The aim of this paper is to present a design strategy for collaborative knowledge-management systems based on a semiotic approach. The contents and structure of experts' knowledge is highly dependent on professional or individual practice. Knowledge-management systems that support cooperation between experts from different (sub-)fields need to be situated and tailored to provide effective support even if the common aspects of the data need to be described by ontologies that are generic in respect to the sub-disciplines involved. To understand and approach this design problem, we apply a semiotic perspective to computer application and human–computer interaction. From a semiotic perspective, the computer application is both a message from the designer to the user about the structure of the problem domain, as well as about interaction with it, and a structured channel for the user's communication with herself, himself or other users of the software. Tailoring or “end-user development” – i.e. adapting the knowledge-management system to a specific (sub-)discipline, task or context – then refines both the message and adapts the structure of the interaction to the situated requirements. The essential idea of this paper is to define a new perspective for designing and developing interactive systems to support collaborative knowledge management. The key concept is to involve domain experts in participatory knowledge design for mapping and translating their professional models into the proper vocabularies, notations, and suitable visual structures for navigating among interface elements. To this end, the paper describes how our semiotic approach supports processes for representing, storing, accessing, and transferring knowledge through which the information architecture of an interactive system can be defined. Finally, the results of applying our approach to a real-world case in an archaeological context are presented.