Designing things as actor-networks: Semiotics in action

Stoyan Tanev (Lecturer)

Activity: Talks and presentationsTalks and presentations in private or public companies


The Know-How / Show-How Summer program supports the development of young emerging designers and creatives of all trades. We are looking for those who are interested in working in an interdisciplinary manner with international professionals, educators and experts from the European’s creative and educational community. Through workshops, exhibitions, exploratory studies and lectures we will examine questions and topics that are central for practitioners of today. The theme of 2016 is RE-connect and will place special attention on our present day reeling and dealing with objects that shape culture. Designers and Artists focus their expertise on the City and the great archives and collections it hold, in an effort to Re-connect them to the Public Space. How do we place meaning and give value to objects? How can we read context? And how does this context influence our readings? The topics we have selected for this year edition will circle around these questions and more.

We can’t escape the world we live in and the multiplicity of meanings coalescing within us. The multiplicity of things around us, however, is the work of designers. Design works as persuasion through signification. We are therefore in need of semiotics. We are forced to be semioticians by struggling to decipher the ways things around us signify or imply meaning for us. The necessity to persuade makes design a political act before it is a creative one. It is political because it enters the flow of social exchanges and provokes changes in our behavior. If our behaviour has changed then we have become the ultimate objects of design. We are under the rule and power of design, and in need of democracy. The only way to become democratic in design is to take action and participate in order to change the course of action. Let’s talk about signification through participation, i.e. about participatory design. But haven’t we already been doing that? Thinking design through Actor-Network Theory (ANT) will help in answering this question. ANT has contributed to the democracy of design by promoting the equality of both humans and (non-human) things in terms of their ability to take action in enabling change. Its motto “No innovation without participation” goes against the potential tyranny of the modern designer. Its aim is to account for things as a network of relations in which each relation is not just a simple link between elements, but a translation that transforms while letting the connected elements emerge. For ANT the signification of an object is the re-articulation, performed by the same object, of the network of relations within which we are placed and which define us. Designers should be rather seen then as inscribers of meaning who let things emerge as actor-networks. ANT should be seen as a design approach. The script, however inscribed in things, needs to be de-scribed and made sense of (think of sense as direction and of making sense as finding your way in or out). We are not only forced to be semioticians, we are actually always forced to be co-designers.
Period20. Jul 2016
Held atKnow-How / Show-How Summer program
Event typeWorkshop
LocationSofia, Bulgaria


  • Semiotics and design, Actor-network theory, Participatory design