Richard Lau
Richard Lau 25 January 2021
Categories Advertising, B2C

20 Design Terms For Non-Designers

When you’re in the process of designing the perfect logo for your brand, you may come across certain terms that feel like a whole different language to you. What are RGB and CMYK? What does having white space in a logo mean? What’s the difference between typography and fonts? Aren’t they the same thing? It can all get confusing and overwhelming.

Whether you’re someone new to design, or just curious, or are simply trying to understand the various terms on a piece of software or with all the reading that you’re doing, this article can help.

Here’s a list of 20 design terms for non-designers.

1. Alignment

Alignment refers to the lining up of different elements to achieve balance, order, and a more logical layout. You may not notice anything if the design is well-aligned. However, poor alignment definitely gets noticed. A poorly aligned design looks cluttered and unfinished.


Also called 4-color, CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. It is the color-combination that’s used in the majority of your printed materials wherein these four inks are printed together to create full color images. 

You can create almost any color using the combination of these four inks (exceptions being neon and metallic colors). The inks in your laser printer or inkjet are these four colors.


3. RGB

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. It is the color process that’s used in monitors and TVs. The red, green, and blue light is mixed together to create a full spectrum of colors on screen.

While CMYK has a pretty logical percent system of mixing colors, RGB can be a little tricky. The values range from 0 to 255 where 0 is black, 255 is pure white. When all three pure colors are mixed together, you get white.


4. Color Theory

Color theory is the study of colors and how they make people feel and respond. Certain colors evoke certain subconscious emotions in people. For example, red and yellow make people hungry. Blue is associated with trust and dependability. That’s why most banks and corporate businesses include the color blue in their logo design and branding.


5. Serif Typeface

Serif typeface has small strokes (serif) at the end of horizontal and vertical lines. Times New Roman is one of the most popular examples of serif typeface. These tend to look more professional, authoritative, and traditional in appearance.


6. Sans Serif Typeface

Unlike serif typeface, sans (without) serif typeface is without the strokes. These tend to have a more modern, stylish, casual, and cleaner feel to them compared to their serif counterparts. Calibri and Open Sans are some of the popular examples of sans serif typeface.


7. Texture

Texture refers to the surface quality. Texture is normally associated with the ways things look or feel. For example, a surface could be smooth, silky, shiny, rough, etc. In design, texture refers to more of a visual tactility. By adding graphics, or textured images over your design, you can create a visual appearance of a texture that feels like actual texture.


8. Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum refers to ‘dummy text’ that the DTP industry uses as replacement text when the actual copy isn’t available. It’s used to demonstrate how a design would look once the actual text is added to it.

9. Kerning

Kerning refers to the space between two characters. It adds more proportion to the font to balance and add more appeal to the design. Kerning adjusts the space between individual letters and also adjusts spacing uniformly over a range of characters.

10. Typography

Typography is the art of arranging type to make the written word more readable, appealing, and legible when put on the design. Typography also refers to the arrangement, style, and appearance of symbols, letters, and numbers.

11. Leading

Pronounced ‘ledding’, leading is the space between two lines in a type. If the line space is too tight, the design can look cluttered and it can make the content a bit difficult to read. If the space between two lines is a lot, it can make the content look a bit disjointed. Designers normally work to find a good balance between the two.

12. X-Height

Also known as Corpus Size, X-Height is the distance between the baseline and the mean line of the lower-case letters in a typeface. It is one of the most important dimensions of a font and is usually gauged by looking at the height of the letter ‘x’ in any given typeface.

13. Ascenders

Ascenders are part of the lowercase letters that extend above the X-Height. For example, ‘d’, ‘b’, ‘f’, ‘h’, etc.

14. Descenders

Descenders are part of the lowercase letters that extend below the X-Height. For example, ‘g’, ‘j’, ‘p’, ‘q’, etc.

15. Warm Colors

Warm colors are those that are more vivid and bold in nature. These colors make you think of heat and warmth such as red, yellow and orange. They are often associated with cozy and friendly emotions.

16. Cool Colors

Cool colors are those that are more calm and soothing in nature. These colors make you think of colder temperatures such as blue, violent, and green. They are not overpowering and are often associated with feelings of peace.

17. Gradient

A gradient is a blend of one color into another. This is a technique most designers use to create a whole new color. Gradients add more dimension and dept in the design. There are two types of gradients:

  • Linear : two colors sit on opposite sides of the frame
  • Radial : one color sits in the middle and the other at the edge

18. Opacity

Opacity determines how much light can pass through an object. In design, it’s the degree of transparency an element has. The higher the opacity, the less transparent the element. Whereas, the lower the opacity the more transparent it is.

19. Resolution

Resolution refers to the detail of the image. The higher the resolution, the more clearly you’ll be able to see the details in the element. The lower the resolution, the more blurry or pixelated the image will appear. Resolution is typically measured in pixels per inch (PPI).

20. Rule Of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is another theory on how you look at the layout of a design. It’s simple--you place a grid on top of the image that is divided equally into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The areas where your lines intersect will become focal points of your design.

There you have it! These are just a few commonly used design terms that you might encounter when working on a design project or with a graphic designer.

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