Levels of meaning

The keywords in Design Semantics Database are classified according to hierarchical meaning according to the system of genetic semantics. Some keywords tend to be more abstract, or more complex in meaning than others. Design Semantics Database contains three distinct levels.

Dimensional level

Dimensional keywords are the most abstract terms in language and are close to logic signs such as indirect/direct, dark/light or open/closed. These words are the elementary markers of meaning and make synaesthetic translations possible. They appear always in opposite pairs of antonyms placed in the 3-dimensional matrix.


F.e. ‘Hard’ is a characteristic of the TOP height dimension. As such, ‘hard’ applies on all the colours that are contained within this same dimension and direction, namely on the colour codes black (001), red (101), brown (100) and blue (000).

The doubling of the 3-dimensional structure makes a further distinction between basic and adjective parameters.

In Design Semantics Database this distinction is represented by axes on a black (basic) or white (adjective) background.


8-level keywords are more complex in meaning and less abstract, as they are constructions of dimensional keywords. But still they are mostly basic words such as “to know”, “to sit”, “food” and primary colour names such as “blue”, “green” etc. Most of these words also have an antonym, but not all of them. Compare for example the dimensional keyword ‘hard’ against the level-8 keyword ‘mountain’ coded with colour code BROWN (100). As such, ‘hard’ is a quality of ‘mountain’.


8-level keywords are devided between 8 basic clusters of meaning, represented by the 8 primary colours from the semantic space.


8-level and 64-level keywords are connected to each other through their dimensional relationships.

CLUSTER: “Earth” with code BLUE (000) is connected to “ground” that has the same code. The meaning is clustered, sometimes even synonym, but not always in the strict sense.

ANTONYM: “Stain” with code BLACK (001) is connected as an antonym to “stainless” with code WHITE (110). The meaning is opposite.

COMPARE: “Stain” with code BLACK (001) can be misunderstood by “impure” with code GREEN (010) in the sense of something that is adulterated.

MOVING AXIS: “Ground” with code BLUE (000) is connected to “stain” with code BLACK (001). Only one dimension switches, in this example it is the breadth dimension that switches from 0 to 1.

BUILDING BLOCK: An 8-level keyword can function as a building block with another 8-level keyword resulting in a 64-level keyword. Under this section the 64-level keywords that contain the 8-level keyword are shown. For example the 8-level keywords ‘nature’ with code GREEN (010) and ‘conserve’ with code BLUE (000) form together a 64-level concept of ‘nature conservation’ with code GREEN-on-BLUE (010:000).


64-level keywords are formed by combining 8-level keywords, thus making them more complex in meaning, as shown in the previous example of ‘nature conservation’. Here you can find assembled words such as “doorway” (“door” and “way”), “crossroads” (“cross” and “road”) or “blue-green”, where the 8-level source is still clear. But also words such as “cooking”, “family”, “detective” etc. are 64-level. Here specific colour names can be searched such as “lilac”, “aquamarine”, “khaki”, “fuchsia” etc.

64-level keywords can be represented by two different colour code systems.

When a colour is identified as an 8-level codon triplet eg “red” (code 101) then the meaning is more general such as “love” in a broad sense. On the 64-level one distinguishes more specific meanings which can be presented as a colour combination or as a specific colour tint. Erotic love (code 011.101) and romantic love (code 101: 001) are often pictured respectively in the colour combinations purple-on-red and red-on-black, while charity (code 110: 010) and soft erotic (code 111:010) can be expressed in salmon red and pink red.

  • First there is the colour combination code. ‘erotic love’ is classified under the combination code PURPLE-on-RED, ‘nature conservation’ is classified under the combination code GREEN-on-BLUE.
  • The second coding system is the tint colours. The meaning of PURPLE-on-RED can also be depicted with a bright green tint. In the case of GREEN-on-BLUE the according colour tint is a specific kind of light green.

Some keywords from the 64-level are connected to the combination code, others to the tint code, or to both.


64-level keywords are connected to each other in the same way 8-level keywords are, through their dimensional relationships: clustered, moving axis and antonym. Additionaly they are also connected to 8-level keywords as these are their building blocks. F.i. the 64-level keyword ‘island’ (GREEN-on-BLUE) consists of the 8-level keywords ‘water’ (GREEN) and ‘earth’ (BLUE).

In principle, it is possible to make further refinements of meaning by entering a 4096 level. This is not provided in this first edition of CITY of 8 data.