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Reading packages: social semiotics on the shelf

Journal article
Authors Karin Wagner
Published in Visual Communication
Volume 14
Issue 2
Pages 193-220
ISSN 1470-3572
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Pages 193-220
Language en
Keywords packaging, ethical food, barcodes, sustainability
Subject categories Design, Art History


Packaging is surrounded by many restrictions and at the same time is the subject of much innovative design solutions. It is an area that offers rich material for studying how signs and codes are transformed and generate new meanings. The purpose of this article is to show how semiosis is enacted in food packaging and to discuss the semiotic resources involved. Three topics are analysed: how greenwashing can be achieved with the help of graphic design, how symbols, icons and barcodes are used for communication and how the closure of beverage packages can convey meaning. The analyses show that making pastiches of or tweaking required information like ingredients lists, recycling symbols and barcodes can add another level of meaning to such information and make them useful for marketing purposes. The article further shows that a material resource like closure is a semiotic resource with as much potential as graphic design.

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