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Week 11 - Press - Trends & Environments

Lighting up the message symbolism & semiotics of the new. 

Week 11 and we are looking at symbolism, semiotics and signs in the messages we deliver and receive, when, as designers, we utilise image & text.  My thoughts on the resources in the discovery notes below.

Discovery Notes
Analysis of Research: Understanding and researching semiotics and symbolism

The first lecture entitled 'Symbolism & Semiotics', hosted by Martin Hosken examined the theory and symbolism behind messages delivered in our environment.  He explained that for accurate communication to occur there must be a transaction between sender and receiver.  The transaction carries the senders intention on a vehicle constructed from a particular medium.  The medium holds the context within which the message should be understood.  Unfortunately the senders intention can be misconstrued by the receiver, if the sender chooses a medium that de-values the intention or if it masks the context, this can result in failed communication. 

Furthermore, Hosken denotes that communication occurs within a shared sense of meaning, a mutual understanding of signs, symbols and semiotics.  At the core of this are what he termed "psychological images".  For example if you were to show a British citizen an illustration of a Poppy, they would undoubtedly associate meaning to this unassuming flower.  The psychological images that would appear in his/her mind would be of flower wreaths lying at the foot of War memorial monuments or single Poppies worn on lapels, on chilly November days, as a mark of respect for those who have fallen in the years of wars.   An Australian, Canadian and Kiwi would also hold the same connotation.  This single act of visual communication belies a plethora of cultural significance and learned community code.  A community that casts a wide net when World War allied forces and British Empire considerations are at play, nonetheless a mutually respectful shared symbolic icon emerges. 

What was most interesting about the lecture was the explanation of 'anchorage' and 'relay' in relation to the signifier (that which gives meaning) and how the meaning of a message is enhanced or reinforced.  Anchorage refers to when one signifier is used to steer another.  An example can be seen in Fig. 1, where a red circle sign, (known by road users to represent an obligatory order) and a truck (used as an icon) are combined to communicate 'No trucks allowed'.  If we then add in a relay (Fig. 2) where text is added to the sign and icon, this demonstrates a broader narrative that it is heavy goods vehicles in particular and they are not allowed beyond the point of the message.

Fig. 1 - 'Anchorage' One signifier used to reinforce the other.
Fig. 2 - 'Relay' text added to broaden the narrative.

When I consider that a graphic designer's job is to communicate a message using words, images and space with as little elements as possible, I wonder if the relay is surplus to requirements?  However in matters of safety, and in the interests of avoiding ambiguity, I am sure it is necessary in this example!

When Tom at Regular Practice demonstrated the variety and differentiation in approach to designing the branding for the Olympics, he was clear that the games themselves were  symbolic and therefore culturally learned and understood.  The message that the branding designers were intending to evoke was about the host country.  The 3 approaches that Tom mentions, the systematic, the emblematic and the abstract were all successful in their own unique way, not least because they were inspired by visual iconography and metaphors specific to each culture.  The exception to this and possibly the most controversial of all the Olymipic branding was the London 2012 games (see Fig. 3) 

Fig. 3 - London Olympic Games Logo 2012

Ironically, the controversy surrounding the 2012 games brand , was largely due to the lack of cultural iconography in the design.  There was no reference to London buildings, our cultural heritage or even the colours of our flag, yet the design stood and is hugely recognisable now. The designers, Wolff Olins, described their intentions as; "It was bold, spirited and dissonant, reflecting London’s modern, urban edge. In line with the legacy objective, it carried neither sporting nor landmark images."(Wolff Olins: 2021) Tom suggests that it is the abstract and non-literal image that gives the brand it's identity.  Perhaps this is because it was the first Olympic design to distil the brief to such abstract forms and this is what sets it apart. 


Interestingly the 2020 Tokyo games emblem (Fig. 4), although linked to 'diversity & unity', the designer, Asao Tokolo, chose a fairly abstract and relatively generic chequer board image.  Despite the connections with Japanese patterns called 'ichimatsu moyo' and a deliberate reference to traditional Japanese colour of Indigo blue, I believe this design to be less culturally specific to Japan and more multicultural in it's value.  Conversely it seems that the less culturally specific an Olympic emblem is, the more it fits with the inclusive and global nature of the event, literal signs that denote the host country are not necessary, as the London design illustrates, to render the work as success. 

