Little Designer in Theoryland: A Designer-centric Approach to Understanding Theory

David Wood

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This paper sets out the argument for a more proactive design thinking dialogue between designers and theoreticians, to improve the interface between theory and designers’ tacit creative practice. To illustrate this problem, it will focus on Peirce’s pragmatic semiotic theory of Semiosis, and how designers and Peircean semioticians are beginning to address the barriers around complex theoretical language. The metaphor of a Semiotic Rosetta Stone will be used to demonstrate the central argument for a development of more designer-centric dissemination of theory. Its argument will be supported by historical precedent of the use of a meta-language to bridge between the known and unknown. Such a designer-centric meta-language would refocus complex theory without ‘dumbing down,’ and help designers who are unschooled in theory to implement it more easily into their design practice, to enhance the effectiveness of visual communication design. An emerging international Semiotic Rosetta Stone network of designers and Peircean semioticians will be explored, and its roots will be mapped to the ground work of others. Outreach work with designers from 2018-19 will be discussed, especially the use of qualitative tools (such as a semiotic probe) to begin mapping designers’ tacit language to Peircean terms. The paper will then conclude with a call for more designers and theoreticians to further collaborate to build models on how theory can be applied to design practice. This would afford more freedom of movement within each other’s disciplinary territories of Designland and Theoryland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign revolutions: IASDR 2019 Conference Proceedings. Volume 4: Learning, Technology, Thinking.
EditorsMartyn Evans, Annie Shaw, Jea Na
PublisherManchester Metropolitan University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781910029626
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2020
EventInternational Association of Societies of Design Research Conference 2019: Design Revolutions - Manchester School of Art, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Sept 20195 Sept 2019


ConferenceInternational Association of Societies of Design Research Conference 2019
Abbreviated titleIASDR 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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