A sign is simply something that stands for something else. For example, the word “cactus” directly correlates with the idea of a spiny desert plant, so the word is a sign signifying the plant. Signs are not limited to a single meaning. The sign “cactus” might refer to a specific prickly pear plant or to an entire species. The word still correlates directly, or stands for, something else. The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.

According to Swiss linguist and semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure, there are two main parts to any sign:

  1. Signifier: This connotes any material thing that is signified, be it an object, words on a page, or an image.
  2. Signified: The concept which the signifier refers to. This would be the meaning that is drawn by the receiver of the sign.

The example below shows how this can be understood.

A great example of effective use of semiotics is found in the use of metaphors. These commonly understood concepts tend to resonate easily with your target audiences. For example, “a glass half full” is perceived as a sign of optimism.