top of page


Here you can find various texts that explore the realm of semiotics.

Our resources aim to dive into theory while being grounded in real-life objects.

General Overview of Semiotics

Semiotics is a valuable field of study because it helps us gain a deeper understanding of the world and the ways in which people communicate and make sense of it.

When it comes to people asking "what is semiotics?" there is a wide-range of misrepresentation, mainly limitation on what semiotics entails. As an overview definition, semiotics is the science of signs and sign systems. Semioticians observe, analyze, and model the interpretive process an organism has in relation to an object within the respective environment. 

The process of meaning-making is inherently engrained into a cultural system, and requires an understanding on cultural memory, cultural significance, and the theoretical components which construct Juri Lotman's (1990) semiosphere -- see Lotman's book titled The Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. The meanings that are established to signs within a culture are reliant on cultural memory and the reinforcement, or freedom, of conventionality. 

For example, street signs and traffic lights are some of the most common examples you will see to explain semiotics, but the reader should be aware that this is only one type of sign system that is within our semiotic reality-- we live in a world filled with signs that are waiting for us to perceive, interact, and understand.

Street signs, such as a pedestrian walking area sign, is a representation of a convention for a culture; the individual forms an interpretant that tells them to 'walk here' and not there. The iconicity of the pedestrian walking street sign is represented by the actual objects portrayed on the sign. In the US it is a child, mother and father, but in Estonia and other European countries it only portrays the child and mother. So, what is the difference in meaning conveyed of the iconicity for each representation of a 'pedestrian walking sign'?

Charles Peirce (1839-1914), the founder of pragmatics and a revolutionary thinker who enriched our perception for the quality associated to interpretation (semiotics), provided the theoretical definition of, "A sign, is something which stands to somebody in some respect or capacity." (1940, p. 99. The Philosophy of Pierce: Selected Writings. London: Routledge & Kegan.)

Semiotics is useful for understanding how different cultures and societies use signs and symbols to express meaning and convey their values, beliefs, and norms. This can be especially important in fields like design, marketing, advertising, and media studies, where understanding how signs and symbols are used to influence people's perceptions and behaviors is crucial.

Images of Dall-E expressing what is a sign

DALL-E Prompt: “A sign, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity.”

Construction and Pedestrian Sign in Tartu, Estonia
Pedestrian walking sign found in Estonia

Pedestrian sign in Tartu, Estonia

Applied semiotics
Ad hoc modeling

Process of Services

Process of consultation

Semiotic consulting services help to gain a better understanding of how a target audience interprets and responds to different signs and symbols related to design, branding, and marketing strategies. This understanding can help the business owner create more effective and meaningful communication with their audience, which can lead to increased customer engagement and sales.

​Ad hoc modeling refers to the process of creating a model or analysis specifically for a particular purpose, rather than using a pre-existing, more general model. In other words, ad hoc modeling involves building a model from scratch for a specific problem or task, rather than adapting a model that was designed for a different problem or task. Ad hoc modeling can be useful when a more general model is not available or when the specifics of the problem at hand require a customized approach.

How does our perception influence how a consumer interacts with an artifact?

Our perception of an artifact can significantly influence how we interact with it. Our perceptions are shaped by our experiences, cultural and social contexts, and the way that the artifact is presented to us. For example, if an artifact is presented in a way that is familiar or that aligns with our preexisting beliefs or values, we may be more likely to engage with it and find meaning in it. On the other hand, if an artifact is presented in a way that is unfamiliar or that conflicts with our beliefs or values, we may be less likely to engage with it or may interpret it differently than intended. Additionally, the way that we perceive an artifact can influence our motivation to use it and the goals that we hope to achieve through its use. Our perception of an artifact can also influence how we feel about using it, which can in turn influence our overall satisfaction with the artifact.

Co-development of User and Environment

Semiotic consulting offers a wide range of applicability for stakeholders. Applied theory requires a thorough understanding on the systems present for the client's project. Listed below are novel approaches that push semiotic models into the realm of a design process. 

Useful references

Click below to see a bibliography of transdisciplinary research that explores the fundamentals of semiotics, culture, design, and more! Berque, Augustin 2019. An enquiry into the ontological and logical foundations of sustainability: Toward a conceptual integration of the interface ‘Nature/Humanity’. Global Sustainability 13(2): 1–10. Campbell, Cary; Olteanu, Alin; Kull, Kalevi 2019. Learning and knowing as semiosis: Extending the conceptual apparatus of semiotics. Sign Systems Studies 47(3/4): 352-381. Kozicki, Alec 2023a. Umwelt in an umwelt: Co-developing within immersive virtual environments and the paradoxical nature of reality and hyperreality. Sign Systems Studies 51(1): 73-100. – 2023b. Affordance and Ton: The meaning-carriers of semiosis. In: Kõvamees, Erik; Miyamoto, Oscar (eds.), Concepts for Semiotics (vol. 2). University of Tartu Press, 149-165. Kull, Kalevi 1998. Semiotic ecology: different natures in the semiosphere. Sign Systems Studies 26(1): 344-371. Peirce, Charles Sanders 1931–1958. Collected Papers of Charles S. Peirce (vols. 1–6, Hartshorne, Charles; Weiss, Paul (eds.); vols. 7–8, Burks, Arthur W. (ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University. Seif, Farouk 2019."De-Sign" in the Transmodern World: Envisioning Reality Beyond Absoluteness. Bern: Peter Lang.

bottom of page