BreMM19 | Johannessen, Boesen & Tvede

Christian Mosbæk Johannessen, Kristoffer Claussen Boesen and Mads Lomholt Tvede
University of Southern Denmark | Odense, Denmark

A corpus-based approach to shape and colour in logos

Structurally simple vector-based graphics are ubiquitous in our semiotic landscapes. They constrain and coordinate our behavior on traffic signs, road markings, pictograms, type design of every kind, various analogue and digital graphic user interfaces, and corporate and organizational identities, to name a few. Interestingly, it seems that, the more structurally simple graphic texts such as corporate logos seem to be, the greater the difficulty in finding something coherent and interesting to say about them from a close reading. This is probably because simple shapes and color-structures contain insufficient information to specify complex ideational meaning potentials. In stead, much of their meaning potential broadly falls under the rubric of interpersonal meaning and identity messages; modality, coding orientation, or style [1].

In this paper, we present the results of a comparative analysis of two corpora of corporate logos. 50 logos from the oil industry and 50 from environmental non-governmental organizations have been analyzed using a distinctive feature approach to shape [2] and color [3]. We demonstrate that, albeit these logos specify very little in terms of ideational meaning, for all their simplicity, their shapes and colors convey very different identity messages through graphic style.

However, and more importantly for the “empirical inroads” theme of this conference, the paper addresses descriptive challenges arising from corpus analysis of graphics, when structural simplicity leaves you nowhere to go except to deal with gestalt phenomena like negative shape, contour rivalry, and very thin lines [4].


1. Van Leeuwen T. Introducing Social Semiotics. Abingdon: Routledge; 2005.

2. Johannessen CM. Experiential meaning potential in the Topaz Energy logo: A framework for graphemic and graphetic analysis of graphic logo design. Social Semiotics. 2016:1-20.

3. Kress G, Van Leeuwen T. Colour as a Semiotic Mode: Notes for a Grammar of Colour. Visual Communication. 2002;1(3):343-69.

4. Arnheim R. Art and Visual Perception. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press; 1954.


Christian Mosbæk Johannessen is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Denmark. His area of research is graphic communication from a social semiotic and eco-social perspective, and he is particularly interested in the materiality of graphics, the dynamics of graphic conventionalization, and the intersection between graphics and cognition.

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