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A Guide To 100 Design Terms & Definitions

Table of Contents

Navigating the world of graphic design requires fluency in its unique language – a collection of design terms that encapsulate the principles and practices of the craft. 

Mastering this linguistic code is akin to gaining a passport to a world of endless possibilities, enabling you to decipher the jargon-filled conversations of your fellow designers and seamlessly integrate yourself into their creative realm.

This comprehensive guide, encompassing 100 essential design terms, is your gateway to deciphering the enigmatic language of design. Each entry provides a clear and concise explanation, accompanied by real-world examples to illuminate the concepts in context.

Embrace the power of design terminology, and you’ll transform from an outsider peering into a foreign land to an insider navigating the design landscape with confidence and ease.

What Are Design Terms And Why Do Designers Use Them?

2 woman learn about design terms

Source: Freepik

Design terms refer to the terms widely used among designers. Designers use these terms as a concise and efficient means of articulating their ideas to the team members or other designers.

The advantage of using design terms is that the meaning of these terms has been mutually agreed upon. Usually, one designer and another designer already have the same mental concept regarding the meaning of specific terms.

As a result, they don’t need to use as many words to explain a single concept. Having concise terms to represent certain concepts with agreed-upon meanings will also help to simplify the communication process.

100 Examples of Design Terms

Let’s explore 100 design terms from the following list and expand your vocabulary to blend within the industry:

  1. Mockup

A mockup is a visual rendering of a proposed product or design. Designers use mockups to demonstrate how the final output would seem in action.

  1. Mood board

A mood board is a flat graphic made up of colours, shapes, and texts that designers use as guidance to evoke a specific style or emotion in their final design.

  1. Aspect ratio

The aspect ratio is a proportional comparison between an image’s width and height. Most common aspect ratios are 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9.

  1. Comp

Comp, short for comprehensive layout, is a visual representation of a design concept or layout. It consists of colours, typography, and overall aesthetics used to communicate design ideas.

  1. Typography

Typography is the art of arranging letters and characters to make texts visually readable and visually appealing. It entails carefully selecting font styles, hierarchy, typefaces, and other related text design elements.

  1. Body copy

Body copy refers to the primary text in a design layout. Designers should carefully arrange the body copy for the design to convey the main idea effectively.

  1. Golden ratio

The golden ratio is a mathematical concept that’s approximately equal to 1.618 and is widely used in design. Designers usually use it to create a strong visual through balance and proportion given by the golden ratio.

  1. Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds refers to the visual composition principle that suggests dividing an image into nine equal parts. To do this, designers will create two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines.

  1. Negative space

A negative space is a blank space that exists between and around the design elements. Designers intentionally leave certain areas blank to enhance the visual appeal of their designs.

  1. Wireframe

A wireframe is a visual outline that UX designers use to represent a final digital design roughly. It emphasises the placement of design elements before being improved into mockups and prototypes.

  1. Alignment

Alignment refers to design element arrangement in a way that creates a visually cohesive composition. It entails positioning text, images, and other design elements in relation to each other.

  1. Balance

Balance refers to the distribution of visual weight within a composition. It involves arranging design elements so that no part overpowers or feels heavier than the others.

  1. Masthead

Masthead refers to the banner section at the top of a webpage. UI/UX designers create and arrange mastheads to ensure a balance with other design elements on a page.

  1. Grid

Grid refers to the intersecting horizontal and vertical lines used to organise design elements on a page. Designers use the grid to align design elements, making the final design more balanced.

  1. Knolling

Knolling is the arrangement of design elements at 90-degree angles. Designers use this principle to create a symmetrical and organised appearance for their designs.

  1. Bleed

Bleed is a common term used in print to refer to a layout area extending beyond the final trim or cut size. This additional space ensures that when a layout is printed and trimmed to its final sizes, there won’t be any unwanted gaps along the edges.

  1. Creep

Creep is related to bleed, which is also used in print to refer to the extended inner pages beyond the outer pages to facilitate folding and binding.

  1. Margins

Margins are the space between the design elements and the edges of the page. Designers implement margins to enhance the visual appeal of their final design, ensuring that each design element is eye-catching.

  1. Radial

Radial refers to a design principle to arrange design elements to radiate outward from a central point.

