Rosie Picton, Market Research & Semiotics

I'm Rosie, and I'm a commercial semiotician and cultural analyst

Describe your job

Being a commercial semiotician means researching and writing about how meaning is communicated in popular culture.

On a typical day, I’ll juggle desk research and writing cultural reports with client conversations and pitches for new projects. In the background, I’ll be doing lots of reading across lifestyle media and academic stuff to keep up to date with the latest thinking in culture, design and branding. I do quite a lot of international research projects which means I’m often collaborating with semioticians in other markets around the world and even get to do fieldwork sometimes – last year I spent 3 weeks in China researching technology trends. I also write about visual culture, media and design trends for a range of publications, including TANK, FRAME and LSN Global.

What are the most important skills you need to do your job?

This job involves written analysis and sourcing interesting cultural, creative and design examples that bring the ideas to life in an engaging way.

This requires a high level of literacy, both verbal and visual, which includes being comfortable using PowerPoint, but also design tools like Photoshop.

You also need discipline and good organisational skills as a lot of the time semiotic analysis is self-directed and involves spending time delving down multiple research rabbit holes – it’s easy to let time run away with you so it’s important to keep the client question and deadline front of mind.

Finally, it goes without saying, but you have to be really interested in culture, in all its forms and expressions, to enjoy this job – I’ve researched trends in everything from beauty to batteries to toilet paper… every topic is fascinating in its own way, but I can imagine some areas would not be everyone’s cup of tea!

I left school and...

I worked in a Snappy Snaps during sixth form followed by a stint at retouching studio before (and during) my time at Brighton uni where I studied Visual Culture.

After that I worked in various retail roles and did some volunteering in Museum Education before landing a graduate trainee job at a semiotics research agency called Space Doctors in 2012.

In early 2018 I co-founded Axis Mundi with my husband. We’re a semiotic studio and we study how culture shapes perception.

I’m most proud of...

In Axis Mundi’s first year we were asked by Tank Magazine to do a semiotic analysis of their brand for their 20th Anniversary issue – we immersed ourselves in their incredible archive and came out with a semiotic map and set of essays summarising two decades of their pioneering influence on art, fashion and culture.

It was amazing experience, mostly because we are huge fans of the magazine, but also because our 14-page spread was illustrated by our design associate Nejc Prah (who also worked with us on Axis Mundi’s brand identity).

To see our name on the cover and imagine their international audience reading our writing was a thrilling feeling.

Before I started my career, I wish I knew…

I wish I knew that ‘semiotician’ was a job… It’s not something you hear about at school and I’m still not sure my family understand what I do!

Other than that, I wish I knew that it’s absolutely ok to admit feeling out of depth and to know how to ask for help when you need it. In the realm of cultural analysis, there are many times that people will assume you just know about the latest thing, or obscure reference they’re talking about… Now I realise that it’s impossible to know everything (and that’s ok), it’s more important to cultivate a sense of curiosity and have an active interest in ‘finding out’.

A mistake I made which you can avoid repeating is...

I would have been more patient. Racing through roles and pursuing promotion can provide a sense of purpose but it can also lead to burn out and a disconnection from your deeper passions and what really drives you – I realise now that I could’ve take more time to cultivate my own style and perspective at the beginning of my career, but I was in a big rush to prove myself.

So, what’s next?

Going into our third year running Axis Mundi, my partner and I are hoping just to build on and consolidate some of the great client and agency relationships that we have been fortunate enough to forge in the past few years. We’re always expanding our analyst network too, so we plan to keep reaching out to inspiring collaborators like our friends at Mnemoscene for example, who are doing cool stuff in mixed reality. We’ve also enjoyed speaking at some fascinating conferences this year – from Frame to Primer 2020, which really pushed us beyond our comfort zone, so hopefully the future holds more of that too!

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