For some reason the philosopher E. Cassirer characterised the human being as a «symbolic animal». The stylization of forms allowed numbers, letters of the alphabet and multiple figures to be represented. The emblem, stylization, the diagram, the logotype are subspecies of the symbol, presenting themselves as a visual process that reproduces concrete objects, like the drawing of an animal to communicate the corresponding object or concept. The unicorns of the royal English coat of arms represent a fictitious object. On the semiotic side of language there are those who study codes of the road, sea signs, heraldry, national flags, chemical formulas, Windows icons, tattoos, logos. An emblem is a type of sign, which may be iconic, for example, the Portuguese flag.
We live in a world of signs that form a semiotic of the natural world and a world of artificial systems of signs where conventionality prevails. This world of signs contains the signs of the natural world or of expression, and the artificial, or of communication. We know visual signs like indexes (smoke that refers to fire when seen), or symbols (the colours while so), or the icons. The iconic sign is analogical and refers to an object from reality. The plastic sign mobilizes codes that set in lines, colours and textures, regardless of any mimetic relationship with the objects. The emblem, the diagram, the logotype are simultaneously iconic and plastic signs. Umberto Eco includes within the stylizations category insignias, signs, emblems and coats of arms in which some expressions of a recognizable kind need to be reconstructed through inferences. According to this author, there may be stylizations governed by strong codes, like coats of arms and the figures of a deck of cards; others are governed by weaker codes, open to multiple contents, such as the so-called «symbols» and, within them, the «archetype» (mandala, Chinese swastika) .
In Greek, emblem means an ornament «accessory». And a sensitive image, plastic that means a divine or human reality also meaning moral or ritual virtues, accompanied by a motto or symbol. We are talking about emblems, referring to drawings that reproduce something, in a stylized way: the cross in Christianity, the crescent moon for Islam, the sickle for Communism. They are iconic designs that withstand manipulations of expression that reflect on the content, but that are arbitrary as to the degree of characterisation they have attained. The common voice calls them «symbols». They refer to a definite field of indefinite meanings .
The hammer and sickle were the symbol of the Communist party, like the Belem Tower is the emblem of Lisbon, but we cannot say that H2O is a chemical emblem. Ekman and Friesen (1969) reintroduced the notion of emblem, only taking into account the non-verbal emblems: «Emblems are different from verbal behaviours, namely regarding their use and particularly in their relationship with the verbal behaviour; in the awareness and in the intentionality … people know when they are using an emblem». These are combinatorial units that include the signs of the Chinese alphabet, the codes of sea signs, the many elements of traffic signs and a vast number of signs produced with the intention to communicate. Levi-Strauss suggests that certain genealogies of well-known individuals of certain African ancestors may be considered emblematic .
Diagrams are talked about in the agronomic context, for the classification of the soil texture based on the granulometric data analysis. The triangular is the diagram most known. Diagrams are also mentioned in Physics, Economics and Mathematics. Diagrams are mentioned to designate «symbols» that represent objects or abstract relationships, like logical, chemical and algebraic formulas. The diagram is a composite iconic form, designed to represent in general lines and visually (also in a compressed form) a certain physical scenario. The best example is the visual demonstration of the Pythagoras' theorem which takes form after repetitive measures of the three sides of the triangular figures represented. Any mathematical and scientific theory is an extension of a «diagrammatic model» of something. In Kantian terms, the scheme proposes itself as a rule to build in each situation a figure that had the general property of triangles. «The diagram has something that can be sensed in spatial terms but at the same time is substantially based on a temporal discourse (the flux), in the way that Kant recalls that the schemes are mainly based on time» . The correspondences point to point between expression and content: are arbitrary, but nevertheless contain motivational elements.
There are different classifications of «logos» or logotypes: lettermark or graphical, emblem, brand and image. A logotype expresses itself in many ways:
- like an icon or isotype, that is like a graphic visual symbol (e.g. the logotype of the Coa Museum)
- like a name, that is like a verbal-visual or phonetic representation of the basic element of identity
- like brand, that is, like a register of name for commercial use.
The brand is a phenomenon of nature eminently semiotic. It is a significant that associated to certain meanings generates various effects of type and importance on things and people. Dictionaries define brand as a sign of various printed ways or applied to an object to indicate the property or origin, and by extension, «home production», «industrial business», «brand product», «stigma». The same indelible sign brands with an iron the body of animals that belong to an owner, or the body of a traitor. Hence the emblematic character or peculiarity of the unmistakable sign that is attributed to a brand. This is the idea that is present in the etymology of brand. In English, the verb brand means «mark with a hot iron», «stigmatize» and brand means «trademark of a factory», «a branding iron» .
The logotype as part of the visual identity of a company or institution is the typographical representation of the brand name. Its functionality lies in the capacity it has to communicate a message that is intended: «this institution is of excellence», «this is a quality product», for which the use of colours, forms and texts is required in order to persuade the viewer or reader to adhere. A yellow circle may be interpreted in distinct ways and receive different meanings like «sun», «egg», «coin», etc., when it appears associated to the word «bank», therefore meaning «Banking Institution».
Many times the emblem is associated to a graphic design. There are those who date the graphic design of cave paintings of the Palaeolithic or of the birth of the written language to the third millennium before Christ. The graphic design aims to project various kinds of visual messages: stylistic, informative, digital, persuasive, and we find it in advertising graphic design or in editorial design, in typography, in signs or in multimedia.
Marrone, Gianfranco, Il discorso di marca. Modelli semiotici per il branding, Laterza,Bari, 2007, p. 5.
Eco, U., Signo, Enciclopédia Einaudi, vol 31,Lisboa, INCM, 1994.pág. 15
Eco, U., Dall’albero al labirinto. Studi storici sul segno e l’interpretazione, Milão, Bompiani, 2007, p. 430.
Sebeok, Signos una introduction a la semiótica, Barcelona, Paidós, 1996, p. 51.