60+ Design Terms Creative Professionals Should Learn

Creative industries are riddled with technical jargon that varies with each job. Designers may use specific terms that photographers rarely encounter and illustrators and marketing pros may speak too different languages entirely. To be honest, it can be a bit overwhelming to keep track of what it all means. The good news is that we’ve aggregated a list of design terms that you can refer to time and time again. Keep reading!

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Published inCareer Development
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A

A/B Testing

a comparative method of analyzing two versions of a design to figure out which one will outperform the other.

Accessibility

the intentional design of services, products, and interfaces to accommodate folks with disabilities and impairments.

Read more about accessibility.

Aesthetic

relating to beauty, appearance, or quality of an experience, environment, object, art piece, or design.

Affordance

the qualities of an object or interface that indicate how it should be used.

Alignment: 

the arrangement of design elements (typography, pictures, illustrations, etc) in a way that is visually appealing.

Read more about alignment and other design principles.

Alpha Testing:

the process of testing a design or product with a small group of people within a company or organization. 

Animation

the artistic process of creating the illusion of movement with an illustration or digital design. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

is knowledge synthesized, processed, perceived, and disseminated by machines and computers. In a nutshell, AI simulates human intelligence. 

Read more about artificial intelligence.

Asymmetry

a design or artwork that lacks symmetry or balance.

Augmented Reality

the integration of digital information into real-world objects and environments. 

B

Balance

how weight is distributed visually.

Beta Testing

the process of testing a design, product, or interface with a group of users before it is released to the consumer market. 

Brand Identity

the visual elements that comprise a business’ brand. Brand identity can include things like the company’s logo, color scheme, or preferred typefaces.

Read more about brand identity.

Branding

the practice of naming a business or product then designing its visual appearance of it. 

C

Call-to-Action

a statement or design element that prompts a user to take a specific action (i.e. Register Today)

Collage

a composition comprised of various visual elements (images, illustrations, text, etc) arranged to create a singular image. Collages can be done on paper or by using software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or alternatives.

Color Theory

the philosophy and study of how colors can be used in a design and how they impact human psychology.

Composition

how visual elements are arranged in a design, photograph, or painting.

Contrast

the use of varying elements (colors, shapes, objects) to create visual interest in a photograph or design.

Creative Brief

a detailed document that outlines the goals, target audiences, messaging, and core concepts of a design project. 

CSS

an abbreviation for the term Cascading Style Sheets. CSS describes how HTML elements are displayed on the screen. 

Read more about CSS.

D

Depth

the visual illusion of three-dimensionality seen in a flat, 2D design.


Design Thinking

a design process and approach to problem-solving that centers humanity. Design thinking involves exercising creative empathy, designing prototypes, and iterating until you get it right. 

Read more about design thinking.


DPI

an abbreviation for dots per inch. It is a photographic term that explains how image resolution is measured. 

E


Emphasis

the use of visual elements to highlight or draw attention to a specific area of an image. 

F


Flow

how the eye moves through a design or photograph.


Font

a specific variation of a typeface.

G

Gamification

the strategic use and application of game design elements in non-game contexts to incentivize or motivate participants.

Grid

a structure of vertical and horizontal lines that can be used to organize design elements.

Grid System

a framework to align and layout design elements

H

Hierarchy

how visual elements are arranged to indicate importance, order, or chronology.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

the study of how humans engage with computers and other forms of technology.

Read more about Human-Computer Interaction.

I

Icon

a graphic symbol that represents an object, function, or concept.

Identity

visual elements that a company’s branding is comprised of. See brand identity.

Illustration

a pictorial depiction that is drawn by hand or using digital technology.

Imagery

visual elements such as photos or illustrations.

Information Architecture (IA)

the organization of information in a mobile app or within a website.

Information Design

the process of designing visual elements that represent information or concepts. 

Interaction Design (IXD)

the design practice of creating interactive products. 

Read more about interaction design.

Interactivity

the responsiveness of a design 

Interface

the interactive element between a user and a device, app, or computer.

Iteration

the repetitive process of refinding a design until it is finalized.

Female person drawing on a graphic tablet, vector clip art.

L

Landscape

a horizontal orientation in which the width of a photograph, illustration, or design is greater than the height. 

Layout

how all of the visual elements are arranged in a design.

Lines

the visual path that the eye follows when looking at a design or photograph.

Logo

a graphic symbol that is used to represent a business or personal brand.

M

Minimalism

a design style or aesthetic characterized by simplicity and minimal elements.

Read more about minimalism.

Motion Design

the design practice of using animation, 3D renderings, videos, and graphic design to create visual effects, movie title sequences, and more.

N

Negative Space

the unoccupied space in a design. It is the opposite of the positive space which contains visual elements.

O

Orientation

the direction in which an image or design is viewed (i.e. landscape, portrait)

P

Palette

a curated selection of colors used in a design, illustration, or painting.

Pattern

a repeating design element.

Pixel

a singular point in raster images.

Portrait

a vertical orientation in which the height of the design or image is greater than the width.

Prototyping

the design process of creating a preliminary model

Proximity

the placement of visual elements near each other.

Read more about proximity.

R

Raster Graphics

images comprised of pixels.

Responsive Design

the creation of a website or app that adjusts to varying screen sizes.

Rhythm

the repetition of varying graphic elements.

S

Scalability

the ability of a design to be altered or adjusted for different uses or presentations.

Skeuomorphism

the design of digital products that resemble or simulate physical objects.

Style Guide

a detailed document that outlines how a company’s brand identity should be implemented.

Symmetry

visual balance in a design.

T

Texture

the visual or physical feel of a design (e.g. fuzzy, smooth)

Typography

the design process of creating, selecting, and arranging type.

U

User Experience

the overall experience a user has when interacting with a product or interface.

User Research

the process of conducting research about the user’s needs and desires.

V

Vector Graphics

digital images created using mathematical calculations. Vector images are not comprised of pixels like raster images are.

Virtual Reality

a simulation of a 3D world.