In Media Theory, we were asked to design an icon that was easily read and understood. I used what I knew.

My response to creating a semiotic image was developed through simply using what I know and am comfortable with after three years of architecture: dimensionality in graphics and the use of Photoshop/Illustrator to create a believable representation. I had an outcome in mind, but no clue how to “get” there, but I knew I wanted a 3D representation of some sort of icon.
I made a list of possible signifiers and signified icons, and tried to create corresponding relationships between them. Having an interest in “green” technology and architecture, I wrote out words such as “environment”, “green”, ”eco” “housing” and etc. I began to think green. Whatever developed graphically was probably going to be the color green, because in our culture today, we associate the color or even the word “green” with being eco-friendly. So taking that signifier, I then needed to decide on a symbol that can be quickly identified.
The parallels that resulted conveyed a sense of environmental or eco-friendly housing. I made a house in Illustrator that easily is read as “house.” Shading my creation in green to give it some dimension, I felt that this iconic American house, in green, is easily read as meaning eco-friendly housing.

That was my little summary about it. But it goes much more in depth than that…why on earth do we associate “green” with the environment? Yeah, grass is green. Leaves are green. I get that part–that’s the easy part. But what is going on in our heads that makes us do that? God knows how many theorists have written about this topic…and I think I’m going to take it upon myself to share what I learn from them, but less “big” words.

We are, much to probably most’s agreement, manipulated by media. Unless you live in the tundra living off of lichen, you’re probably just as submersed in media as the rest of the world. We are on Facebook several times a day. We tweet about unusual bowel movements and post weird stuff we find on Reddit. Even when we’re not on the internet, we are consuming advertising and digital entertainment like tv or music. It would be insane to say that these things that we are so invested in don’t reflect our habits and thoughts. When we take a photo, we almost immediately begin to think about where we are going to share it and with whom and on what interface. Its terrifying and exciting. We’ve become something like robots conforming and responding to code and language developed by our own means. Oh weird, we’re machines now? Yes. What does that have to do with “green”? Everything, my little robot friend, everything. Over the years, the color green has become associated with being eco-friendly. Its an input, a radical and kinda weird little indicator to us. In our brains, we take that bit of language, and we no longer visualize “green”, but maybe a Prius or a roof filled with solar panels. I wish I knew why we chose green over perhaps yellow or blue, seeing as how some flowers are yellow, and our sky is blue–all things that really do fall into the same category as green grass or trees. Its arbitrary, I suppose. Somewhere in time, we all made an unconscious agreement that green will have a new meaning.

This now makes room for abuse.
Often companies, designers and marketers will associate their products as “green” as a way to appeal to what is frankly, a concerned public. Despite inflated costs, lack of evidence and an obvious appeal to negative rhetoric, consumers are more apt to purchase a green product over perhaps a cheaper alternative. I’m not saying all companies have this mean little streak in them to manipulate consumer habits (but they do), but they’re able to use what we constructed ourselves in order to do so.

This is semiotics, and its something we understand innately through language. We can process this without even really thinking about it. We don’t have to look at a green leaf on a package and think “this is a leaf…and its green…green means eco-friendly. Leaf indicates this also. Super. This is an environmentally friendly product! Fabulous!

Same with the house icon I constructed. The signified object is immediately recognized, and the color that is associated with it changes its meaning without us having to even give it consideration, which is why it is a simple and easy example.

Man, this stuff is so cool.

What’re your thoughts?