Semiotics: A User’s Guide to Seeing Differently

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In this course, you'll learn how to use the deep insights of semiotics as a powerful tool for innovation, design, communications, and brand strategy.

Instructors: CATO HUNT & JAMES WOODHEAD, Space Doctors

Enrollment: 20 max
Schedule: 7 live online sessions + reading assignments, February 13–March 27, 2018. Full schedule
Registration: $500 (See Terms)

REGISTRATION IS CLOSED. Contact us if you'd like to receive a notification when we offer the course again

Course Overview

A semiotic way of thinking gives us deep insight into how people view the world, how meaning is constructed and understood, and how meaning emerges and changes. Semiotics teaches us to see the world as a sign system, and to use these signs to transform the meanings we communicate and ensure our products, processes, and organizations resonate more deeply with people.

In this course you’ll learn how to create and communicate meaning in order to create compelling, culturally relevant strategies that connect us better with cultures of today and tomorrow. You'll gain the techniques and hands-on experience you need to conduct your own semiotic research.

The course starts with a grounding in semiotic theory, then focuses on building practical skills through ‘live decoding’ of a cultural theme. At each session—through presentations, discussion, instructor feedback, virtual group work, and a fieldwork assignment “in the wild”—we will apply semiotic thinking in the real world. We’ll work with core theories and frameworks, consider how semiotic thinking complements other research disciplines, and explore how semiotics can be applied to answer questions on innovation, communications, design, and brand strategy.

Prepare to never see the world the same way again!

What Will You Learn?

  • A solid foundation in semiotic theory, principles, and methods
  • How to apply semiotics and cultural insight to different commercial challenges
  • How to work with core models, including the semiotic square, codes, and the residual-dominant-emergent framework
  • How to work through a live case study on a cultural theme, co-creating the analysis and outputs as we go
  • How to develop culturally sensitive strategies across global geographies

How Will You Learn?

This online course was specially designed for EPIC to provide active, live engagement with a small group of participants and an expert instructor. It isn’t cobbled together from cookie-cutter modules or passive webinars—it offers meaningful, relevant learning and connects you to an important network of people and resources. The online course uses platforms and co-working tools that facilitate group interaction and collaboration, accessible from your browser.

Each live session will include an online presentation, live group ‘decoding’, discussion, and paired working. In addition to live course sessions, participants will have assignments between sessions for which they will be expected to go out in their communities and put the learnings from the course into practice. Course instructors will review the work of each participant and offer feedback.

Who Should Take This Course?

The Semiotics course is designed for budding or early career ethnographers, agency planners and other applied researchers with a social science or design research background in roles such as:

  • marketing
  • market research
  • insight research
  • design research
  • experience & product design
  • brand manager/strategist
  • agency planners
  • communications professionals

About Your Instructors

CATO HUNT has spent 15 years helping clients grow their brands by understanding semiotically powered cultural meaning. As Director of Innovation at Space Doctors, Cato leads the way in exploring and developing new ways in which we can understand, create and measure meaning, by drawing from a wide range of disciplines—from the cognitive and behavioural sciences to design theory, anthropology and experience design.

JAMES WOODHEAD has worked in the brand strategy and capability development space for 13 years helping teams working in agency and clientside organizations be as effective as they can possibly be. James is also one of Space Doctors’ expert facilitators, able to guide a team towards uncovering new knowledge and skills; landing great solutions and developing their semiotic and cultural analysis capabilities in the process.

Course Schedule

This course consists of seven live online sessions (instruction, a mentorship session, and three group work sessions) plus reading assignments:

Session 1: February 13, 8–10:00 am PST (UTC -8)

Interim Work Session: February 20, 8–9:30 am PST (UTC -8)

Session 2: February 27, 8–10:00 PST (UTC -8)

Interim Work Session: March 6, 8–9:30 am PST (UTC -8)

Session 3 (Mentorship): March 13, 9–10:00 am PDT (UTC -7)

Interim Work Session: March 20, 9–10:30 am PDT (UTC -7)

Session 4: March 27, 9–11:00 am PDT (UTC -7)


"The course really met my expectations—it's one of the best courses that I have done in my career so far."
—Caroline Brierley, Design Project Leader, Unilever

"I’m thrilled to now have a structured means of analysis where before I had no such tool. Not only that, Cato and James gave great background on the field that helped me understand more of the landscape and provided multiple case studies that brought their teachings to life—not to mention setting aside plenty of time for us to participate and build our semiotic muscles. That’s been critical to my confidence in this area now that the course has ended."
—Paige Arthur, Senior Language Strategist, Maslansky + Partners

"This course was really good value for the money. Space Doctors provided a meaningful frame, process, tools, and the confidence to offer a 'semiotic lens' to our work. It was a great experience as an EPIC member. Space Doctors were very generous and let everyone under the tent."
—Meg Kinney, Partner, Bad Babysitter


Instructors will draw from the following body of work (this is not the reading list for the course):

Semiotics, the Basics, Daniel Chandler
Introducing Semiotics, Paul Cobley & Lisa Jansz
Mythologies, Roland Barthes
Ways of Seeing, John Berger
The Language of Things, Deyan Sudjic
Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things, Marcel Danesi
The Name of the Rose / Apocalypse Postponed, Umberto Eco
Decoding Advertising, Judith Williamson
Culturematic, Grant McCracken
Semiotics, Marketing and Communication: Beneath the Signs, the Strategies, Jean-Marie Floch
Objects of Affection, Krishna Udayasankar
Seeing is Believing, Arthur Berger


This course is open to EPIC Members, and membership is open to everyone (join here).

Refunds & transfers: If you need to cancel more than 14 days before the start of the course you’ll be refunded 50% of the registration fee. No refunds will be made within 14 days of the start of the course. You may transfer your registration to someone else; the recipient must be an EPIC Member prior to transfer.