This article extends the remit of Saussurean semiotics from design criticism to design theory. It does this by invoking concepts from the work of psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan. It begins by exploring the role of the signifier in Lacan's theory of language and connects it to concepts of subjectivity, desire, and surplus-enjoyment. This leads to the hypothesis that the essence of design is the production of surplus-enjoyment—a hypothesis at odds with the notion that design exists to meet human needs. The article concludes by showing how semiotic theory by way of Lacan can be used to explore the cultural, subjective, and social dimensions of the design artifact in new and productive ways. The work is intended to be accessible even to readers who are unfamiliar with Lacan's work.

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