  1. Scale

Scale refers to the relative size of an element when compared to another element in a design layout. It helps designers create visual harmony, hierarchy, and a sense of balance.

  1. White space

White space, another term for negative space, refers to the design area that isn’t occupied with any visual or text elements.

  1. Flat

Flat is a term used to refer to two-dimensional designs. It looks minimalistic, with no illusion of depth in the design elements.

  1. Skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism is the opposite of flat. This style emphasises the illusion of depth in the design elements.

  1. CMYK

The four-colour process is also known as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key). It’s a colour model that refers to the four most common inks used in colour printing.

  1. Gradient

A gradient refers to a colour transition from one to another. It is used by designers to create dynamic effects in their designs.

  1. Colour theory

Colour theory is a principle that aims to understand the characteristics of colours and how they interact with each other. Designers use it to ensure the colours they choose for their designs are harmonious and give a strong visual impact.

  1. Analogous colours

Analogous colours refer to a set of colours next to each other in the colour wheel. These colours have similar hues, making them easy to combine and creating harmonious colour schemes.

  1. Complementary colours

Complementary colours are any two colours falling directly opposite each other in the colour wheel. These colours are often used by designers to create a contrast, resulting in visually intriguing designs.

  1. Hex code

A hex or hexadecimal code refers to a colour code used in web design. It consists of six alphanumeric characters and is widely used for specifying colours in HTML and CSS.

  1. Monochrome

Monochrome is a colour scheme consisting of variations in lightness and saturation of a single colour. It’s popular among designers to create a clean and cohesive final design.

  1. Greyscale

Greyscale is a colour palette that only uses shades of black, white, and grey in between. 

  1. Hue

Hue refers to the pure attribute of a colour, such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet. 

  1. Opacity

Opacity refers to the degree of transparency in an element. An opacity value of 0% is completely transparent, while 100% is fully opaque.

  1. Palette

A palette is a collection of colours used in a design. A palette may include a range of hues for creating a specific visual style.

  1. RGB

RGB, which is an acronym for Red, Green and Blue, is a primary set of colours used in colour mixing.

  1. Saturation

Saturation is used to describe the intensity or vividness of a colour. Highly saturated colours appear vivid, while desaturated colours appear more muted.

  1. Pantone

Pantone is a standardised colour-matching system used in printing. Pantone colours ensure consistency across different printing processes.

  1. Warm colours

Warm colours refer to the colours associated with warmth, such as red, orange, and yellow. Designers use warm colours to evoke feelings of energy and vibrancy in their designs.

  1. Cool colours

Cool colours refer to the colours that represent coolness, such as blues, greens, and purples. Designers use these colours to convey calmness and serenity.

  1. Shade

Shade refers to additional black used as a base colour, making the primary colour appear darker.

  1. Tone

Tone refers to the combination of black and white as a primary colour. The more black is mixed into the primary colour, the more muted it becomes. In contrast, the more white added, the more softened the shade will be.

  1. Triadic

Triadic is a colour scheme using three colours evenly spaced around the colour wheel. For example, red, blue, and yellow is a triadic colour scheme.

  1. Tint

Tint refers to a colour produced by adding white to a base colour, resulting in a lighter colour.

  1. DPI

DPI, which stands for dots per inch, is a measure of printing or display resolution. Higher DPI values result in finer detail.

  1. Pixel

A pixel is the smallest unit of a digital image. Images on screens or in digital media are created through a combination of pixels.

  1. PPI

PPI, which stands for pixels per inch, measures image resolution in digital media. Higher PPI values indicate higher image quality.

  1. EPS

EPS, which stands for Encapsulated PostScript, is a file format commonly used for vector graphics. EPS files are versatile and widely supported by many design tools.

  1. GIF

GIF, short for graphics interchange format, is a file format suitable for simple graphics and animations with a limited colour palette.

  1. PDF

PDF, an abbreviation of portable document format, is a versatile file format for documents that preserves formatting across different platforms.

  1. JPEG

JPEG, an abbreviation of Joint Photographic Experts Group, is a standard file format for compressed images widely used for photographs.

  1. PNG

PNG, which stands for Portable Network Graphics, is a lossless image format supporting transparency. PNG is suitable for web graphics.

