Birds. Consider real, living birds—not Alfred Hitchcock's movie Birds or the Birdland Jazz Club or the English band The Yardbirds. How do we recognize birds? We see them in flight. We see them perching on branches and telephone wires. We hear them chirping and singing. We hear the flapping of wings as a flock turns in the sky. We also recognize birds indirectly: a nest of twigs tucked into an evergreen shrub; a pile of feathers on the porch (evidence of a cat's recent meal); and bird droppings on a car parked too long under a tree.

In the two-dimensional realm of graphic communication, designers and artists have long employed birds not only for their most desirable trait, flight, but also for their rich history as cultural symbols, where birds have represented power, freedom, and divine spirit.

Graphic designers manipulate meaning, create engaging experiences, and craft powerful messages using typography, imagery, form, color, motion, and sound. An end product of this graphic operation is a sign--something that stands for or represents something else. A sign communicates meaning. The field of semiotics refers to the study of signs in all their varieties, from letters and words to images and objects. When we study semiotics, we study meaning, cognition, truth, and reality.

To explore the connections between contemporary design practice and theories of semiotics, I use the bird as the illustrative example to present Charles Sanders Peirce's concepts of Icon, Index, and Symbol. The display features many of the cultural and natural expressions—the signs—of birdness.