From tool making to pictures: a design semiotics approach

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


Studies on cultural evolution from archaeology, neuroscience and cognitive semiotics have shown the role of tool making for development of novel cognitive capabilities in early humans. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that tool making was a cognitive threshold from nonhuman primates to hominins. Tool making begun with rudimentary skills for tool production based on motor patterns, learned socially by direct imitation. Further evolution led to a continuous improvement of tools with refined technology, supported by bodily mimesis (Zlatev 2014) as a device for learning, rehearsal and skills enhancement. Ultimately, the process led to a developed society with language, technology and symbolic culture. In this paper, I propose that tool making could be connected with the origin of pictures. I present a design semiotics explanation of tool-making based on the cognitive resources of a typical design process. The elaboration of this thesis focuses on the evolution of design (Mendoza-Collazos, in progress). Proto-design emerged along with tool production in nonhuman hominids. It evolved into design, preserving and improving its original cognitive resources in early humans (perceptual-motor adaptations, controlled motion patterns, observation, bodily mimesis, social cognition, social learning and cultural transmission). These cognitive resources resulted in two payoffs for design. First, perceptual-motor adaptations, controlled motion patterns and observation are capacities required both to shape stone tools (in proto-design and early forms of design) and to shape prototypes and 3D scale models in modern design. Second, bodily mimesis along with the improvement of working directly with materials (see Malafouris 2013), and the need for social learning and cultural transmission evolved to the capacity of drawing and sketching. Thus, I argue that this process marked the emergence of pictures in early hominids. Today, the abilities of sketching and modelling still are primary in design processes.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Design


  • Cognitive Semiotics, visual semiotics, tool making, design semiotics
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
12th Conference of the International Association for Visual Semiotics: Visual semiotics goes cognitive
- Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
Duration: 2019 Aug 222019 Aug 24
Conference number: 12


12th Conference of the International Association for Visual Semiotics
Abbreviated titleIAVS-AISV
Internet address

Related research output

Juan Carlos Mendoza-Collazos, 2020, In: Cognitive Semiotics. 13, 2

Research output: Contribution to journalReview (Book/Film/Exhibition/etc.)

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Related activities

Mendoza, J. (Contributor)
2018 Aug 222019 Aug 24

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference

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