Design Lingo – Your guide to understanding the gibberish that your designer is speaking

Before you travel to another country, you would learn some basics of the native language, so you didn’t get lost, right? Well, that would be the smart thing to do…

In business, you will find that certain professions tend to speak different languages too. For example: you can swear at a designer by using the phrase “Make it Pop!”. “Just a quick change” or a selection of other bone-grinding comments

As a business owner, you are 99% sure to have to deal with a designer, at some point. I’ve decided to give you a crash course in Design Lingo, so that you and your designer can communicate efficiently:

General Design & stuff people say

  • classic – another word for traditional and some would even say “old fashioned.” A classic design typically uses serif fonts and has a familiar look.
  • clean – a descriptive word usually assigned to a design that has ample white space, clean lines, and a modern look. Clean designs avoid clutter and will always choose simple over flashy.
  • mockup – This is a designer’s way of helping the client see what the design will look like IRL. Mockups also work great for entrepreneurs who offer eBooks and eCourses to give their audiences a better idea of the quality being offered. It is difficult for people see the vision if it’s not right in front of them.
  • timeless – the idea that a design will never be trumped by trends or become obsolete. If you tell your designer that you want something to be timeless, be sure that you both have the same idea of the meaning.
  • white space/negative space – areas of the design that are not covered in a graphic or text. White space is your friend! It can bring emphasis to a certain area of your design or help provide a clean, professional look. Please keep in mind that white space is not reserved for minimalist or modern designs only. Regardless of the style, white space is essential.


  • color code– This is how you communicate specific colors. There are a few different ways to communicate color:
  • CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, & Key or black) which is used in print. Some printers have even more colors, but most use a 4-color process.
  • RGB (Red, Green, Blue) which is what your designer should use for color if she/he is creating anything for the web
  • hexidecimal code (hex code) is a 6 character code that can consist of both letters and numbers to represent a color. Websites may ask you for this code to set a particular color on your business website or social media.
  • flattened – In the past, people come to me with a design that was made for them by a previous designer, and they want it modified in some way. If they have the source files, it’s all good because it is still in design layers. That means I can modify each individual element of the design (text, background, images, etc.). If it is in a format where it has been “flattened” like a JPG, then I can’t do anything except design on top of it because to flatten a design means that you merge all of the layers into one. They can no longer be accessed individually.
  • File format – The design files you receive or create for yourself will have to be saved as a specific file type and you want to choose that file format based the file’s function.
  • pdf – excellent for print and a pdf is a document that anyone can view using adobe reader. The other cool thing about PDFs is that they can be saved in layers meaning that using the right software, they can be edited fairly easily.
  • png – PNG files are images that can have a transparent background. Also PNG files tend to be a bit larger because they contain more color information than a JPG file (see below). The PNG format is great for images like a logo that needs to be a certain size or anything that needs a clear background, so it can be placed on another background
  • jpg – JPG files are images that cannot have a transparent background. JPG files are great for anything that provides it’s own background like a photograph or if you don’t mind your design having a white (or any other color) background.
  • psd – This is a Photoshop file. If you were to open this file using that program, you could edit it with no problem. Once your design is in another format, it isn’t editable in Photoshop (with one exception that isn’t worth going into)
  • eps – EPS is a vector file (see vector below). Usually your logo will be in a .eps or .ai file format.
  • ai – This is an Illustrator file that is still editable. Illustrator creates vector files.
  • indd – This is an InDesign file that is still editable. This program is best for layout such as creating magazines or books.
  • high resolution – The resolution of an image speaks to the amount of pixels (small squares that make up an image) that can be packed into an inch. The more pixels, the more concentrated the image, and the bigger the file. You need high resolution graphics for print (usually at least 300 ppi or pixels per inch). Resolution does not affect vector files because they are not pixel based.
  • icons – Icons are usually small, simple designs that represent something more. You use them as links, in headers, in buttons and anywhere you are trying to represent something visually.
  • infographic – If you break down the word, you are 90% there. An infographic is a visual design that conveys information. It’s a great way to represent statistics, reports, definitions, instructions, or anything that requires text.
  • low resolution – Just as I said before, the resolution speaks to the amount of pixels that are in a square inch of an image. Low resolution images are used on the web because the color can be less concentrated and the file size is smaller (usually about 72 ppi).
  • pixel – You know those tiny squares you begin to see when you zoom in too far on an image? Those are pixels, and when an image is pixel-based, it is constrained by its size unlike a vector-based design.
  • source file – Whatever initial file your designer uses to create the design will be your source file. It is typically an Illustrator (.ai), Photoshop (.psd), or Indesign (.indd) file. This is important if you ever wish to have the design modified.
  • stock photography – Photos that come with a reuse license, regardless if they are paid or free, can be considered stock images. These are great for blogging, websites, and all kinds of designs. Not all stock photography websites are created equally, so you usually get what you pay for with the exception of a few sites that were made by creatives to provide high quality, free images to other creatives. At Inyoni, we use
  • vector – A vector is a file type created in a program like Adobe Illustrator that doesn’t change in resolution no matter how big or small.


