Designer Lingo 101: The Basics

One of the greatest struggles that business owners face is how to communicate with their designers. There's so much technical jargon and designer lingo that you might not be familiar with. Or, there may be changes or designs you want to ask your designer for but can't quite find the right words to use. 

While there are a number of ways to ask for what you need in a design (a great inspiration board and plenty of examples are often helpful), knowing the lingo is one of the best ways to keep chats productive and enjoyable.

Welcome to Designer Lingo 101! Every week for the next six weeks, I'll be posting a new glossary of designer terms, broken into categories like "type," "print," and more. Today, let's just review the basics!

Unlike traditional glossaries that list terms alphabetically, I'm going to order this list by "most need-to-know."

visual weight

The boldness or level of attraction an element in a design creates. An element can be anything from a shape, icon, or letter, to an image, paragraph block, or headline. In general, darker and larger elements have greater visual weight.

Visual Weight.png


The distribution of visual weight from an axis or central point. We usually think of balance from left to right, and we can achieve visual balance in a number of ways: We can display two similarly weighted things side by side. Or, we can display one a small number or visually heavy things on one side and a large number of visually light things on another side.


Lining up all elements to a single axis, horizontally or vertically. Vertically we can align things to their center axis, top axis, or bottom axis. Horizontally, we can align things to the left, right, or middle.



Spreading out elements in a design so that there is equal spacing between each element.


A framework that provides structure, balance, and organization to a design. Can be composed of as many components or spaces as needed.



The size of a design element. Large scale elements tend to have a greater visual weight and tend to define elements of importance or high standing in the information hierarchy. Scale of design elements can also be used to impart a style or tone on a design. Small scale elements can be considered soft or luxurious, while large-scale elements may be bold or modern.



The organization and ranking of information or elements in a design in order to most effectively and simply communicate necessary information to an audience. The most important information should have the greatest visual weight and the least important information should have the least visual weight. 

whitespace/negative space

The space in a design that does not contain any elements, or is empty. Whitespace can be effective in creating a hierarchy of information, in organizing information, and in creating a cadence for reading a design -- whitespace indicates pause or breaks. 

Coming up next week: Designer Lingo 101 - Type