40 Design Words Demystified for Non-Designers

When it comes to being a solopreneur, it’s no secret that you are responsible for ALL THE THINGS in your business. With that, comes a whole lot of learning and scratching your head saying “what the HECK does that mean?!” One area of business I see this happen in a lot is marketing, branding, and design. Whether you’ve hired a designer, you’re DIYing your way through the branding process, or you are trying to teach yourself how to use Illustrator and InDesign so you can finally create those marketing pieces you’ve put on the back burner for 6 months - it’s important to understand at least the basic design terms.

To help you on this learning journey, I’ve picked 40 design words that you will likely hear along the way and are good to have in your back pocket. Here’s to not feeling in the dark when someone says “vector” or “CMYK” and thinking it’s the new restaurant in town!


1 | Font

Font is a collection of characters, punctuation marks, numbers, and symbols. Simply put - font is a group of letters.

2 | Typeface

Typeface is a font’s design; the most popular typefaces are serif, sans serif and script.

3 | Serif

A serif typeface has small decorative strokes (serifs) found at the end of the horizontal and vertical lines of the letters. Serif fonts are generally seen as professional, authoritative, and traditional.

4 | Sans Serif

A sans serif typeface do not small decorative strokes, hence the "sans" part of the name. Sans serif fonts are seen as more modern, stylish, and cleaner than serif typefaces.

5 | Typography

Typography is the art of arranging type elements in visually attractive ways. This includes making sure the type is legible, readable, and appealing when displayed.

6 | Leading

Leading is the space between lines of text vertically, also known as line height.

7 | Tracking

Tracking is the consistent spacing between letters across the entire word.

8 | Kerning

Kerning is the spacing between individual characters in a word. 

9 | TTF

Stands for TrueType Format and is a type of font file. TTF fonts are much larger than their OTF counterparts but are the more popular font file type. 

10 | OTF

Stands for OpenType Format and is another type of font file. When downloading fonts to your computer, there is no real difference between OTF or TTF font files.



11 | Crop

Cropping an element means deleting everything outside of what you’ve selected. An example would be cropping an image to remove something in the background or fitting it in a pre-defined space.

12 | Bleed

Bleed is used when creating a document that is going to be printed. Including a bleed ensures there is no white space around elements that should go to the end of the page.

13 | Opacity

Opacity is defined as the degree of transparency an element has. If the opacity of a layer is low, the element will be more transparent to reveal other elements under it or have it look more "see-through"

14 | Negative Space

Negative space (or white space) is the area of a design that is not filled with content.  left empty to bring focus to other elements on the page. Using negative space in your design is an important element because it keeps the design looking clean, allows the content to breathe and helps the design from becoming overcomplicated. 

15 | Alignment

 Alignment is the lining up of elements to achieve balance, order and a more logical layout. Content can have a center, left, right or justified alignment. 

16 | Pull Quote

A pull quote is a short quote or excerpt pulled from the main text.  Pull quotes add a visual element to break of the paragraphs and help highlight an important idea from the piece.

17 | Grid

A grid is a framework used when creating various design elements such as magazines, collateral, or web pages. It is made up of evenly divided, intersecting columns and rows. Grids are a useful tool to align and arrange elements quicker, neater and in a  more consistent way.

18 | Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum is also referred to as dummy copy and is generic filler text used when the real text is not available. Dummy copy is a great placeholder to demonstrate how a design will look before the real content is provided.


19 | CMYK

Stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). CMYK is a color model that is used specifically for print purposes.

20 | RGB

Stands for Red, Green, Blue. RGB is another color model that is used for on-screen (digital) purposes.

21 | Color Palette

A color palette is the selection of colors that you choose to use for your design. Color palettes can be seen on mood boards, brand style guides or used as a general guideline for a particular project. 

22 | Monochrome

Monochrome is a color scheme built out of only one color, including lighter and darker tones of that color. An example would be using 3-4 shades of blue from navy blue to a lighter blue-gray.

23 | Gradient

Gradient refers to fading from one color to another, or from opaque to transparent. Gradient designs can be linear or radial.


24 | Resolution

Resolution can be defined as the number of dots per inch. A general rule of thumb is 72 dpi for web and 300+ dpi for print. The higher your resolution, the better your images appear and more detail is rendered.

25 | Pixels

Pixel stands for picture element, or the smallest point or dot on a computer monitor. Monitors display pictures by dividing the display screen into thousands (or millions) of pixels, arranged in rows and columns. Anything you see on a screen is made up of ALL the pixels!

26 | Vector

Vector graphics are lines, curves, and intersections that the computer interprets to produce an image. Logos are normally created as vector graphics because it allows unlimited zoom and will never lose its resolution.

27 | Raster

Raster images are a combination of pixels. This means if you zoom in far enough, you will see a collection of squares. All photos are considered raster images. 


28 | Below the Fold

This term refers to the area of a web page that a user must scroll to see. When designing a website, normally you want the most important piece(s) of information ABOVE the fold so if a user doesn't scroll, they will still see the important details.

29 | Responsive

A responsive web design will adjust the layout for different screen sizes (ie. mobile, tablet, desktop).

30 | UI

Stands for user interface. User interface is the actual appearance of the design.

31 | UX

Stands for user experience. User experience is the flow and behavior of the design. For example, the journey a user takes through your website.


32 | JPEG

Stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. Jpeg file types are best for photos.

33 | PNG

Stands for Portable Network Graphics. PNG files support transparency and good for the web.

34 | GIF

Stands for Graphics Interchange Format and can be static or animated. GIFs are often used in web design.

35 | PDF

Stands for Portable Document Format. PDFs are ideal for sending materials to be printed or when you don't want the format of a document to change when sending it to someone.

36 | PSD

Stands for Photoshop Document. This is a layered image file that is the default format for Photoshop files.


37 | Brand

A brand is defined as a collection of concepts, ideas, and emotions that encapsulate your company’s values and mission. It includes all of the elements that make up a company including but not limited to the company culture, the words used in content, the way employees talk, images that represent the company, sponsorships and partnerships the company enters, and the values upheld on a daily basis.

38 | Brand Identity

Brand identity is the visualization of a brand in tangible form. This can include a logo, business cards, letterhead, uniforms, packaging design, etc.

39 | Brandmark

A brandmark is a type of logo design where a symbol is used in place of the company name. A prime example would be the Apple logo.

40 | Logotype

A logotype is another type of logo where the name of the company is designed in a visual way. Logotypes are usually the primary logo for a company. Some examples of well-known companies that use logotypes are Google, Ikea, and Disney. 

What are some other words that you’ve heard but don’t quite understand what they mean? Leave a comment below and I’ll help demystify them for you!