Design of language, language of design
When the first Homo Sapiens saw a horse, he –assuming that it’s a patriarchal community and the woman stayed at home as the man went hunting- didn’t suddenly say “Equus” or “Oh, look there’s a four-legged concept –signified- with a tail attached to it and I don’t know what it is. I’ve better assign a sound-image –signifier- to that and form a sign.”, but he ran to his cave in panic to explain this thing to his friends with a mixture of primitive voices and sign language. Maybe at first it was called a “hoa”, and then a “hoarx” and possibly a very long time was needed before the humans actually started to call this animal a horse. So, the reason for having such a word is the need to have such a word. For every existing object, or let’s say concept, we need a name, a signifier. The humans couldn’t have lived all the time saying “the four-legged, long necked, fast running, big thing with a tail attached to it and which is not a giraffe”, every time they want to mention a horse. So, now there’s a word for it. The concepts people encounter more have more signifiers, like the Eskimos having lots of words for the snow, and the same is valid for vice versa as there’s no word for a one-legged, two-eyed, yellowish green rectangular creature, because there’s no such a thing (Saussure).
If we look at the development of the language, we see that this process starts with the vital elements like the signifying of surrounding objects, animals, plants, landscapes then maybe the feelings and more complex concepts etc. Of course, for every thing that was invented, there was also the need to identify –signify- it. Following more or less the same principle, languages emerged all around world, satisfying people’s urge to identify, to describe, to express them or just to speak nonsense. The same principle of this development process can be applied to the design process, or to state it more correctly, to the development process of design. After getting wet under it for a very long time, humans realized that they need to cover themselves from rain while going from a point A to point B. The first basic idea was to put an obstacle in front of raindrops before they could reach people’s head. This is similar to calling a horse a “hoa”. As the years passed by, some people improved this idea which leads this obstacle to become a real umbrella as we now it. The shape and structure of an umbrella more or less stays the same, like almost nobody trying to call a horse, a force.
On a more sophisticated level, we can compare the usage of signifiers with the usage of products. But let the comparison be made otherwise the one that is made before and start with a product. In order that a product is widely used, it has to have a function, be easy to use and understandable. Otherwise nobody will use it. The same thing is also needed for a certain signifier. First, this signifier has to have a function, a signified. No one will use a word if it doesn’t signify anything, yet how beautiful it is. Second of all, it must be easy to use. A signifier more than 100 letters will not be preferred by most of people. At last and at least it must be understandable. People need to know where and how to use it. In order to understand how to use a new product, users either need to explore it by themselves, watch someone using it or read the instruction manual, which for several reasons be considered as the best way. These three ways of understanding a product can be reflected on understanding of a signifier. To interpret a signifier and adopt it in daily life, the user can try to use it at random places, and find the meaning with trial and error, find someone who can use it for him/her in sentence, or look for the meaning of it in the instruction manual for words, which is usually called a dictionary.
If we consider a product as “an object with certain amount of information encoded in it”, we can also state that “the amount of information encoded in the object is fairly much more than that is interpreted” and “it all depends on the point of view, context and cultural conditions” (Timur, 2002). This means that the same product can have different meanings or interpretations changing from one region to another region, it can be used for different means or not at all or there can be two different products designed for the same specific purpose. And that is actually a true statement for signifiers, too and the very reason why signifiers show differences from region to region, language to language, as the same bird called a “turkey” in England, an Indian bird “hindi” in Turkey and a peruian bird “pavo” in India; why they used for other contexts than they actually assigned to like there are holy and unholy holidays, or not used at all like almost no one uses “Danke sehr”, a german word for “Thanks” and stare at you as if you said a word in old French; and why there are different signifiers in different cultures, which actually use the same language like sunflower seeds are “ay çekirdeği” for people living in Istanbul and “çiğdem” for ones in Izmir.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the design of a language and the language of a design is very similar to each other, if you really try to connect them together and insist to prove this hypothesis. This similarity may enable linguists to enquiry any language as a design process, or the design theoreticians to use the structure of a language in order to explain a design process or a product.