How Your Brain Makes Sense of Signs

How Your Brain Makes Sense of Signs

Take a good look at the featured image of this article. In it are a collection of signs and icons, all of which are likely immediately recognisable to you. They each, in their simplicity, take up almost no space but have the potential to relay complex and meaningful messages. These elements, especially when used in conjunction with each other can effectively communicate anything; whether the message is received as intended may depend as much on the viewer as the person who has drawn up the sign that they are on.

So how exactly do our brains interpret this type of imagery, and how can an understanding of that enable you to enact a signage solution that says exactly what you want it to say?

The Sign and the Signifier

The study of semiotics is the study of signs and how our brains interpret them. Semiotics makes two distinctions in this regard, the sign and the signifier.

The sign, as it is, is simply a concept as it exists in our minds. If I were to say the word ‘dog’ to you, the image that you conjure up in your mind of our four-legged friends would be the sign (according to semiotics). It is the intangible concept of a thing as we understand it.

The signifier, on the other hand, is a symbol, word or sound that conjures up the sign in our mind. So in the above example, the word ‘dog’ is the signifier that calls up the sign of the dog in our thoughts.

It is the relationship between the sign and the signifier that makes for a good signage solution. If it can effectively use a combination of signifiers to create a solid and powerful image in our minds, it has done its job well.

Connotation and Denotation

There is a difficulty with this, and it boils down to the different ways that people understand signifiers. While they do have universal meanings that relate to particular signs, people will interpret their meanings slightly differently depending on their own outlooks and life experiences.

A sign’s denotative meaning is its literal translation; the dog in the above example is literally a canine of some type.

The connotative meaning of a sign is the one that a person’s own experiences will give to it. Perhaps you once had a dog that went everywhere with you, and so for you, ‘dog’ means loyalty, friendship and love. Perhaps you were once attacked by one, in such a case the sign ‘dog’ could illicit feelings of fear.

Signs that relay a denotative meaning while playing on a connotative meaning, make the best use of the relationship between signs and signifiers, and as a result, tend to attract attention and customers in equal measure.

Want Your Next Sign to Say it Perfectly? Contact Sign Facets for Details

Here at Sign Facets we have signage down to a fine art. If you really want to commission a sign that says exactly what you want to say, contact one of our representatives or visit our website for further details on our offers and services.

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