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Using Semiotics in Logo Design

An interview with
Dr Rachel Lawes


The world around us, and the culture we live in has a massive impact on all of us unconsciously. The study of Semiotics can allow us to understand this by looking at how meaning is created and communicated, which is knowledge we can use to design more effective logos and brand identities.

The origins of Semiotics lie in the academic study of how signs and symbols (visual and linguistic) create meaning. But now, it’s become a methodology for researching and analysing consumer behaviour and brand communications.

On this weeks podcast Ian interviews consumer psychologist, Dr Rachel Lawes to learn more about Semiotics, and how it can be used when developing a logo and brand identity.

Rachel is the author of Using Semiotics in Marketing, and is recognised as one of the original founders of commercial semiotics. She has supplied brand strategy and consumer insight to major brands in 20 countries, including Unilever, P&G, Kraft, Tesco, The Discovery Channel and many more.

Dr Rachel Lawes Interview Transcription

Ian Paget: As I mentioned, I’m a graphic designer, but I’m primarily self-taught, and I know there’s a lot of self-taught designers out there that will be listening that will probably not even be aware of the topic that we’re going to be speaking about today. So in communities online, I’ve heard people mention semiotics and when they mentioned it originally I wasn’t really familiar what it was. I looked into it briefly, and I guess even today I’m still not that familiar with what it is beyond what I’ve read in your book. So I thought it would be fantastic to bring you on to speak about this topic. I think as a starting question, can you explain what semiotics is?

Rachel Lawes: Yeah, for sure. I would love to do that. I think that your note about a lot of designers being self-taught is a really interesting one, and the reason I think that’s interesting is because consumers are self-taught as well. So let me explain what I mean by that. Semiotics, if you want the dictionary definition, it’s the study of signs and symbols. And of course, what are logos if not signs and symbols?

Some logos are what we would call iconic signs like Kentucky Fried Chicken, and we’ve got a picture of the friendly Colonel with his beard. We’re invited to think that this represents a real human in real life type of thing. Then the logos are almost completely abstract symbols, so they could just be strings of letters or a single letter or something along those lines.