does and what it’s needed for.

First of all the most basic statement on typography: “Typography gives you access to information.”

But what exactly is typography? It’s not simply addressing to the letters in writing. It’s more like a letter-system including not only the different fonts  but also the structure defined by things like various heading-sizes (known in web-editors as H1,H2,H3 etc.) or the italic/bold adjustments. This is a very basic definition but for now it’ll do.

Furthermore typography does the following:

  • documents ideas and this way enables cultural development
  • passes culture down
  • gives orientation not only in a text (structure) but through pictograms (simple signs are also a part of typography, there are certain pictographically fonts in Word for example)
  • creates atmosphere and interprets the content (see “Venice”)


looks like a picture in an educational book or a newspaper


looks more dreamy, like a tourist postcard and only because I changed the font

And what is our relationship to typography? Well a good typographical work always pays out since the human eye prefers well structured, paragraphed text 😉 On the other hand, we are dependent on text. Have you ever been to y country where you cannot read any of the written signs? Did you feel the growing despair with time? See 🙂

Oh, and one more thing: If you are a designer you have to be able to convince your clients of why they should pick a certain font. And believe me you’re not going to achieve anything by reasoning your choice on whether the font looks good or bad! You’ll need some “invisible knowledge”. That’s what we are going to learn in our typography class 😉

Media and Communication 1

In our first lesson on Media and Communication we tried to find a definition of “media”. The discussion we had was really philosophical at times and we came to the conclusion that the term “media” is indeed very flexible.

I’ll give you a short summary on our findings anyway:

  • a medium is always a communication carrier ( here’s a little memory hook: medium is the middle value like in “small-medium-large”, so media is what stands between you and the communication (information) meaning it’s the bridge bringing the information someone gave to you)
  • The effect of media depends on the experiences and background knowledge one has (Let’s assume you show a documentary on steel factories to a tribe living in the jungle. They’ll probably take it as something one can see in a vision rather than information on steel working processes, since they do not know what steel is but they do know visions.)
  • Since everything communicates in a way we have to define media more precisely. Let’s take a doorknob for example: When you see it you know “Aha. I can open the door when I use this knob.” So basically the doorknob is a communication carrier giving you the information that you can open a door with it. But does that mean it’s a medium? Sure, the designer of the knob communicates with the user through a certain appearance he gave to it. Is it a knob one has to push or pull or turn? And what if it is old and rusty? It tells you exactly this: “I’m an old doorknob.” But see, it cannot give you any other information except about itself.  And that’s where media helps out. Its most basically defined as an object that has the ability to tell you more than just what it is. So if you buy a paper and every page is printed with “I’m a paper. You can buy me, you can read me, you can burn me etc.” than it would have no value as a medium anymore!

All points I gave you are of course still in the rough, since we only tried to find a definition 🙂 More on the topic, next week!

Oh right, we got our long-term homework: Pick a medium you like and give a presentation with a concluding discussion round. Additionally we have to document everything, writing about it on the internet is allowed, too 😉