Fig. 4 - Asao Tokolo's Olympic Logo Design
Symbolic Creativity

In the book, Visible Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics, the author discusses research by Paul Willis in which he describes the notion of 'Symbolic Creativity'.  In particular he explains how young people's lives are full of symbolism, signs and expressive emblems.  Willis believes that the young are ostracised from fully embracing elements of culture, high brow art and theatre experiences most notably, because the length of their lives makes them 'uncultured', meaning they lack the learnt code to understand such human intellectual achievements. 


In antithesis response to this elitist opinion, is the use of Symbolic Creativity to empower the youth voice.  Willis states that symbolic creativity is intrinsically linked to energy, feeling, excitement and psychic movement.  Young people restricted by society, are finding other ways to fully express these characteristics.  Identities are communicated through their choice of clothing, music & group associations.  It occurred to me that it is through social media that young people communicate their identity in the modern world and as such utilise symbolic creativity in the process.  Creating records of lifestyle through 'selfies' and posting online gives a young person opportunity to experiment with expression, empowers their opinion and reaches a wide audience.  An example of a display of personal symbolism in the 21st century is the artist Bunny Bissoux (  Bunny's statement on her website reads: "MY INTERESTS, OBSESSIONS AND DAILY LIFE ARE MY CONSTANT INSPIRATION AND OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE TO MY WORK.  I CONTINUE TO ENDEAVOUR TO DOCUMENT MY LIFE AND THOUGHTS BOTH PRIVATELY AND PUBLICLY AND SEE THIS AS A CONTINUATION OF MY WORK AS AN ARTIST" (Bunny Bissoux: 2021)  Bunny, like many young creatives, is expressing her identity on digital platforms.  Fig. 5 is an example of one of her Instagram posts, showing a Japanese snack.

Fig. 5 - Bunny Bissoux Instagram Post

Although we see Bunny holding a Japanese snack, we also see more messages of her symbolic creativity.  There is the packaging design on the product, the bright patterned fur like textile in the background and the quirky half painted red nails.  We also observe Bunny's avatar and her use of emoji's on the page.  All these elements convey messages about Bunny and her identity, some I am able to de-code and some not.  The aspects I do not understand, make me feel ignorant, I lack the knowledge of Bunny's intention, nor do I relate to the context she presents, however it is clear that 52 of her followers do!  Furthermore I also do not have the language skills to read the packaging.  The message is not fully understood and fails to communicate to me, however I am not the intended recipient and to those that are, the message is clear.

Workshop Challenge

Case Study 2: Take a brand and look at how it is delivered in different countries, e.g. alcohol, tobacco, transport, cars. Is it symbolised in a different way? Why might colour or typeface have been changed? Does it work at a local level and does it work at a global level?

Incorporate this into a short 500 word written critical review in your blog. Consider the impact the media has on your understanding of visual signs and symbols relating to that piece.  

Having decided to look at a brand for this challenge, I began to look at what global branding is.  My research demonstrated that there is a significant debate around global branding and whether it should have a standardised or locally adapted focus.  I found a website called, that explained the pro's and con's of both approaches.  The main benefit of a global branding technique is in the worldwide recognition of the brand.  If the advertising, positioning, strategy and personality of the brand looks and feels the same across different countries, then the product or service is universally acknowledged, no matter which country you reside in.  Furthermore, consumers that travel between countries will have the same experience, whether they are in Spain or Japan.  This also allows brands to demonstrate consistent brand values and aids consumer confidence in the assurance that their prior expectation's not be disappointed.  Some even argue that the product or service should be exactly the same across the globe.  This last point is what makes companies consider a more adaptive position.

Adapted marketing in contrast, takes cultural needs, wants and values in to account and aims to adjust the brand to blend with local perspectives.  Companies championing this ideology must take serious notice of the sign code system of the community they are targeting.  The message they are intending to convey may not be received correctly if local de-coding differentiations are not considered.  Take for example the hand gesture seen in Fig. 6.  This sign is used in many countries but it's meaning is dramatically different.  It's use in a marketing campaign, without sound knowledge of the locality, may cause offence.  It is therefore important for companies to consult with local experts when planning their brand strategies.  There are examples of companies who have not done their homework and this has caused huge embarrassment and more importantly knocked consumer trust and confidence (see Fig. 7 example)

Fig. 7 - Mac Donalds forgetting that Irish people do travel to Portugal with this offensive ice cream product!

