We communicate through signs. Words, facial expressions, billboard images, street signs, certain sounds or colours are signs.

Clothes, jewels, accessories are signs.

A sign, by definition, is a bifacial entity formed of a signified and a signifier.

The signified is the represented concept,
the signifier is the material medium of representation.

The signified is the concept, the idea that one wants to send.

The signifier is the perceptible part of the sign: is the drawing, the sound or the object that forms the sign.
For instance, the road sign “no entry”.

The signified is: “you cannot trespass”;
the signifier is a red circle with a horizontal white stripe dividing the red circle in two.

The two combined elements form a sign.

Peirce divides signs into
  • icons,
  • symbols
  • indices
An icon is a sign that has a resemblance with the represented concept, so the sign is an icon when the signifier looks like reality.

For instance, a girl’s picture is an icon of that girl, because is similar to reality, is similar to the girl.

A symbol is when the signifier is the result of a convention, but has no resemblance with the concept represented in real life, so a sign is a symbol when the signifier doesn’t look like reality.
For instance, a red, white and green flag is the symbol of Italy, because it’s not similar to reality, It’s not similar to the whole of Italy.

It represents the Italy but obviously it doesn’t look like Italian people, Italian language, Italian food, Italian towns or Italian geography. In conclusion, doesn’t look like Italy.

An index is when the sign is natural, when it is not the result of a convention and when it has no resemblance with the concept represented (the most typical example is smoke indicating that there is or could be fire, or bags under the eyes indicating that a person has not had a good night’s rest or is sick.

There is no convention, smoke has no resemblance with fire and bags under the eyes have no resemblance with insomnia).

The index is a natural sign, without a sender. For example a rainbow is an index, a natural sign that before this moment it had rained. Nobody drew this sign on the sky. There isn’t a sender. There is only this wonderful natural sign.

Luxury objects can be used as a symbol (for instance, jewels or a precious wath can be symbols of wealth, a pair of gold cufflinks of elegance, an extravagant diamond bracelet of eccentricity and transgression), as an icon (a snakelike necklace of gems ) or as an index (If I wear a pair of diamond earrings of Cartier, and a Rolex, it's an index I'm rich).

Things are of course somewhat more complicated than as shown in these groupings.
In a particular context, a diamond brooch in the shape of leopard, usually considered an index of richness, may be considered a symbol (for instance, wealth, good taste, refinement) or an icon of a real leopard.

Icons are signs more easily interpreted and thus are more immediate, but remain at a superficial level of human perception;

Symbols are signs with greater depth perception and reaching more easily the unconscious of the receiver.

The indices, being natural signs, are not used for communication between human beings.

Sometimes, however,  fake indexes are used, which are actually symbols or icons of something.

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