Week Eleven: Trends and Environments

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

The lecture this week was concerning theory and symbolism of the message. Martin Hoskins delivered the lecture and began by breaking down the word 'message,' which is Latin and it's original meaning means, "send away." Of course, this makes sense, as with writing emails, messages, comments we're issued various icons to send the message away, however, on a personal level this is all pretty straightforward and simple but on a larger scale, there has to be a lot more consideration. There has to be a consideration of how the message is delivered, the medium. Canadian philosopher and professor Marshall McLuhan described how, "The medium is the message," in his book published in 1967. In fact, the book is titled, "The Medium Is The Massage," after there was an apparent type mistake at the printers yet McLuhan decided to keep the mistake, reasons behind this are that McLuhan perhaps felt this title was more fitting, feeling that modern media "massages" the brain into thinking in particular ways. In McLuhan's book, he describes how the way we send and receive information is more important than the actual information itself.

Image: https://mcluhangalaxy.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-medium-is-the-message-marshall-mcluhan-on-media-humor-the-media-child/

Image: https://www.amazon.de/Medium-Massage-Marshall-Mcluhan/dp/1584230703

The medium in which a message is sent impacts the receiver's understanding of it. Hoskens carries onto say how there are four important steps to consider when delivering a message:

-Intention: what is the purpose of the message? What results are we expecting to get from it?

-Message: what is the message going to be and how is going to be constructed?

-Medium: this concerns the channel in which the message is going to be sent/delivered.

-Understanding: has the receiver understood the message intended? Have there been any barriers?

This is a relevant point for me touch upon Plato's cave allegory Simply put, Plato's cave allegory shows how the prisoners of the cave misinterpreted reality for shadowy representations. In news, for example, is the intention of the reporting (message) to inform/educate or to create panic and propaganda? Either way will impact on how the message is delivered, and perhaps, how it's manipulated.

Image: https://voegelinview.com/platos-cave/

There are many factors to consider when sending a message in order for it to be successful and for barriers to be limited. Hoskens describes how the same message can mean different things depending on who is reading it. Factors such as cultural backgrounds can impact how a message is received. colours for example have different interpretations across a whole variety of cultures.


According to The Cambridge, Dictionary semiotics is, "the study of signs and symbols, what they mean, and how they are used."

Throughout history, signs and symbols have been used to convey meaning in different ways, from the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics through to today's use of emojis. Certain symbols have been agreed globally to mean certain things, such as male and female bathrooms, the lights on traffic lights showing us when to stop and go. They're so ingrained socially and culturally that they can't be confused to mean anything else than their intention. A red light on a traffic light can't be confused with meaning good luck or passion as the context in which it's delivered can only mean stop.

Brand logos/symbols have become recognised globally with the likes of McDonald's, Coca-cola, and Apple. Religious symbols are also clearly recognisable too, the Christian cross for example. However, symbols can be altered to convey a completely different meaning than originally intended. Hosken touched on how the swastika symbol was found on an old St.Austell bottle cap by his son on a walk. It's important to remember that the swastika was a symbol originally created by the Buddhists to mean "well-being," a sign of purity. Early travellers from the west to Asia were inspired by its connotations and meaning that it was quickly adopted and used throughout advertising due to these positive connotations, from Coca-cola to Carlsberg, and even the boy scouts! However, the Nazi's altered it slightly, simply by turning it around to convey a completely different, a symbol of hate and slaughter.

Image: https://iskconnews.org/how-the-world-loved-the-swastika-until-hitler-stole-it,4654/

Image: https://imgur.com/gallery/GQgCp/comment/690068615

Towards the end of the lecture, Hoskens mentions how the combination of image and words can be used to tell a story. The example he uses was that of the Dairy Milk logo in which two glasses of milk are being poured into the making up of the text, "Dairy Milk." This indicates to the receiver that actual milk is being used to create the product.