Figure 7 is an example of how the internet exposes such cultural advertising blunders.  An Irish person travels to Portugal, visits Mac Donalds, is offended by the reference to Irish troubles and the image goes viral.  This raises the questions, is technology making the global market smaller? and are the needs of consumers around the world merging?  Perhaps companies need to consider the needs of all global customers with a more holistic approach.  An example of a company that does this successfully is Apple.  Their products are the same no matter what country you are in.  The differentiation begins when you turn on their devices and they become easily adaptable for the user.  Not all products or services have the potential to do this and so I believe that local nuances still need to be taken in to account, however should companies be tailoring their products or just their marketing to meet international/national/regional variations?  One thing is for sure, mistakes like the one in figure 7, can be very costly indeed.

Brand Chosen - Uniqlo

I decided to choose Uniqlo as my focus brand because I was intrigued by the use of duel logo's with Japanese & English language as shown in Fig. 8.  It was clearly a brand who were conscious of their global position, whilst also upholding their local roots.


Investigating the vision and values of the brand as described by the company director Tadashi Yanai, I noticed that the brand uses some very clever and direct references to the founding country of Japan, whilst also connecting with local sensibilities in each country they expand into.  The result has been extremely successful with the company toppling Gap in turnover and set to eclipse the top brand in this market of casual, fast fashion, H&M.

Brand Research
Final Outcome
Alternative Presentation
Journal Reflections

This week has been a real education for me.  I had never previously studied Semiotics or the theory of Signs and Symbols in culture.  It was enlightening to realise that symbolic meaning is learned within particular social groups and that effective communication revolves around a balanced cocktail of signs, enhanced by anchors and relay.  The sender of any message requires a level of understanding about the people and customs of a culture for their message intention to be accurately understood.  This clearly creates instances of mis understanding and sometimes offense to the receiver, especially when delivering global messages, where multiple cultures are concerned.  This links back to my previous research around cultural appropriation and the need for designers to respect communities outside of their own.

The challenge this week asked for an analysis of a brand and it's connection to global communities.  Delving in to the history of Uniqlo illustrated some interesting strategies the company used to build mass appeal.  In particular, the way they utilised designers native to the country they were targeting, to amalgamate specific cultural references into their marketing and product lines.  They also used physical brand markers around the cities in which they launched new stores.  The use of pop up shops, billboard posters or super graphic advertising installations all helped Uniqlo to connect with target communities.

Despite these associations to other cultures, Uniqlo's Japanese aesthetic is still apparent in their branding.  They have managed to maintain their own cultural heritage whilst also respectfully embracing others within their brand and are seeing the results of this harmonious marriage manifest as a very strong market presence.  Although I respect their success in a global market place, I can also see how they manipulate the consumer with their promotional tactics.   Some might view their large billboards and super graphic installations intrusive to a cities landscape, objects that spoil the view of the cities architecture and green spaces in order to bombard the consumer with the brand.  Furthermore, some may also consider their use of a resident designer a token gesture, something to convince the consumer that the brand cares about the countries values, when in reality it's profits they care most about.

Society can be manipulated by a message and this was apparent when researching Edward Bernays legacy of consumer control.  However, modern demographics suggest a less trusting and more questioning consumer emerging, particularly the maturing Generation Z.  This may mean that messages of the future will need to be much more transparent and honest.  



Frutiger, A. (1989). Signs and Symbols Their Design and Meaning. Van Nostrand Reinhold: New York Available at: [Accessed 22 April 2021]

Crow, D., (2003) Visible signs: An Introduction to Semiotics. AVA, London. Available from: [accessed 23 April 2021]

Heller S., (1999) Design literacy (Continued) Understanding Graphic Design.  Allworth Press: New York. Available from: [accessed 24 April 2021]

Olympic Case Study presented by Tom from Regular Practice, Available at:


BBC (2016) Adam Curtis: Hypernormalisation [online video] Available at [accessed 23 April 2021]


Wolff Olins Work (2012). Olympic Games. Available from: [accessed 23 April 2021)

Bunny Bissou Art.  Available from: [accessed 23 April 2021]

Teeboom, L. (2019) The Advantages of Global Branding & Advertising.  Available from: [accessed 24 April 2021]

Roll, M. (2021) Uniqlo: The Strategy Behind The Global Japanese Fast Fashion Retail Brand.  Available from: [accessed 24 April 2021]

Kashi Wasato. Uniqlo Project.  Available from: [accessed 23 April 2021]

Trends in Japan: Japanese Pop Culture. Available from: [accessed 22 April 2021]

Symbols, Signs & Flags Online Resource. Available from: [accessed 24 April 2021]

Uniqlo. Available from: [accessed 23 April 2021]

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