Before we can get into the low-down on how to create an emphasis hierarchy, I need to dig into a central tenant of semiotics: all communication is the sum of “what you say” and “how you say it.”

There’s tons of great academic words on the topic that weave into and out of linguistics and structural and post-structural critical theory of language and identity and culture, but I think my father got to the point of it all when one day, after my first year at college and I was going on and on trying to explain the Lacanian mirror stage and how it related to the discourse of Hitchcockian camera angles and he stopped me and said:

“Whoa, even a dog knows what you mean by your tone of voice.”

And this is true:

In fact, your tone of voice (or the discursive elements of communication) hold much more meaning than the actual text.

Semioticians call this the split between story and discourse. The story is the raw text, the discourse is the performance of the text—the tone of voice.

Read more #designstory posts.