Nanki Nath

. IDC Home
. Phd at IDC

Project Title: The visual design of shop signs (India; conceptual frame work of visual design elements and the relationship across cities and time periods)

Supervisor: Prof Ravi Poovaiah

Shop signs are the quintessential urban markers of business and trade in a city. They unravel the fascinating dimensions of the visual culture of a city. There has been a paucity of published literature on analytical frameworks designed to study attribute(s) in a shop sign. Therefore, this research aims to investigate the design and formulation of such a flexible visual framework. This framework aims to work as an analytical tool to describe the visual communication, integration of the elements and the emerging relationships in the attribute of colour as part of the visual design of shop signs in India. In order to build a foundation for the visual analysis of shop signs, a background study was initiated with a journey of signs and shop signs from Prehistory to the Digital age. This historical journey has helped us in developing an overview of shop signs in context of our research. We initiated this research by conducting two pilot research projects. First project documented through photography shop signs from pre independence till present times from the historically rich Abdul Rehman street market of South Mumbai, India. A semiotic analysis of these signs gave insights about the semantics, syntactics, pragmatics and their design transitions. The second pilot research project involved open card sorting of a group of Bengaluru city shop signs by designers and non-designers. The results indicated colour being the main visual attribute in the design of shop signs in context of India from viewers' perspective. The data collection for the main research involved documentation of a large number of shop signs through photography, belonging to a range of marketplaces in 12 cities of India. During data collection, information about the shop signs such as their design, changes and business objectives was gathered from the shop owners. The documented data of 3500 shop signs was reduced by the method of stratified sampling that gave us a group of 450 shop signs from five cities in India. We could identify that in a shop sign, information operates at three levels, namely main text or shop names, secondary text or tag lines and background sign panels. These layers constitute the morphology of a shop sign. As material objects of a visual culture, shop signs carry business identities with the aid of visual attributes. Of these, colour has been observed as the primary attribute that imbibes an art of persuasion in visual communication. This research could identify dimensions and characteristics in colour based on an existing colour analysis method. The researcher could identify four factors, renamed quadrants - patterns, trends, tendencies and conventions as part of a visualised framework. The identified quadrants were integrated by the methodology of Bricolage in the design of this framework. Finally, a visual analysis of colour was conducted for the selected five city shop signs with the aid of the formulated framework. This analysis of colour has revealed spatial relationships and contextual meanings in the three layers of information in shop signs.

Keywords: Shop signs, Colour, Visual framework, Bricolage, Semiotic analysis

1) This world comprises of many material objects. A material object is a three-dimensional entity made of matter, is bounded by surfaces, exists in public space, perdures through time, behaves as
manipulating unit and possesses qualitative complexity. They are objects or units that "retain their
identity when lumped together". Terefore, specific lumps of shop signs under the selected categories in our study are material objects. See, W.D. Joske 'Material Objects', 1967

2) A visual relationship has philosophical roots in the subject of visual semiotics. When it comes to
images, Scollon and Wong explain that there are multiple relationships. These include the relationships
between the components of a visual image, the relationships between the producers of the visual image, the relationships between the producers and the components, as well as the relationships between the components of an image and those who are viewing it. Our study focuses on the third kind of visual relationship – that between unit components or elements of an image. See, Scollon, Ronald, and Suzanne B. K. Wong Scollon. Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

3) Mixed Method approach provides with a range of perpectives, with the use of combined qualitative
and quantitative research methods. It mostly results in creation of more effective data collection instruments. See, Frechtling, J., Sharp, L., & Westat (Eds.). User-Friendly Handbook for Mixed- Method Evaluations. Available online at: 153/start.htm.

4) The design of Visual Signs here means the modern context of image building for business and trade. In context of India, the design of signs involves variety of elements and information to display on signboards. See, Visible Signs by David Crow, AVA Publishing, 2003, Print; Graphicwallahs in India
by Keith Lovegrove, UK: Harper Design, 2003. Print.




Contact details:

Industrial Design Centre,
IIT Bombay ,
Powai, Mumbai 400076


E-mail: nanki.nath[at]

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