31 Design Terms Explained


Design terms and jargon can often feel like a whole other language. ‘Kerning’, ‘body copy’, ‘negative space’, let alone all the acronyms, CMYK, RGB, dpi… It can sometimes be hard to know exactly what us designers are talking about!

If you’re new to design or looking to decipher an email from your designer, we’ve compiled a glossary of commonly used words and phrases used in the design world.


  1. Alignment
    The lining up of elements – centre, left, right and justified.

  2. Ascender and descenders
    The part of a lowercase letter that extends either above or below the x-height.

  3. Body copy
    The main part of text. This is the bulk of the content, like the content you are reading right now.

  4. Brand
    A collection of ideas, concepts and emotions that encapsulate your company’s values and ethos.

  5. Brand identity
    The visual element of your brand which includes elements such as the logo, colour palette, typefaces, stationery design etc.

  6. CMYK
    (C)yan, (M)agenta, (Y)ellow and (K)ey is a colour profile used for print purposes. Find out more here.

  7. Complementary
    A palette built out of colours that sit opposite to each other on the colour wheel

  8. Copy
    Again, another fancy word, this time meaning ‘text’.

  9. Gradient
    A gradual change in colour from one colour, tone or shade to another.

  10. Hierarchy
    The way elements are arranged on a page to signify and suggest importance.

  11. Icon or brandmark
    A logo where a symbol is used as part of the brand identity. These can be used with or without the company name.

  12. Kerning
    The adjustment of space between individual letters in your type

  13. Leading
    The space between lines of type.

  14. Lorem Ipsum
    Lorem ipsum is a latin text used as dummy text; used when final text is not yet available to give a visual representation of how a design may look.

  15. Monochrome
    A colour palette created using a single colour with variations in tone.

  16. Opacity
    The degree of transparency of an element.

  17. Orphans and widows
    Words or short lines that appear either on their own at the top or bottom of a piece/paragraph of text. Orphans and widows are not popular in the design world!

  18. Palette
    A selection of colours commonly used throughout a design.

  19. Pantone
    A standardised system for printing exact colour shades. All pantones have their own number.

  20. Pull-quote
    A brief, attention-grabbing quotation taken from the main text, used as a graphic feature.

  21. Resolution / DPI
    The amount of detail an image has. The higher the resolution, the better the quality. High resolution images are required for print and low resolution are suited to on-screen to help reduce loading times. Check out our Image Quality blog.

  22. RGB
    (R)ed, (G)reen and (B)lue is a colour profile used for digital purposes. Read more in our Colour Profile blog.

  23. Sans serif
    A font without (sans) the small decorative elements.
    31 terms explained - sans serif

  24. Script
    A font that mimics cursive handwriting.
    31 terms explained - script

  25. Serif
    A font with decorative elements found at the end of horizontal and vertical lines.
    31 Design terms explained - serif

  26. Slab serif
    A font that is chunkier in appearance with serifs.
    31 terms explained - slab serif

  27. Tracking
    The adjustment of space between each letter/character in a word.

  28. Typeface
    Essentially, a fancy word for a ‘font’.

  29. White or negative space
    Refers to areas of the design that contain no content. It is important to let a design breathe and helps to avoid a busy, over complicated design to best deliver key messages.

  30. Wordmark or Logotype
    A logo created using only the company name, designed in a visual way.

  31. X-height
    The average height of lowercase letters. Usually demonstrated by the letter x in any typeface.

This glossary contains our selection of the most common design terms. If you’d like to venture further into the printed world terminology, check out our blog ‘How to elevate your printed designs’.

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