Image: http://www.logo-designer.co/pearlfisher-creates-experiential-brand-identity-for-cadbury/

Continuing from this notion of words creating image and vice versa, I really like this poster created by James Victore (1962) who was living in New York at the time. It's clearly a poster against racial hatred which is so simply identifiable by the letter C being transformed into this angry, bloody, force of evil which is ready to consume the other letters. As riots erupted in the summer of 1993 the media began to misconstrue the essence of racism. Victore felt the only positive to such negativity should be the public's heightened awareness of what causes racism in the first place. Victore explained that that the word racism was banded around so much in the media that the word effectively lost its meaning and nobody knew what it really meant. Victore's idea was to show the word as if it was eating its young, and created it as simply as he could.

Image: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/120968

The image below is showing the correlation between racism and the death penalty. With recent protests against the unlawful killing of George Floyd in America this poster is still relevant today even though this is from 1991. I love the simplicity of it, that he only used three letters so you have to do a little thinking to gather what the word is he's alluring too but it's not beyond anyone's grasp. He has also created this with the thought process that everyone, at one time or another, has played hangman.

Image: https://www.fastcompany.com/1662292/the-best-of-james-victore-graphic-designs-rebel-with-a-cause

Case Study 1: Take one story to see how it is reported globally. Collect three versions of the same story from three different countries. How is it reported? Headline? Text? Unpacking meaning and distorting meaning.

Task: Please explore Case Study 1 or 2. Collect visual examples and upload onto your blog and onto the ideas wall. Debate your opinions with your coursemates ensure you contribute and incorporate this into a short 500 word written critical review in your blog. Consider the impact the media has on your understanding of visual signs and symbols relating to that piece.

500 Words

One thing I've noticed from doing this challenge is how instantly I went to mainstream news sources. I noticed I was scrolling through sites focused on looking for BBC/SKY/CBS (which all seem to be 3 letters) etc. I do read alternative news sources too but I guess I automatically thought of the above news sources as being, "the news," when what I have realised is that there are so many news outlets available that are shining the light on important, relevant stories that the mainstream outlets aren't.

As mentioned, a lot of news outlets logos are made simply of three letters yet they're easily recognisable. They're usually bold and simple. There's no room for distraction, they're clean and to the point, which is how they're portraying their news reporting to be. As mentioned previously with the Plato's Cave allegory, there's no shadowy representation of what it is, this is what it is.

Image: https://www.bbc.com/news

Image: https://www.forbes.com/companies/cbs/?sh=548d3d0b4811

Image: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160607000211

Image: https://deadline.com/2020/08/nbc-news-msnbc-coronavirus-schools-1203006729/

Image: https://news.sky.com

Image: http://iht.nstm.gov.tw/english/industry/index-1.asp?m=99&m1=11&m2=56&gp=43&gp1=&id=145

From scrolling through various news sources one thing I noticed that was consistent in a lot of current news articles reporting Taiwan and its response to the Coronavirus is Taiwan had marked 200 days without a locally contracted Coronavirus case. We seem to like milestones and round numbers. This made me question how this story would've been reported if Taiwan had only got to 198 days. Would it still be deemed as newsworthy? Aesthetically round, even numbers look better and seem to be more complete, more of an achievement, but I wonder how many stories go unpublished because the numbers aren't symbolic enough to be regarded as newsworthy. This made think of dates as well, news sources like to make headlines rhyme, there's an element of poetry involved. Two dates that do this, and that we're reminded of every year, are 9/11 and 7/7. Of course, the events that took place on these dates were going to be remembered regardless of the date but this is an example of how news sources like to simplify stories to numbers, easy syllables.

Image: https://www.ebay.ca/itm/San-Francisco-Chronicle-September-11-2002-Newspaper/303101833950?hash=item469246f2de:g:I34AAOSwk~ZZ6UJO

Another thing I noticed from a lot of headlines was how newspapers in the west reporting Taiwan's response to Coronavirus would often use the pronoun "they." Although in the context it makes sense to use this pronoun, as "they" is regarding the Taiwanese population, however, it almost makes me sense this feeling of divide between east and west, that "they" are separate to "us."

