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10 most used design terms explained

June 23, 2016

Do you speak Design?

When you are around people working in the creative industry, you can sometimes feel a bit lost. They throw around with design terms you never heard before. This might seem intimidating but it’s not as difficult as it might appear.


When I started out as a designer, many moons ago, I knew nothing. I would listen to designers talking, always nodding like I had a clue, and later I would look up the terms I caught in the conversation.


Maybe a couple of my fellow creatives remember the first-day prank they like to play with newbies in our field. Telling you to go over to a different department of the company and get 1000 ounces of pixels. Yeah! We are a nice bunch of people 🙂


Next time you have a conversation with your designer, you’re going to be prepared. Here are the 10 most used terms you need to know.


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Ever wondered what your designer is talking about? People working in the creative industry often use terms non designers don't understand. Here are the most used design terms explained for you | thatistheday.com #graphicdesign #design #designer


10 most used design terms explained


Pixels: Let’s start with the pixels, I was in search for on my first day. A Pixel is the smallest measurable entity of one color inside your image. Pixels are only scalable to a certain amount before your image gets blurry or pixelated. Means, you scaled a low-resolution image so much, you can actually see every single pixel. Why is that so? This depends on the resolution of your image. The higher your resolution, the more details (pixel) it contains. Photoshop is a program that works with pixels. A typical file format would be PSD (save a file without loss) or JPG and PNG (original file is compressed with more or less loss depending on picked file size). You can read more about the difference between these files and the way to resize images in Photoshop here.


design terms-pixel vs. vector


Vectors: Vectors consist of shapes and forms. With points, curves, and lines you create these shapes and fill them with colors. They can be scaled without loss. Illustrator is a program that works with vectors. File sizes are usually much smaller than pixel-based files. Typical file formats would be ai and eps. EPS files are very handy because you can import them into most of the common layout programs.




design terms-colors

Color models: There are many of them but here are the most important.

CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black
Printers if digital or offset, use this 4 color model. Means: If you design something to print it later, you should create your file in this mode. CMYK is a subtractive model. If you start out with Cyan e.g. and add Magenta and Yellow you get Black.


RGB: Red, Green, Blue.
This model is used for everything digital e.g. websites. It is an additive color model. This means it works the other way round. You start with black and mixing more colors, you end up with white.


Hex code: The hexadecimal code is a color model we use for web design. It consists of 6 numbers and/or letters which describe a special color e.g. #e9530e


Typeface: If you’re talking about typefaces, you’re talking about the design of fonts including all its styles like bold and italic. Helvetica is such a typeface, also called font family. The most used typefaces are classified into serif, sans-serif, script and decorative. Read also: What a typeface says about your brand


design terms-typeface


Branding: creating a cohesive image for your business mostly through visuals and voice in order to attract target customers. Branding always influences how people will perceive your business. Learn more about what branding is and what it includes here.


White space: or negative space is the term designers use to describe the amount of space inside a layout that’s not filled with design elements. More white space results in a clearer design and the elements you used, will stand out. Never fill every tiny space of your canvas. This will confuse the viewer. It’s just TOO MUCH INFORMATION! More on white space


Margins: If you want to print your design, you have to be aware of margins. Most printers don’t print to the edges of the paper. You have to leave this space blank. Normally you are on the safe side when leaving your margins about 0.5” or 1 cm on all sides but it is always better to ask your designer or printer what he requires. The same goes for the gutter. When producing a brochure or book, you have to calculate in some space for the binding/ fold (the place where the pages meet). This space varies largely depending on the binding process and the number of pages.


Embedding: When a designer tells you to embed all fonts and images, this means, you have to transfer this data and included it all in your original layout file. Most design programs make this easy for you when you export your file to a PDF. Because of this, your designer or printer will always ask you to send a PDF-file. Not embedding your data will cause problems. If you didn’t add your font e.g. and you used a special font, that your designer doesn’t have on his computer, the text will not be displayed correctly. To avoid this you can also convert all your text into paths.



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One response to “10 most used design terms explained

  1. Dear Sandra, I find your tips clear and to-the-point. Most useful. I am a solopreneur now tasked with creating a daily eNewsletter of condensed newsbriefs on specific ‘verticals’ for senior govt officers, CEOs & University dons in Hong Kong. The project is to take-off in September. Great if you can cast your eye over the designs that emerge and suggest how to improve. How do you charge? Thanks, Cyril (cyrilper@gmail.com)