Special issue of Ocula - Semiotics for Design: how to teach it? (July 2016)

Website: Ocula Deadline for submissions: UPDATED 20 September 2016 Editors: Michela Deni (Université de Nîmes), Salvatore Zingale (Po...

Website: Ocula
Deadline for submissions: UPDATED 20 September 2016

Editors: Michela Deni (Université de Nîmes), Salvatore Zingale (Politecnico di Milano)

Semiotics has been inserted in industrial design university programs since twenty years and more. In Italy, courses in semiotics can now be followed at Milan Polytechnic, IUAV in Venice, Bologna University, ISIA in Florence and Urbino, and other universities and higher education institutions. Teachings in semiotics can also be found in European and American design schools. Some decades before this widespread adoption, semiotics was already taught in some schools of project, as by Umberto Eco in the 1960s (in Milan and Florence Universities’ Schools of Architecture) and Tomàs Maldonado in Ulm in the 1950s.

In the last twenty years, however, design has changed. Today the design approach is not confined to industrial or communication artefacts and aesthetically relevant, high-quality, formally refined consumption goods. Design has broadened its scope to encompass the project of living spaces, working places, events, food, new media and clothing, in short most, and potentially the whole sphere, of social life.

The latest definition of Industrial Design, by the Icsid (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design), is the following: «Industrial Design is a strategic problem-solving process that drives innovation, builds business success and leads to a better quality of life through innovative products, systems, services and experiences». From this definition we clearly infer that design is a method or process whose aim is to make the world more liveable (also in the anthropological sense) and improve the quality of life, through any sort of means: products, systems, services, experiences. And the list might continue.

The purposes of design, actually, have evolved and expanded in time, often following people’s specific needs. Today design has set its goal beyond the classical beautiful/useful pair of values, aiming at a wider range: comfort, safety, interaction, environment sustainability, inclusion, social innovation, accessibility (to services and information). Such changes, of course, have pushed the development of new design practices, that, in their turn, imply new methods, particularly in the field of social design: co-design, self-production and DIY. These practices have also produced new social and professional organisations, like the FabLabs, where the makers gather, often mixing the roles of designer, producer and user.

In this frame the contribution of semiotics to the training of designers plays a decisive role, if only because industrial design leads to the production of “social objects”, conditioning and determining the ways we act and think, modifying interactions and habits and affecting values and beliefs. In other words, the new services, devices and objects continuously reshape the relationships we entertain with other persons and with tangible and intangible objects, on both the semantic and pragmatic level.

To these considerations we must add that, from a theoretical point of view, issues and topics traditionally belonging to semiotics progressively emerge in the field of design. The most fashionable seems to be, today, the Storytelling approach, but marginal aspects of the semiotic theory are also evident in Design thinking and Scenario-Based Design.

Thus, taking into account the more than twenty-year old presence of semiotics in the schools of design and project, today it might be useful to pose a general question, around which the thematic issue we are launching will revolve: “Is it possible to identify a set of semiotic methods to be used in design?”

Starting from this general question, which the Ocula editors as an independent group of scholars has already begun to answer (See the books: Michela Deni and Giampaolo Proni, La semiotica e il progetto. Design, comunicazione, marketing, Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2008; Cinzia Bianchi, Federico Montanari, Salvatore Zingale, La semiotica e il progetto 2. Spazi, oggetti, interfacce, Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2010), we welcome the contributions by scholars with a semiotic background who have taught or teach in design programs. We will also accept, as is our costume, contributions by scholars from other disciplines -first of all industrial design- who, when teaching in design courses, have adopted or used topics that can dialogue with semiotics. The contributions to submit can be developed by taking as an example one of the following points, considering that, however, they are supposed to explain and discuss how the chosen topic can lead to a more complete training of designers:

  1. Present a semiotic subject that you think to be particularly useful and fruitful in the teaching of design. It is also possible to put together more than one subject, always keeping in view the final coherence of themes and goals;
  2. Report on a real teaching experience, that may include field and case studies, particularly if the approach has been experimental, or in the form of laboratories or workshops from which it was possible to draw and share methodological suggestions;
  3. Propose topics and problems in the teaching of design that, though they would require some “semiotic attention”, yet do not receive it or receive it in an inefficient way.


The acceptance of the articles and their publication is subject to blind peer review. The Authors can find all the editing and format rules at the page “Come si collabora”, on the home page. The page includes an Italian, English and French text. Please read it carefully and follow the recommendations. There are no official limits of length to the articles, yet we recommend 40.000 characters as a reasonable maximum measure (including spaces, notes and references); Files format accepted are .doc, docx, .odt; The articles may include any kind of images; Images (photographies, graphs, tables) must be included in the main text file and submitted each as a separate file, in .jpg, .png, .tif, .eps, .psd formats. The Authors must send their contribution in two versions: one in anonymous form, to be sent to the reviewers, and the other containing name, position, email, website, biographic notes. Each version must be a separate file. In the anonymous file, in any reference to the Author’s publications the name must be cancelled and replaced by “Author” and the titles by “Title of the publication”. The date must be let visible. To write the articles please use the templates and that can also be downloaded from the page “Come si collabora”.

Articles must be sent to: redazione@ocula.it.



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The Trouble with Normal...: Special issue of Ocula - Semiotics for Design: how to teach it? (July 2016)
Special issue of Ocula - Semiotics for Design: how to teach it? (July 2016)
The Trouble with Normal...
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