I was intrigued to see that Bloomberg celebrated the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen as, "Taiwan's Covid Crusher," as she hadn't been pinpointed by other news sources. I wonder if this is a sign of male-dominated news reporting? Had Taiwan's president been a man in this instance, would he be celebrated more of his input? The Canadian news publication Narcity reported on how Taiwan recently had a large music festival and that the Taiwanese population were able to enjoy a fairly normal life in comparison to Canada. The Japan Times described Taiwan as, "The Envy Of The World," which was echoed in many other articles I passed through research too.

Three news sources I researched for this challenge:

The Japan Times

Image: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/10/29/asia-pacific/taiwan-200-days-no-covid19/


Image: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-03/tsai-ing-wen-taiwan-s-covid-crusher-bloomberg-50-2020


Image: https://www.narcity.com/en-ca/news/taiwan-ultra-music-festival-is-what-happens-when-you-dont-have-any-covid19-in-200-days


In response to this weeks challenge I thought it befitting to make a newspaper headline collage with elements of the three news sources I researched. I made the name with the combination of names from each of the sources. I then made the headline with a combination of numbers that were so evident in each article. I used the picture taken from Bloomberg with president Tsai holding the line, "This is why Taiwan can have nice things and Canada can't," taken from Narcity, the Canadian publication.

First Draft

Final Draft

I made a few tweaks with the addition of my name. Samson Ellis (who I crossed out) wrote the article in Bloomberg. The article was a nod to Tsai's who I feel hasn't been celebrated as much as she should've for her response to Covid. I also used pink from the image to tie the whole piece together.


This was a very interesting and eye opening challenge. I've learnt to delve deeper and look for more alternative news sources than the obvious in the mainstream. I also discovered that there seem to be a lot of similarities in how news is reported around the world rather than differences. There are clearly factors involved that make a story more newsworthy than others and the reasons behind this is that they're all competing to sell advertising space. A story needs to jump out and shock us, it needs to be easy to read and digest and it needs to be symbolic, relevant and have a purpose in order to draw us in.


Mukti Jain Campion (2014). How the world loved the swastika - until Hitler stole it. BBC News. [online] 23 Oct. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29644591.

Eudaimonia (2016). The Medium is the Message by Marshall McLuhan | Animated Book Review. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=gCr2binb4Fs [Accessed 5 Dec. 2020].

dictionary.cambridge.org. (n.d.). SEMIOTICS | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/semiotics.

Washington.edu. (2019). Allegory of the Cave. [online] Available at: https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm.

www.narcity.com. (2020). Taiwan Has Massive Music Festival After Reporting Zero COVID-19 Cases In 200 Days. [online] Available at: https://www.narcity.com/en-ca/news/taiwan-ultra-music-festival-is-what-happens-when-you-dont-have-any-covid19-in-200-days [Accessed 5 Dec. 2020].

Wang, C. and Ellis, S. (2020). Record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases makes Taiwan envy of world. [online] The Japan Times. Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/10/29/asia-pacific/taiwan-200-days-no-covid19/.

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s Covid Crusher. (2020). Bloomberg.com. [online] 3 Dec. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-03/tsai-ing-wen-taiwan-s-covid-crusher-bloomberg-50-2020 [Accessed 5 Dec. 2020].

Heller, S. (1999). Design literacy (continued) : understanding graphic design. New York: Allworth Press.

Cambridge Dictionary (2020). SEMIOTICS在劍橋英語詞典中的解釋及翻譯. [online] Cambridge.org. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/zht/%E8%A9%9E%E5%85%B8/%E8%8B%B1%E8%AA%9E/semiotics [Accessed 11 Dec. 2020].

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