10 Design Terms Everyone Should Know

If you’ve ever sat in a room full of designers, you’ve probably felt a little overwhelmed, and understandably so. It can feel as though we speak an alien, hipster language that’s impenetrable to anybody not in the know. Well, we want to help you to speak our language, and in doing so, understand the awesome value that good design brings to a project. We’ve compiled a list of basic design terms for you to get familiar with, so you’ll be having trendy conversations with your resident designer in no time.

Before designers can actually start designing, there are some important details to plan out. The ideation phase of the process (we call it style) is integral to every design we undertake. It sets a plan so we can focus in on layout, experience, and visual communication. Think of the style phase as the building blocks of a quality design, where each choice is carefully deliberated on to achieve a precise outcome. The following terms are a brief but valuable look at some of the terminology you’re likely to hear during style phase of any design project.


1. Font

Design terms - font

A font refers to the weight, width, and style of text used in both digital and print media. This should not be confused with a typeface, which is a set or family of fonts that share the same base text style, making them related. You may have heard of the notorious Comic Sans or Times New Roman — these are both typefaces. Arial is also a typeface, but Arial Black or Narrow are fonts within that family, as they deal with weight, width and style.

Pro tip:

Some common font terms include:

  • Font Style – Normal, Italic, Oblique, etc.
  • Font Weight (the thickness of a character’s strokes) – Thin, Regular, Semi-Bold, Black, etc.
  • Font Size – In digital points or pixels representing the scale of text.


2. Serif & Sans Serif

Design terms - serif & sans serif

Fonts can be categorised into two types – serif and sans serif. Let’s start with serifs.

Serifs are typefaces such as Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond. So what makes these typefaces serif? Check out the little feet at the end of each character stroke. Serif fonts were typical in old-style, elegant, and mature designs, but have slowly been making a ‘modern’ comeback in recent years.

Sans Serif (Sans meaning without) are typefaces such as Arial, Helvetica or Comic Sans. Sans Serif is the opposite of Serif, meaning it lacks the feet at the end of character strokes. Sans Serif fonts are typical in more modern and simplistic designs — especially when associated with children, or children’s products, as the simple shapes make letters more recognisable and readable.

Pro tip:

Neither Serif or Sans Serif is a ‘better’ option, it all comes down to preference, brand message, and design intent.


3. Body Text

Design terms - body text

Body text describes the main paragraph text you digest when you read a news article or a Buzzfeed post. This is body text you’re reading now! It’s essentially anything that’s not a heading, subheading, button, or link. Due to the amount of text in the ‘body’ of an article, it needs to be easily readable and digestible.

Pro tip:

Easily digestible, readable body text is especially important in eLearning, because it’s where most of the information sits.


4. Logo

Design terms - logo

A logo is a symbol or text intended to represent an organisation, company, or product. They’re easily recognisable and memorable. You don’t have to look hard to find examples of strong, memorable logos — turn your phone over and you’ll see a brand logo, or go to a vending machine and see how many you can spot.

Pro tip:

Logos can be split into three design types:

  • A Wordmark: Where the brand name is spelled out in only text
  • A Brandmark: Where the brand is depicted graphically with a symbol, icon, or image
  • A Combination mark: Where a Wordmark and a Brandmark are placed together to represent the entirety of the brand.



Design terms - gradient

A gradient refers to a gradual change between two colours. Gradients are predominantly used as either linear or radial. They can be used to add dimension to a graphic but are currently trending in bright neon colours as backgrounds or buttons.

Pro tip:

A popular example of this is the recent rebranding of social media platform Instagram.


6. Contrast

Design terms - contrast

Contrast in this context is a type of image adjustment — it’s what makes blacks darker and whites lighter. Contrast is mostly used in image processing and can be utilised to set a certain mood, add character, or draw attention to a particular area of an image.

Pro tip:

Try increasing the contrast of an image and notice as the visuals become more exaggerated and defined in light and colour.


7. Saturation

Design terms - saturation

Saturation refers to the vibrancy and intensity of colours in a graphic. An image with zero saturation is entirely greyscale, and an image with high saturation is bright, vibrant, and may feature a whole range of colours. Saturation can also be utilised for mood-setting, drawing attention to an area of the image, or as a stylistic choice to evoke a certain aesthetic, tone, or emotion.

Pro tip:

Greyscale images typically appear more refined and classical. On the other hand, brightly coloured images can seem more fun and youthful.


8. Monochrome

Design terms - monochrome

Monochrome, meaning one (mono) colour (chrome), is the term used for a limited colour scheme. It commonly refers to a greyscale image, which is completely devoid of colour and uses varying shades of grey. However, it can also refer to an image which may only feature a singular colour in various shades. Monochrome colour schemes work well because the shades rarely clash with each other, as they’re all from the same root palette.

Pro tip:

Monochrome palettes can also be limiting because there is usually little to no contrast to engage the eye or capture the attention of the user.


9. Mood Board

Design terms - mood board

A mood board, also known as a style board, is a collage of images intended to depict the potential look and feel of a product, brand, or project. Mood boards may also feature text and specific phrases which adhere to your branding or intended aesthetic. Mood boards are an effective tool for designers to lock-in an aesthetic before they begin a full-spread design. As a client, you may be asked to approve a mood board to lock-in the style of your product or brand.

Pro tip:

Ever heard of Pinterest? It’s a really popular platform for mood boarding.


10. Style Guide

Design terms - style guide

A style guide, also known as a brand manual or brand guidelines, is a document used to maintain consistency within a company, organisation, or product. It sets rules or guidelines for the design of logos, colours, fonts, imagery, tone, personality, and communication.

Pro tip:

Effective style guides also hold instructions about what not to do.


Paige Talbot Paige Talbot

Paige Talbot

Graphic Designer