How to use signs, symbols and text effectively in communicating about risk

How to use signs, symbols and text effectively in communicating about risk

semioticsThe power of symbols and signs to communicate to the subconscious was first systematised by Goebells in 1937. The power and effect of these symbols and signs to create identity and belonging was captured systematically by the Nazis in what has been known for centuries. As far back as hieroglyphics on Egyptian tombs we have known that symbols and signs have enormous power, for good and bad use. The fact that the Nazis were adept at using signs and symbols in propaganda shows just how much they knew about semiotics and communicating to the subconscious.

Similarly, understanding the psychology of colour and the power of semantics was critical to their effectiveness. When communicating through signs and symbols one needs to know what one is doing. An accidental approach to the use of symbols and signs can be destructive. The art and craft of graphic design, information graphics and semiotics is the pathway to wisdom in communicating to the unconscious. The idea that signs, symbols and text don’t matter or have minimal significance, is a nonsense that flies in the face of all the evidence to the contrary ( Lotman, Bargh, Chandler, Barthes, Pierce etc)

safety nothing happensSemioticians understand how to communicate effectively to the individual and collective unconscious. Semiotics is a foundational study in the social psychology of risk. This is why zero is such a powerful counter productive symbol in the communication of risk. The symbol of zero is a loss-framed deficit insignia for dehumanising people. It has a trajectory of intolerance and promotes the vice of domination in the name of good. The absolute of zero has a trajectory that is pitted against the realities of fallibility. As a symbol it sits in the subconscious as a justification for denying fallibility and prejudicing enactment. Zero is the symbol for bullying, brutalism and determinism, there is no freedom in zero. In the same way the symbols of Hazardman, Dumb Ways to Die, Safety is a Choice you Make and, All Accidents are Preventable, influence the subconscious in a trajectory that dehumanises others and justifies dominion, power and control of others, in the name of good.

If you want to understand what the signs, symbols and text in your organisation are communicating unconsciously about risk, then understanding the following will be helpful.

  1. Understanding minds 1,2,3 (see One Brain, Three Minds and The Triarchic Mind, Risk and Safety)
  2. Acknowledging the unconscious, automaticity and heuristics (see The Conundrum of Discerning Risk)
  3. Understanding the psychology of colour (see The Colour Of Safety)
  4. How signs and symbols create meaning and purpose (see Its All in The Sign)
  5. What place signs, symbols and artefacts have in creating collective unconscious (See Yung On Risk and Safety)
  6. How artefacts are critical to cultural formation and identity (see Grade One Lessons In Culture)
  7. Understanding how space and place influence as connectors to the power in symbols, discourse and signs (see Compliance, Obedience and the Attraction of Risk)
  8. How messaging, understanding and decision making are socially constructed (see Risk and Safety Rituals)
  9. What is information graphics and how perception and motivation can be influenced graphically (see Risk and Safety Matrices and the Psychology of Colour • Safety Risk
  10. How archetypes (like propaganda and safety) influence decision making. (see Why Personify Safety? )

If you want to know more about semiotics and how signs and symbols influence the unconscious and subconscious in risk, then you might want to come to the workshop: The Social Psychology of Risk and Semiotics in Canberra on 6.7.8 September.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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