Let's Sharpen Your Design Vocab

We know that design can be an enigma.

Sometimes you are presented with an image that is supposed to represent you or your business, and you just go, “...What?”

But, here's the thing to keep in mind: design is subjective. When you initially met with your designer, maybe you mentioned you really like unicorns a few times, and that was translated into the focus of the design. If that doesn't illustrate what you wanted, don't get angry. 

Instead, let’s learn to use some real-life design words to help your designer understand how you really feel.

Hierarchy is the arrangement of elements above or below one another according to importance or sequence of understanding. Is the image next to the text? Is the text on three different lines? Basically, how images and text are arranged. Arrangement of elements in a design is an art, so keep in mind how important hierarchy is. You could say something like, “I don’t understand the hierarchy, is there a reason the text is on three lines instead of two?”

Scale describes the proportion of an object or element within the design. If you scale an image up, it becomes bigger. But, bigger isn’t always better! Try saying, “I think the scale of the icon is off, can we try it scaled down a bit?”

Negative Space is the space around or between elements of an image. Some very interesting things can be done with negative space and proper use of it is very important. Think the World Wildlife Fund, FedEx, or Spartan Golf Club logos (If you haven’t seen them, check them out!)

Alignment refers to the placement of text along a line. Left-justified text is aligned on the left side (go figure). Know that having text perfectly aligned can actually throw off the balance of the design! This is something your designer will surely address. Maybe the text is off center to compliment the tagline or the icon. If you’re confused, ask!

Balance refers to an overall pleasing composition, meaning that all elements of the design are arranged in a way that makes visual sense and rhythm. Balance is often the can’t-put-your-finger-on-it piece of the design puzzle. Even one thing out of place can throw off the balance of the overall image. If the balance is off, you will notice it and it might be hard to pinpoint. Maybe the text is too far away from the icon? Maybe something is rotated strangely? Have a conversation with your designer and they should be able to bring it back to equilibrium!

Tone in design refers to the quality of a color, or the variation of a standard color found on the color wheel. It is influenced by everything from being warm vs. cool to brightness, and vibrancy. The tone of a color can mean a lot, and insisting on using one specific color could actually send a design in the wrong direction. You could try saying something like, “Wow that is a really vibrant orange, can we tone it down a bit?” This often refers to softening or lowering the brightness of a color, and can get you to a more neutral shade.

So now that you’re a design vocab pro, the next time you’re in the midst of a design project you’ll know what to say! Remember that your designer is an expert, so speak his language and you’ll work better together.

Have some design words that you like to use?