20 design terms - the dialect of design

Lingo. Jargon. Vernacular. These words describe language that is specific to a particular profession or group. And in the world of graphic design, they are also often the cause of confusion and communication breakdown between designer and client that can lead to disappointment, frustration, and distrust. The best way to avoid these negative situations is through open communication – but how can you communicate with someone when you can’t understand what they’re saying!

Never fear! Caffeinated has your back. We’ve put together a glossary of terms to help you decipher the dialect of design. First up – the definition of words and phrases that you may hear when discussing design & layout with your designer. Future installments will include terms related to colors, graphics & images, branding, and content – so be sure to come back for more!

Design Terms You Should Know

  1. Above the Fold
    Traditionally referencing the top half of a newspaper (literally, “above the fold”), the term is now used to describe the section of a webpage one can view without scrolling.
  2. Alignment
    How text is positioned on the page: on the left (left justified), on the right (right justified), or centered. It can also refer to how other graphic elements line up vertically and horizontally.
  3. Call to Action
    A Call to Action – or CTA – is an instruction to the reader to perform a particular action. Often used in marketing materials and on web pages with active verbs such as “learn more,” “buy now,” or “register today.”
  4. Concept
    A design concept refers to the idea behind the design. A graphic designer may come up with multiple concepts before moving forward with the best idea.
  5. Comp
    Short for “composite,” this is a preliminary sketch or rough mock-up of a design. It may also refer to a low-resolution image that is temporarily used to test a layout.
  6. Drop Shadow
    A shadow placed behind text or an image to add a dimensional effect.
  7. Element
    A general term that can reference any piece of a design. “The elements we need include a photo, a block of text, and a phone number.”
  8. Flat Design
    A design trend that flattens dimension by eliminating the use of shading, shadows, and 3D effects.
  9. Focal Point
    An element of a design that is intended to draw the eye.
  10. Footer
    An area at the bottom of a document or website that contains content common to other pages.
  11. Grid
    In graphic design, a grid a series of horizontal and vertical lines that are used to structure the layout of a page.
  12. Header
    An area at the top of a document or website that contains content common to other pages
  13. Margins
    Empty space that borders the printed area on a page.
  14. Mockup
    A draft rendition of a design that often includes low-resolution images and dummy text.
  15. Overlay
    A layer of translucent, or semi-transparent, color that is placed over a photo or other design element.
  16. Print-Ready
    A file that meets the specifications for a commercial printer to create a high-resolution print.
  17. Pull Quote
    A quotation or piece of content taken from the main text of an article and highlighted as a graphic feature.
  18. Scale
    The size of a graphic element in relation to other elements. “Scaling” refers to the act of enlarging or reducing the size of an element.
  19. Translucent
    An effect that makes an element or color semi-transparent, or see-through.
  20. White Space
    Refers to margins as well as other unused space surrounding an object in a design. White space is an important element in design.


As we said, open communication is the best way to avoid the frustration that can arise from misinterpretation and confusion. So, let’s talk! Schedule a free consultation today.


Watch for future posts with terms & definitions in these categories:
Graphics & Images
Typography & Content

Kristin Heffley

Kristin Heffley

Chief Executive Caffeinator at Caffeinated Design Studio
Kristin Heffley is founder and Chief Executive Caffeinator at Caffeinated Design Studio, a visual marketing agency based near Seattle, Washington. She loves coffee, her family, and helping clients create knock-their-socks-off brands, among other things. Her favorite caffeinated drink is a sugar-free vanilla Americano.
Kristin Heffley
Kristin Heffley
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