  • logo – A design that represents your business and is used as the identifying mark of your business. Your logo can be the name of your business or a symbol. Either way, it has the same function.
  • patterns/textures – I know you know what patterns and textures are, but I want to quickly explain how you use them in your brand. If you set aside specific patterns (like polka dots) and textures (like linen) then you always have backgrounds for your designs and go to looks when you are creating anything.
  • submarks – Submarks are abbreviated designs that represent your brand. For instance, you have your logo, but maybe you have a small badge that you put at the bottom of your blog post images. That would be a submark.
  • watermark – Anytime you want to put your mark on something without stealing the entire focus of the design, use watermark. It’s usually your logo faded until it is almost gone. It’s a great idea to use watermarks on your original photography to avoid theft and you want to place it somewhere prominently, otherwise someone could just crop it out.


  • bleed – If you get something designed and the color runs off the edge of the paper, then your design has a bleed. It works like this: the design has to be set up so that the size of the design is a little larger than the actual size of the final document and then it is cut down. Always check with your printer for design specification including bleed. Most bleeds are 5mm from the edge of the page.
  • digital printing – This is where the printer uses the digital image to recreate something on the printing surface. It is much more cost efficient than offset printing (see below) and gives you the ability to print smaller runs. It can lack in quality compared to offset printing, but the machines are so good now that you probably won’t even notice. (the print snobs of the world just gasped in disbelief)
  • gutter – If you are printing a book or anything with facing pages, the inside margin (where the pages meet) is called the gutter. Often the inside margins will at least be 1cm so that text and images don’t get lost during binding.
  • Lorem Ipsum – This is latin placeholder text that most designers use to see how a design would look filled with text.
  • margin – Your margins frame the safe area where text and images can reside without the threat of being cut off during the printing process. Your margins will be about 1cm
  • proof – When getting anything designed or printed for your brand, you always want to see a proof before moving on to the final stage. For design, that proof may lead to other revisions or it could confirm that the designer got it right. For print, the proof can be digital or physical and it is your opportunity to make sure everything is good before blankety blank copies are made.
  • offset printing – A method where the printable image and text is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket and then to the printing surface. It is more costly, and most printers will only do large quantities since preparing the plates can be tedious. Offset printing is typically more precise on color and sharpness.


  • back-end – People use this term when referring to the place where the code, content and files are managed for a website.
  • CMS – CMS stands for Content Management System and it is a nifty invention that allows you to update or modify a website without knowing (or knowing very little) code. Examples include WordPress, Squarespace, and Shopify.
  • CSS – CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and it is the type of code that makes a website look the way it does. If your background is blue, it is because it says so in the CSS document.
  • developer – This is your code person who can make magic happen with lines of stuff that looks like gibberish. Sometimes a developer will also know design, but most of the time, your developer is there to fix code problems or develop something awesome from scratch.
  • drag and drop – When you hear people say Drag and Drop in relation to websites, they are referring to the platforms that allow you to insert text, images contact forms, or whatever without knowing code. Squarespace, for instance, is a drag and drop site.
  • front-end – People use this term when referring to the look of their website.
  • FTP – Without getting too technical, an FTP connect allows you to transfer files (usually large ones) directly onto a server.
  • header – Your header is at the top of your website and it typically stays there no matter which page you are on. It usually houses your logo, navigation menu, and your social media links.
  • vs. – I’m not sure if I just dropped a bomb on you by telling you that there are two different WordPresses in this world, but there are. is a CMS (see above) that is installed on your server and then used to create whatever custom website you want. is a blogging community where you build a profile, choose one of their limited templates and then try to gain followers within the community.


  • kerning – Kerning is the space between the letters of a word. Added space can work great for headlines or titles.
  • font face – The face refers to the name of the font. So Montserrat is a font face.
  • font weight – The boldness of a font is its weight. A nice design principle is to combine words of the same font face with different weights.
  • line spacing – The amount of space between each line which can really improve readability or bring emphasis to a certain point. Line spacing is truly a design element, so don’t be afraid to play with it.
  • Sans Serif – Any font without the tails on the end are Sans Serif fonts (get it . . . without serifs). San Serif fonts typically look more modern and clean.
  • Serif – You know that time you saw that font that has the little tails on the ends? For example, the nostalgically classic Times New Roman (we had some good times together in middle school).

Now that you know how to “Talk the talk”, you can ramble on with your designer and impress them with your new-found knowledge. Also, it helps that you won’t sound like a dumbass when you are talking to them.

FYI: I have an amazing little team that can take care of all your graphic design needs too! Drop me a mail and let’s chat?

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