Friday, 17 August 2012

The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction… Socio-cultural Codes

O’Neill, S. (2008) Interactive Media: The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction. London: Springer-Verlag.

“Metaphor then, is important to understanding interactive media. Connotation on the other hand has not really been considered in relation to interactive media. The focus in HCI has largely been to increase efficiency and usability by reducing ambiguity, thus removing the possibility of connotation. Thinking about the connotative aspects might provide new avenues for signification and further layers of interactive media. It might give us an extra tool to help us understand how people interpret interactive media within the larger social context in which they appear. (…) If interpretation is important to understanding interactive media, then the semiotic concept of codes is particularly relevant to developing a semiotics of interactive media, because it identifies interactive media objects as texts that can be decoded or even recoded culturally by a user at the interface level. It is important here, not to confuse cultural codes with binary code or programming, even though there is also something inherently semiotic about them.” (p78)

O’Neill develops his case away from the denotative binary HCI perspective into a more nuanced world that visual communication occupies through connotation and metaphor. These two areas of nuanced communication have been a staple in visual communication. The selection and shaping of semiotic signs has been a valuable tool in the designer’s skill set, but how these tools work cannot be quantified. Visual communication draws from the socio-cultural codes of the relevant audience to encode meaning in subtle and interesting ways, to draw the audience into reading the design. Metaphor helps put the audience into a familiar place to understand how to interpret the meaning encoded in the design. Denotation, or this means this may communicate quickly but can be cold and, well, binary. Connotation on the other hand draws on an abstract richness of human communication that can, if interpreted correctly by the target audience, impart far more meaning than it’s parts. This is the difference between automated and anaesthetic experiences, and a phenomenology of enjoyment that an aesthetic experience can afford.

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