Design Lingo – Coming to Terms - Known Design Co

Design Lingo – Coming to Terms

August 4, 2016

We’ve all had this experience (whether you’re a client of a design team, or part of the design team).

During a dialogue, be it over email, Skype, phone call, you name it; Someone involved in the design process will try to explain part of the procedure to the client or try and explain something to be designed . This process becomes quite interesting when we fumble for the words to describe what we’re trying to explain, as not everyone will catch on to your design lingo. Here are a few terms and phrases sourced from creative agencies and individuals that we found true or just plain hilarious…


1. Above the fold 

This term is whatever content can be seen on a web page before the user starts to scroll. It originates from the print industry, where above the fold meant the top half of a front page on a folded newspaper. This term is disliked by many designers because we know that although first impressions are very important, users will inevitably scroll down a page to see the remainder of the content. Also, the “fold” in digital is different depending on what device the user is on, so designing with a specific size in mind will actually do more harm than good.


2. Busy

A blanket term for an unclear visual hierarchy, usually due to multiple factors such as too many different styles and/or unclear grids. Also can be called messy.


3. Clean

Example: A client has requested a design that looks clean. Undefinable. No one knows precisely what this means. Potentially smooth and uninterrupted design with little clutter and/or unnecessary elements. The visible elements are functional, not embellished. Easy on the eyes. White space.


4. Touchpoints

Places in a design where something happens. A hover effect for example.


5. Zhushing

As in “needs more zhushing”. Tiny little adjustments to make a design perfect. Creative Directors use this one. A lot. Also think “spark” or “magic”. If you’re after a visual idea – when a gourmet chef throws a circle of balsamic around a tiny exotic looking dish to make the plate look infinitely more pretty.


6. Raster vs. Vector

Raster images (sometimes referred to as bitmap images) are made up of thousands of pixels which determine the colour and form of the image. Photos are raster images. Photoshop is the most common raster editor, enabling you to manipulate the colour and other properties of the pixels. But, because raster images are made up of a finite amount of pixels, resizing can be tricky. If you make a raster image larger dimensions in Photoshop, the software has to make up data in order to add the size. This results in loss of quality.

Vector-based images (such as those created in Adobe Illustrator) are made up of points, each of which has a defined X and Y coordinate. These points join paths to form shapes, and inside these shapes you can add colour fills. Because everything is generated based around this, vectors can be resized to any size without any loss of quality.

In recent times, Illustrator has progressed so much that vector graphics have become incredibly complex – and you can now add gradients, complex shapes and more to create highly detailed, scalable vector images. Because vectors can be resized, they are often used for creating logos and other graphics that need to go across many different outputs (from leaflet to billboard, for instance).



CMYK is the standard colour mode for sending documents – be it magazines, newspapers, flyers, brochures, annual reports and so on to the printers. It stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (or black – key because in four-colour printing, cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are carefully keyed, or aligned, with the key of the black key plate). When you send a job to the press, cyan, magenta, yellow and black plates are made and then aligned to print on paper. You can add Pantone, or fifth colours, which are created as separate plates.

When working in Photoshop or Illustrator, you have the option to set your document’s colour mode as CMYK, RGB (red, green, blue – for screen output) or other colour modes (but the former pair are the two you really need to know about). Because CMYK has a more limited colour gamut than RGB (which is essentially what the eye sees and how screens output) you can experience a loss of colour when converting from RGB to CMYK in these applications.