design language practice and theory 

updated: may 2006

semiotics of industrial design


The intriguing part of my site is in the theoretical field. It is centered on the development of a special visual semiotic theory for industrial design. I must still continue my explanation of the structural components of that theory. Curious people can also get access to some extra pages by clicking the apostrophe in the logo. Those pages do extend my observations in the neighboring field  of poetry. 

I would like to make some suggestions. One in regard to the peircian categorization of signs and the other in respect to origins of the semiosis of signs. It seems to me that the exposition of such intuitions on the waves of internet, open to anybody and way before the building of solid conceptual frameworks, is one of the more fascinating aspects of this medium. As a matter of fact I have learned a great deal about my topics by navigating several sites

I got however the impression that the scholars of visual semiotics are mainly concerned with graphical aspects, such as photography, cinema, publicity. This is also the case of many teachers of semiotics in design schools that I happen to know. One explanation of this phenomena is probably that, as far as these aspects are closer to the printing process and, recently, the information media: the distance from verbal visual information seems to be smaller. One thing is to analyze the content of a page of publicity in a magazine, its appeal to the reader, for example the appearance of a human face in a particular contest, and the annex slogan; another thing is to look at a real object, a consumer product like an automobile or a spoon and to analyze the way it transmits information, as a whole and in its details. In this matter the traditional articulation of the different signs of current semiotics reveals its limits and ultimately it cannot be  applied in the design practice. 

Though some, like Göran Sonesson (1989) and myself (1996) , point to the possible application of rhetoric analysis (e.g. the µ group)  in visual (or pictural or iconic) semiotics the going gets rough when they approach the, crucial, region of symbolic meaning. Anyway, for pragmatic reasons, I agree with Sonesson that we should really start upside down, in a first instance not analyzing actual, and thus complex messages or products, or images, but searching for the anthropological first steps, a semiosis of ur-images. Just as the rumanian-german poet Paul Celan said in his “Der Meridian” (1960), commenting the novel “Lenz” (1835) of the genial Georg Büchner,  “who goes upside down, ladies and gentleman, who goes upside down has the sky as an abyss below him”. The sky is, for a jewish cabbalist, the origin where the ‘sephiroth’ or tree of life has its roots as opposed to the ceiling of our earthly experiences. The question that concerns me is if and how we can learn and teach others to walk upside down. 

If these premises made you curious you might adventure to the next page concerning product language, semiotics, marketing, morphology, the Cabbala, Charles Sanders Peirce, Floyd Merrell, Roman Jakobson, Rene Thom, D.Arcy Thompson and Paul Celan. 

 You can also visit the following pages if you are interested in design analysis: 

some interesting sites on semiotics:   I did explain the outlines of my design theory in: 
Andries Van Onck, ‘Design, il Senso delle Forme dei Prodotti’, Lupetti, Milan, 1994
 (only in Italian and in Spanish) 
curious cat   click the cat and catch the next page 
 next page: Peirce and the Cabbalah 

andries van onck