By Steven Skaggs
275 pages, hardcover, $42.75
Published by The MIT Press
Graphic design is often thought of in schools and styles, like Bauhaus, Swiss and New Wave. What is beginning to emerge, now that graphic design as a discipline is entering adulthood, is a unifying theory behind design. In his book FireSigns: A Semiotic Theory for Graphic Design, professor Steven Skaggs of the University of Louisville in Kentucky connects the disparate thoughts of graphic design theory and binds them with semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols and how they’re interpreted. Skaggs touches upon the foundations of visual perception, the process of encoding and decoding symbols, and the fundamental differences between images, words and marks—not dissimilar to the ones designers use as logomarks.
Certainly, the topics and terminology within FireSigns can seem academic and heady at times. But Skaggs packages these ideas in an unintimidating way that makes the book a delight to read—not to mention the treasure trove of illustrations and graphs that are the quickest way to any visual communicator’s heart. With plenty of examples from eminent designers, Skaggs’s book is a much-needed resource for anyone interested in the why behind visual communications. —Michael Coyne