The Cognitive Mind

The word cognition is used to describe subjects referring to thinking. Reasoning, awareness, memory, problem solving, learning and language all come under this heading. As humans, we are unique to other animals as we have developed the ability to recognise and link imagery and language together to gain an understanding of a situation. For example, the word ‘pareidolia’ relates to the idea that humans are able, or even hardwired from birth, to see significant imagery within a random stimulus, such as clouds or stone, without the stimulus deliberately being manipulated in this way.

Examples of Pareidolia

Examples of Pareidolia

For more information on Pareidolia visit:

Semiotics is the study of symbols, index’s and icons. It explores the way the human brain has developed over generations to be able to create an abstracted language, which allows us to recognise communication through imagery. Humans use semiotics as a visual language which communicates a shorthand interpretation of ideas through these images. There is a subtle yet significant difference between each of these words when describing them in this context. An Icon is an image that represents the significant by resemblance, the image portrays a great likeness to the subject that it is trying to communicate, for example a portrait of a person. An Index however, is not needed to resemble the significant but instead is directly linked to it and therefore more of an association than a direct portrayal, for example a handprint or a signature of a person. A symbol is unique in its own right as it doesn’t necessarily have to resemble the significant but instead can be  created by society, and over time have been developed into a culture as a representation of the significant. The most common symbols in society could be letters that are used to form words — a completely man made visual language. 


Portrait of Mona Lisa – Icon

Signature of Elvis Presley - Index

Signature of Elvis Presley – Index

English Alphabet - Symbols

English Alphabet – Symbols

The development of this visual language has been vital in illustrative design in order to communicate ideas where words alone are unable to do so.

(Ideas adapted from lectures by Donna Leishman)


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