  1. Raster image

A raster image refers to an image made up of pixels, where the resolution is fixed. Enlarging a raster image may result in loss of quality.

  1. RAW

RAW refers to a file format capturing unprocessed data from a camera sensor. It offers greater flexibility in post-processing.

  1. PSD

PSD is a Photoshop Document and is the default file format of Adobe Photoshop. PSD files retain layers and editing capabilities.

  1. TIFF

TIFF, which stands for Tagged Image File Format, is a high-quality file format suitable for raster images. TIFF supports lossless compression.

  1. AI file

AI file refers to an Adobe Illustrator file, a proprietary file format for vector graphics created in Adobe Illustrator.

  1. Resolution

Resolution is the level of detail in an image, often measured in pixels per inch (PPI).

  1. Texture

Texture refers to the visual or tactile quality of a surface. Designers usually implement texture to add depth and realism to the layout.

  1. Vector image

A vector image is an image created using mathematical paths rather than pixels. Vector images can be scaled infinitely without loss of quality.

  1. Thumbnail sketch

A thumbnail sketch refers to a small, quick, and rough sketch used for brainstorming and initial concept exploration.

  1. Stock photo

A stock photo is a professionally shot photograph available for purchase or licensing for commercial or personal use.

  1. Kerning

Kerning is a process of adjusting the space between individual characters in typography to achieve a visually pleasing result.

  1. Serif

Serif refers to a typeface style with small decorative strokes at the ends of characters. Serif fonts are often considered more traditional.

  1. Sans serif

Sans serif is a typeface style without decorative strokes at the ends of characters. Sans serif fonts are often considered modern and clean.

  1. Slab serif

Slab serif is a typeface style with bold, block-like serifs. Slab serif fonts convey a strong and bold appearance.

  1. Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum is a placeholder text used in design and typesetting to simulate the appearance of written text in relation to the design elements.

  1. Orphan

Orphan refers to a single word or short line at the beginning or end of a paragraph, separated from the rest of the text.

  1. Widow

Widow is used to describe a single word or short line at the end of a paragraph, separated from the rest of the text.

  1. Baseline

Baseline refers to the imaginary line upon which characters in a font sit. It helps maintain consistent alignment in typography.

  1. Ascender

Ascender refers to the upward-extending part of a lowercase letter that goes above the x-height, such as the stem of “b” or “d.”

  1. Descender

Descender refers to the downward-extending part of a lowercase letter that goes below the baseline, as seen in letters like “g” or “y.”

  1. Font weight

Font weight describes the thickness or boldness of characters in a typeface, ranging from light to bold or extra-bold.

  1. Hierarchy

Hierarchy is the principle of organising the design elements to convey their relative importance, guiding the viewer’s attention from the most to the least important elements.

  1. Leading

Leading is the vertical spacing between lines of text, measured from baseline to baseline.

  1. Legibility

Legibility refers to how easily the in-visual text is read and understood, often influenced by factors like typeface, size, and spacing.

  1. Display typeface

Display typeface refers to the larger and bolder typefaces used for titles, headlines, or other prominent text in a design. This typeface is significantly more eye-catching than the body copy.

  1. Pull quote

Pull quote refers to a brief excerpt from the main text that is highlighted and enlarged for emphasis, often used in magazine layouts.

  1. Pica

Pica is a unit of measurement used in typography, equal to 1/6 of an inch or 12 points.

  1. Script

The script is a typeface that mimics cursive or handwritten letterforms, often used for decorative or elegant designs.

  1. Pilcrow

Pilcrow, which is abbreviated as “¶,” is used to indicate the beginning of a new paragraph. It usually appears when you click “add text body” in design software like Figma or Adobe Photoshop.

  1. Ear

The ear is a small, often decorative, extension on the upper part of the lowercase “g.”

  1. Tracking

Tracking refers to adjusting the overall spacing between characters in a block of text.

  1. Monospaced

Monoscaped describes a typeface where each character uses the same horizontal space, commonly used in coding or typewriter-style fonts.

  1. Tittle

Tittle refers to the dot above the lowercase “i” and “j.” It belongs to the font design, which is adjustable depending on the overall objective of the final design.

