This is not the paint bucket you are looking for: The signs of Adobe Photoshop

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Adobe Photoshop is among the most culturally influential computer programs. Like all software programs, signs and
(interface) metaphors are used to convey meaning to the user. This essay discusses three Photoshop metaphors using Peircean, Saussurean, and Barthesian semiotics.
The tool signs are motivated through remediative interface metaphors, seemingly rendering them icons. Yet, their object is code, making them indexical. Furthermore,
these signs are simultaneously motivated and arbitrary. Photoshop does not
discriminate between remediated tools from different artistic practices; these tools are equal to one another, and interchangeable. Moreover, Adobe actively promotes a ‘myth of artistry’ by employing various dubiously grounded interface metaphors. The tools in Photoshop function as simulacra of the tenors they metaphorically allude to. The interface-metaphors are simulacra employed for the sake of familiarity and
framing, but share no relation with the symbolically represented tools. User problems dealing with legibility, and usability, may be the result
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-19
JournalEikon. journal on semiotics and culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Adobe Photoshop
  • semiotics
  • (interface) metaphors
  • myths
  • simulacra


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