Design and symbolism

Design and symbolism are integral to one another. The point of the motif — whether a logo, an element in a pattern, or some form of ornamentations — is to encapsulate and articulate a specific idea, or, usually, an array of interlocking ideas.

Although symbols have become more sophisticated over the course of human history, even the most primitive symbols were, in some sense, designed. Geometric signs, composed of no more than a few lines (for example letters of alphabets) had be made distinct, and — in cases where they also doubled as representatives of meanings, not just sound — such as the letters of the ancient Greek alphabet — the creators also sometimes intended there to be visual similarities between them, to create a more complex semiotics.

A Peugeot shield logo.

Old symbols die hard. And even in the contemporary era very many brands continue to opt for images that might be regarded as ‘archetypal’ in their branding, especially in their logo.

The upscale automobile company, Peugeot, for example, uses the lion, sometimes standing on its hind legs, and sometimes as a lion’s head in a shield.

We understand that the lion expresses power and speed in this context. The use of the lion by Peugeot also associates the vehicle with the muscular body, and, as such, is meant to convey the idea that by driving a Peugeot the driver is transformed into a powerful individual, a hunter, and worthy of respect (the logo is aimed primarily at the male driver).

Although the “king of the jungle” is rarely used as a symbol of the female body, an ad for Bulgari perfume visually compares actress Kirsten Dunst to the lion. This was partly achieved through coloring the actresses normally red hair — for which she is well known — to match the lion’s fur.

In another context the lion might convey a different message, though one that is still in keeping with how we perceive the animal. In the fraternal textiles below, the lion sits on top of broken columns and the ruins of a building. Although this emblem almost certainly has religious connotations, it conveys the idea of the ruin of greatness and the overcoming of that ruin by the great figure.

Polo shirt by Giordano. Note the lion on the red flag.

The Italian fashion company Giordano has used the lion as the emblem for its polo shirt. In its ad campaign a young woman, wearing the shirt, is also carrying a red flag bearing the same lion, larger but subtler.

The streak of black oil beneath the woman’s right eye suggests sporting conflict, the flag victory.

The lion of the poloshirt is meant to symbolize both to the potential consumer. With the lion situated on the left, the composition of the poloshirt is classical, and bears some resemblance to the army officer’s jacket with medals.

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