Semiotics, Compassion and Value-Centered Design

2. ALGEBRAIC SEMIOTICS

Communication is mediated by signs, which occur in structured systems.

Semiotic systems are axiomatic theories for sign systems, including

  1. sorts for signs,
  2. constructors for signs, and
  3. measures of their importance.
E.g., all displays for some application on a PDA.

Context, including the settings of signs, is as important for meaning as signs.

For example, ``Yes'' can mean almost anything, given appropriate context.

Algebraic semiotics treats aspects of context with constructors that put signs in larger signs.

But interpretation is still needed for meaning in human sense.

Also, algebraic semiotics should be used flexibly, like music notation in performance.

Design often views some signs as representing other signs,

and asks what makes some representations better than others.

Semiotic morphisms are maps of semiotic spaces that preserve significant properties.

In many real examples, not everything can or should be preserved.
E.g., a book table of contents preserves structure and names of parts, but not content.

Design is massaging a source space, a target space, and a morphism, to achieve quality, subject to constraints.

This applies to managing an organization, and designing a website.

Design principles include:

  1. The most important subsigns should map to correspondingly important subsigns in the representation;
  2. The most important axioms about signs should also be satisfied by their representations; and
  3. it is better to preserve form (i.e., structure) than content, if something must be sacrificed.
The third is Principle F/C; many instances are familiar to designers in special cases.

These principles all have precise mathematical formulations.


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