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The American Journal of Semiotics


published on March 14, 2019

Steven Skaggs

Visual Identity
Systems and Semiotics

This essay seeks to sketch the fundamental interactive forces at play in a brand in the formation of an identity system that signifies a particular hosting entity. Two kinds of iconicity are at play in the initial informed exposure to a visual identity system: metaphorical iconicity employs an analogous symbol as substitute for the host’s identification, while systemic iconicity builds the habituated exposure of the elements of the identity system. This article focuses on the dynamics in play in building systemic iconicity. Systemic iconicity can be analyzed using system and set theory by considering the system as a fuzzy set in which each of the graphic elements (logo, typography and so on) are treated as members. I postulate nine interdependent interactions that occur in systemic iconicity and provide shorthand formulae for describing them. These nine postulates indicate that visual identity systems must continually negotiate two opposing forces: pressures that pull them to converge toward a single, simple, unchanging visual element; or pressures that push them to diverge toward multiple changing visual elements. The article concludes by raising three issues which have the potential to expand the development of a neo-Peircean semiotics.