  1. Terminal

Terminal is the end or finishing stroke of a letter, often categorised as either “serif” or “sans-serif.”

  1. Ligature

Ligature is a combination of two or more characters into a single, stylised glyph, enhancing the visual appeal of certain letter combinations.

  1. Swash

Swash is an ornamental, often exaggerated, extension or flourish on a letterform, enhancing its decorative appeal.

  1. Style guide

Style guide refers to a set of guidelines specifying the design and usage standards for visual elements, ensuring consistency in branding or communication.

  1. Brand

A brand is a distinctive identity or mark representing a product, company, or service.

  1. Brandmark

A brandmark is a visual element or symbol within a brand that represents its identity, often used independently of the brand name.

  1. Brand identity

Brand identity refers to the visual and conceptual representation of a brand, encompassing its logo, design elements, and overall aesthetic.

  1. Lettermark

Lettermark refers to a type of logo that consists of letters or initials, serving as a visual representation of a brand.

  1. Emblem

An emblem is a logo where the brand name is enclosed within a symbol or icon.

  1. Pictorial mark

A pictorial mark refers to a logo that uses a recognisable symbol or image to represent a brand without incorporating text.

  1. Embossing

Embossing is the process of creating a raised or three-dimensional design on a surface, often used for logos or text.

  1. Debossing

Debossing refers to the process of creating a depressed or indented design on a surface, opposite to embossing.

  1. Foil stamping

Foil stamping is the process of applying a thin layer of metallic or coloured foil onto a surface to create a decorative and reflective effect.

  1. Die cut

Die cut is the process of cutting custom shapes or designs out of paper or other materials.

  1. Trim

Trim is the final size of a printed piece after it has been cut or trimmed.

  1. Printer’s proof

Printer’s proof refers to a test print of a design provided by the printer for review before mass production.

Final Thoughts

The world of design is a vast and intricate landscape, brimming with specialised terms that encompass everything from color palettes to typographic styles. These terms serve as the designers’ secret language, enabling them to articulate their creative visions with precision and clarity.

Grasping the nuances of design terminology is akin to unlocking a treasure trove of knowledge, empowering you to not only comprehend your fellow designers’ conversations but also seamlessly integrate yourself into their creative realm. By mastering this linguistic code, you’ll transform from an outsider peering into a foreign land to an insider navigating the design landscape with confidence and ease.

So, whenever you find yourself puzzled by the jargon-filled exchanges among your designer colleagues, don’t hesitate to revisit this page. It’s your trusted guidebook, ready to decipher the enigmatic language of design and bridge the gap between you and your fellow creative minds. 

Embrace the power of design terminology, and you’ll never feel lost in translation again.

From Understanding Design Terms To Becoming A Designer: Learn With Orita Sinclair Today!

Just as memorising musical notes won’t make you a composer, simply knowing design terms won’t make you a designer. It’s through hands-on application and experimentation that you transform theoretical concepts into tangible realities.

That’s where our graphic design course is here to be your help. Discover the vast options, from a Diploma in Communication Design and a Diploma in Interaction Design to a Degree in Communication Design; it’s yours to decide for your future endeavours.

Embark on your journey to becoming an expert designer with Orita Sinclair today. Contact us now, and our education specialist will get in touch with you shortly.

FAQs

What words are associated with design?

Words that are associated with design vary. Designers use different kinds of design terms to represent certain concepts, from colour choices and design element placement to typography.

What are the key design terms?

Although design terms are wide, several key design terms are most popular among designers. These include mockups, mood boards, and aspect ratios.

About Orita Sinclair

Founded in 2002, Orita Sinclair is one of the oldest music and design schools in Singapore. We are committed to fostering a love of design and music in our students by encouraging them to be bold and imaginative in their endeavours.

Here at Orita Sinclair, we believe that theoretical and practical foundations are equally important with the music and graphic design courses that we offer. For that reason, we have put in place a forward-looking curriculum that grounds students in key principles before being guided by field practitioners in applying theory and technical craft in authentic, industry-oriented projects. One of our best programme is Diploma in Interaction Design.

Our supportive learning environment prepares students for the demands and challenges of the music and design industries. At the end of their graphic design courses or music courses, our students are ready to step out into successful careers or pursue degrees at renowned universities.

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