There are many levels of meaning in the words we use in design. On a basic level, words can signify a subject or an action, a new development, or a relationship between different things. This could be a newspaper headline or the title of a book.
There’s also the meaning that comes from the design of the typeface itself. A modern, sans-serif font, a formal serif font, or a fancy handwritten script all lend a certain feel to the text.
We can also think of text in terms of how it is received by those reading it based on understood patterns or “hermeneutics”. For instance, when writing an email, using ALL CAPITALS can make it seem that the person is shouting or aggressive. On a webpage, underlined text tends to be a hyperlink. And on a social media site like Twitter, many posts are given categories or an added explanation using hashtags (ie. #typography or #designmatters).
We’ve known for a long time that we have to design for our audiences, and any new way that text is interpreted can influence our design decisions. For instance, instead of using underlining to draw attention to text that isn’t a link, we might use italics or bold. Otherwise, a user might mistake that text for a link.
Likewise, a designer can can use these connotations to their advantage. For instance, we can underline text and other elements on a website where it might not be clear there are links. To make it even clearer, we can make text and elements look like buttons.
Another example could be a political campaign showing a candidate meeting with community members, overlayed with the text “#change”.
Based on these new hermeneutics, your audience will be better able to understand the full meaning of your text and how it functions. In a world of increasing distractions, audience attention is divided across many different messages. Being able to give your audience all the right intuitive design cues might get mean the difference between getting your message across, and it getting lost in the shuffle.