Accueil > Introduction to semiotics of images in the brand culture

KCOE 4115 - Semiotics of image and visual languages in communication and digital culture

Type d'enseignement : Lecture alone

Semester : Spring 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English

Voir les plans de cours et bibliographies


At least a level 4 in English language

Course Description

It is very common to say that we are living in a “visual” culture. But what does this truly mean? Is it a simple distinction between text and image and does that infer that only images are belonging to “visuality”? Obviously not. In our modern society, largely influenced by digital and pop culture, “visuality” is a complex and growing reality that is shaping our common language and representations in a globalized world. Semiotics is the study of production of signification, leveraging linguistics to go beyond verbal language. As such, it is a privileged frame to understand the basis of the visual language that is shaping pop culture and digital culture. From advertising and brand language to digital language, the modern and media society by visual forms and objects: logos, packagings, brand images, digital frames and formats that are influencing both our representations and our practices. It frames a culture where demonstration and description are being replaced by immediate connection and evocation. The course will introduce to a semiotic approach to the images and “visuality” that are shaping our pop culture and communication. To do so, we will use some basic semiotic frameworks to understand the stakes and the signification logics of those visual languages.


BERTIN, Eric (Deputy General Manager in charge of Strategy, MRM//McCann)

Course validation

Individual written paper: 40% Group in-class oral presentation: 40% Work preparation, class participation: 20%


Students prepare each week class by doing assigned reading or activity.

Required reading

  • J.-Floch. Semiotics, Marketing, and Communication. Beneath the Signs, the Strategies. Trans. Robin Orr Bodkin.
  • J.-Floch, Visual Identities. Trans. Pierre Van Osselaer and Alec McHoul. New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2000
  • Landowski, Eric. “Towards a Semiotic and Narrative Approach of Law”, International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 1.1 (1988): 79-105. Translation by George Paizis.

Plans de cours et bibliographies

Session 1: Seeing an image

  • Examples of visuals and media images
  • The components of a visual object
  • The context of reception
  • Observation and description as a discipline

Session 2: Processing meaning

  • The correlation between content and expression (signification only comes through forms); (basis of any language: expression + content)
  • Key principle of signification: relations and positions (syntax and semantics)
  • Signification process turns abstract into concrete
  • Narrativity drives the dynamics of meaning in any discourse
  • Tracking signification is a police enquiry

Session 3: Visual is a language

  • Segmentating an image into signifying units (“découper”, en isolant les différentes composantes du plan de l’expression)
  • Visual language is narrative
  • Iconicity and visuality
  • Practice : recognition of minimal visual forms
  • Session 4: Narrative approach of a brand visual language
  • Signification process is a co-construction (Enunciator/Enunciatee)
  • The frame of expectation: discourses genders, norms, codes, rules
  • A semiotic analysis of Sony Playstation communication
  • Practice
  • Group in-class oral presentation

Session 5: Images of pop culture and visual language

  • Brands and pop culture
  • Workshop: Lego brand discourse
  • Group in-class presentation

Session 6: Identity building:  condensed visual forms of brand language

  • Nature and functions of visual identity
  • Semiotic approach of the logo
  • Workshop: Comparative analysis of airlines companies
  • Group in-class presentation

Session 7: Contemporary visual forms of digital culture 

  • Accessibility and hyper proposition
  • Sociotechnical dispositives: enablement and constraint (promission)
  • The specific nature of internet: a media that transforms
  • Turning digital data into visual forms
  • The power of the formats in the digital media culture (examples of the various media formats)
  • The “manipulability” of the digital substance
  • Group in-class presentation

Session 8: Visual forms and language shaping the digital culture

  • Forms and formats of evaluation in the digital culture
  • The dynamics of evaluation
  • The list as the key pattern of knowledge
  • Quantifying forms combined with content: meaning effect of the number
  • Case study: frames, formats and norms of YouTube
  • Group in-class presentation

Session 9: Visual forms and language shaping the digital culture (II)

  • Binary forms of evaluation: a semiotic analysis of the “like” format
  • Gradual forms of evaluation: a semiotic analysis of rating and ranking formats
  • Case study
  • Group in-class presentation

Session 10: The dynamics of cultural trends and its visual forms

  • The dynamics of cultural phenomenon
  • From emerging phenomenon to macro trends
  • Brands as mediators and amplificators of those cultural phenomenon
  • Practice

Session 11: “Filtering”: from technology to cultural pattern

  • “filtering”: a competence of selection into the hyper proposition
  • Reframing and sorting reality according to individual goals and desires
  • Visual forms and practices of filtering: search engines requests, social media filters, beauty filters (photoshop, contouring, etc.)
  • Practice

Session 12: from viral forms to cultural forms: semiotics of the memes

  • From repetition to variation: evolution of the communication model
  • Semiotics characteristics of the meme
  • Circulation of a cultural object
  • A contemporary renewal of popular culture