Visual analysis guide
for graphic designers

4. Semiosis

Chapter by Donika Rexhepi and Laura Gallego

Semiosis is the field of understanding the process of meaning making with signs. We look here at the graphic design as a potential resource for meaning making. In a multimodal analysis we look how the parts of a graphic design work together. Then we will look at how the graphic design «talks» to us, which is the domain of visual-verbal rhetorics.

How can we study this, what did we find out, and what do the results mean?

Multimodal Analysis

Multimodal Analysis is about the interaction of semiotic resources.

Let’s first look at the yellow background as a semiotic resource. What is its contribution? Not much! It only says: «Hey, I am a nice yellow :)» – which we already found out in 2. Emotional Effect and Expression (and belongs there).

The text and the image complete each other. Without one or the other, the meaning can be lost or misunderstood. In this case, we can say, it is an example of «relay»: Text and image complement each other in meaning making. If, for example we only read the text we are not able to completely understand what the sentence aims for. Only looking at the image we would not know why the book is presented here at all.
We also find two small pieces of text at the bottom of the graphic design: The text on the right side states the publishing house of the book and the text on the right is the title of this campaign. Their function in meaning making is to «anchor» the above text/image relay. They resolve the question: where does this come from? What is the goal? The very position of these text blocks reinforces their role as «anchors».
The comic illustration of the finger is an «index» that incorporates an «icon». It points at the book image, as if emphasizing: look at this book!

Rhetorical Aspects

Let’s not forget that this piece is animated. The fingers in motion are very much «indexical» of cartoons. This is in stark contrast with a book which is made up of letters. Rhetorically, this is almost an opposition. The book is treated quite sloppily, it is rotated by one hand, as if it was a ball. But it is not a ball! It is a book! Anyway, the movement of the hands is extremely exaggerated, something we find regularly in cartoons. Here is seems to be about “easyness”? Again a stark contrast to contemplative reading –

Finally, we realize that the yellow background, so meaningless in the beginning is drawn into the multimodal play: it supports the idea of easyness as evoked by the rhetorical tension.