About Semiofest

Semiofest was first established in 2012 to share semiotic thinking internationally and to allow those who apply semiotics in their business to connect with like-minded people.happy-pic

Today, Semiofest is the world’s only annual conference focused specifically on applied semiotics. Semiofest brings together leading practitioners from both industry and academia to share, collaborate, and develop understanding and capabilities around semiotics as an applied discipline.


Our theme for the 2017 conference is:

MEDIA, MESSAGES AND MEANINGS: Semiotics, form and content

cans2Globally, our media consumption is increasingly relentless, visual, mobile, and interactive. We live in an ‘Electronic Age’ of simultaneous information and in a Global Village arguably ‘as wide as the planet’.  Media theorist Marshall McLuhan – who was a professor at the University of Toronto – introduced these notions way back in the 1960s. Author of the phrase, “The Medium is the Message”, McLuhan may not have been an “official” semiotician, but his discussion of the “meaning structures” produced by the media reflects an intrinsically semiotic view of the world.

Semiofest 2017 will use McLuhan’s “semiotic” approach as a jumping-off point to explore some of the most perplexing and salient issues in the field, tackling issues such as:

  • How the use of different media affect messages and change meanings? How do we address the multiplicity of brand touch-points in our work?
  • How the sign systems we use to stream content and build brands – advertising, packs, product design, ambient, and virtual reality – shape the way we construct meaning, and interpret layered messaging
  • In this age of information, how do our messages about the value of semiotics need to be framed? Is the value of semiotics clearer in this hyper-textual environment?

Semiofest 2017 will explore these issues through presentations, participatory workshops, and, of course, over cocktails!


The Semiofest Toronto Team

jeff-pic Jeff Hecker is a seasoned marketing researcher and strategist. His 16 years of experience includes work at advertising agencies like MacLaren McCann, JWT, and Bensimon Byrne, work in the marketing groups of companies like Rogers, Yellow Pages, and Xplornet, and supplier-side research experience at Athena Brand Wisdom, where he employs both traditional methods and semiotic analysis.  Jeff studied semiotics at the University of Toronto in the 90s, and his parents concluded he was just a wayward youth.  But it all worked out!


sarah-pic Sarah Johnson is a commercial Semiotician who has conducted analyses ranging from Obesity in American Media and Popular Culture to a Historical Analysis of Ritz Cracker advertising. After 15 years in Advertising Account Planning in the U.K., U.S. and Canada, she founded Athena Brand Wisdom, a research and planning consultancy. Sarah studied Anthropology, Philosophy and English at McGill University and English Literature at Cambridge.


charles-pic Charles Leech is Partner at ABM Research, where he deploys semiotic studies on advertising, packaging, brand names, logos, and more.  Charles is a “Semiotic Multidisciplinarian”, applying semiotic approaches independently and alongside other methodologies.  Charles has a Ph.D. in Applied Semiotics and has been a Semiofest attendee and speaker.


jamin-pelkey- Jamin Pelkey is Associate Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Ryerson University. He specializes in anthropological, historical and cognitive linguistics, with an over-arching commitment to semiotic inquiry. Jamin is Editor of Anthropology of Language (Berghahn) and Semiotics (SSA Yearbook) and serves on the editorial board of three international semiotics journals. His most recent book, The Semiotics of X (Bloomsbury Academic 2017) makes substantial contributions to the emerging dialogue between marketing design and embodied cognition.


stephanie-pic Stéphanie Walsh Matthews is Associate Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Ryerson University. She is an Executive Member of the Semiotic Society of America, the International Association of Semiotic Studies, and the Co-Editor of Semiotica. She is currently working on The Semiotics of Girl and is the author of several chapters and articles on semiotics. She is also leading a research consortium on Robotics and ASD.


The Semiofest Board

chris-arning1 Chris Arning has 16 years of experience in brand planning, consumer insight and in applied semiotics. He spent 8 years at consumer enabled brand consultancy Flamingo where he left as the Head of semiotics. Since setting up Creative Semiotics Ltd. in 2010.   Chris has worked for and with companies such as SABMiler, BBC, Volkswagen, Unilever, and Boots. Chris is Co-Founder of Semiofest and Founder of the Semiotic Thinking Group on LinkedIn.


lucia_laurentneva-11 Lucia Laurent-Neva is a designer and anthropologist specialising in design semiotics and material culture. She has extensive experience in the development of tools for cultural analysis and design innovation through the application of design theoretical principles, anthropological and semiotic thinking. She is skilled in strategy, product & brand innovation.  Lucia has over 16 years of experience working for commercial and non-commercial clients around the globe. She is the founder of Visual Signo, UK and Co-Founder of Semiofest.


hamsini031 Hamsini Shivakumar is a co-founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, one of India’s premier brand consulting companies as well as of Semiofest, the un-conference for applied semiotics practitioners.  Prior to starting Leapfrog in 2007, she was Strategy Head at JWT Mumbai, member of the National Planning Council at JWT India and Regional Planning Director for Asia on Unilever.  Her twenty-five year career spans consumer insights, brand strategy, communication planning and innovation.  She has worked on a diverse range of product categories, brands, consumer groups and virtually every kind of strategic issue or challenge that brands face.  She is a trained Semiotician and a prolific writer on consumer and brand issues in International and Indian publications.