Design Lingo All Solopreneurs Should Know (and a quick workbook for your next professionally designed project)

Design Lingo All Solopreneurs Should Know (and a quick workbook for your next professionally designed project)

Hey you . . . my best friend in life has an amazing guest post and guide for you. Meet Brittany Mays. The epic designer behind most of my recent workbooks and course materials. Here we go . . .


Brittany MaysHave you ever been to a restaurant where the menu was in another language? You may have understood a few words that English “borrowed” over the years, but even those words could have morphed in meaning.

(Get to the point, Britt)

Sorry, I’m just pointing out that communication isn’t always the easiest thing. Sometimes you try to explain your thoughts or vision to someone and it just doesn’t come out right. Often, the barrier comes with an ignorance towards the jargon of that particular topic.

Specifically I’m talking about design. In the past few years, as I have gained more and more clients, my processes have developed to help people better communicate with me.

In this post, you will not only find definitions that can really help you out, but also questions to help break down your upcoming project for yourself and your designer. Plus a communication sheet you can fill out and email to your potential designer that covers all of your project details. I’m just trying to help you get the party started and get your life together, but more on that in a bit.

What every designer fears

Every Halloween I get invited to a haunted house. Every year, I re-explain that I don’t do haunted houses, but people don’t get it. I avoid being scared if at all possible, but sometimes, as a designer, my worst fears materialize in the form of phrases that my clients write in emails and say over the phone. OK, I’m being a bit dramatic, but seriously. Want to know some of most the feared phrases by your designer (graphic, web, etc.)? Well, here they are:

“I will know it when I see it.”

“This is exactly what I asked for, but it’s not what I want.”

“Can we get rid of all the white? I want it to pop.”

“I don’t know if that [clearly relevant image] represents [the easily represented concept].”

“Could you make the design look exactly like this.” [As we are looking at another design which would qualify as copyright infringement.]

“We need more images of people [doing extremely specific things that are hard to find].”

“I really need a logo instead of JUST a font.”

“I don’t really like any of it, but I don’t really have any feedback for you.”

In addition to the lingo I will share with you later in the post, I have a few other suggestions that will help you communicate with your designer.

Design software isn’t magic

Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator can do some amazing things. (By the way, if you hire a professional designer, these are the programs he/she would likely use.)

I bring this up because often clients have a false sense of what these programs can accomplish. For instance, if a woman took a picture with her back to the camera, I can’t spin her around to show her face. Or if you give me a .JPG file that another designer created for you, I can’t alter it without simply designing on top of it because it has been flattened (one of those fancy words down below).

Good Practice: If you have something you need done, simply ask, but keep in mind that it may not be possible depending on what you are providing so you aren’t disappointed.

Find examples and inspiration

One of the best ways to help your designer create something for you that you love is to provide examples and inspiration. This can be done in a number of ways like filling a Word, Pages or Google document with images or creating a Pinterest board that you can share with your designer (remember that you can make the board private).

When gathering inspiration, consider finding items in the following categories:

  • general style/direction
  • colors
  • patterns/textures
  • photography style
  • icons
  • fonts

Please, please, please do not expect your designer to copy anything you show him/her exactly. However, gathering inspiration and making it your own is exactly what needs to happen, and providing these things will help that happen.

Have an Open-Handed Plan

What do I mean “open-handed?” Let me start by saying this: You are the one in your own head and only you know what you truly want. Ok, now that we got that out of the way, you have to remember who the professional is.

The right design will be a balance between your preferences, your audience’s appeal and your designer’s best judgement. With that in mind, try to be flexible in how you finalize your brand or project. It can’t be all about what you like or what the next person’s design looks like.

OK, now let’s talk turkey. (I never understood that saying, so I’m not sure why I’m using it now, but I feel compelled to leave it.)


 

Lingo Breakdown

What you see below are not formal definitions from the dictionary. They are (hopefully) helpful explanations written in plain language mostly from my brain. I throw in a tip or two along the way.

 

General Design & stuff people say

classic – another word for traditional and some would even say “old fashioned.” A classic design typically uses serif fonts and has a familiar look.

clean – a descriptive word usually assigned to a design that has ample white space, clean lines, and a modern look. Clean designs avoid clutter and will always choose simple over flashy.

mockup – This is a designer’s way of helping the client see what the design will look like IRL. Mockups also work great for entrepreneurs who offer eBooks and eCourses to give their audiences a better idea of the quality being offered. It is difficult for people see the vision if it’s not right in front of them.

timeless – the idea that a design will never be trumped by trends or become obsolete. If you tell your designer that you want something to be timeless, be sure that you both have the same idea of the meaning.

white space/negative space – areas of the design that are not covered in a graphic or text. White space is your friend! It can bring emphasis to a certain area of your design or help provide a clean, professional look. Please keep in mind that white space is not reserved for minimalist or modern designs only. Regardless of the style, white space is essential.

Images

color code– This is how you communicate specific colors. There are a few different ways to communicate color:

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, & Key or black) which is used in print. Some printers have even more colors, but most use a 4-color process.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue) which is what your designer should use for color if she/he is creating anything for the web

hexidecimal code (hex code) is a 6 character code that can consist of both letters and numbers to represent a color. Websites may ask you for this code to set a particular color on your business website or social media.

flattened – In the past, people come to me with a design that was made for them by a previous designer, and they want it modified in some way. If they have the source files, it’s all good because it is still in design layers. That means I can modify each individual element of the design (text, background, images, etc.). If it is in a format where it has been “flattened” like a JPG, then I can’t do anything except design on top of it because to flatten a design means that you merge all of the layers into one. They can no longer be accessed individually.

File format – The design files you receive or create for yourself will have to be saved as a specific file type and you want to choose that file format based the file’s function.

pdf – excellent for print and a pdf is a document that anyone can view using adobe reader. The other cool thing about PDFs is that they can be saved in layers meaning that using the right software, they can be edited fairly easily.

png – PNG files are images that can have a transparent background. Also PNG files tend to be a bit larger because they contain more color information than a JPG file (see below). The PNG format is great for images like a logo that needs to be a certain size or anything that needs a clear background, so it can be placed on another background

jpg – JPG files are images that cannot have a transparent background. JPG files are great for anything that provides it’s own background like a photograph or if you don’t mind your design having a white (or any other color) background.

psd – This is a Photoshop file. If you were to open this file using that program, you could edit it with no problem. Once your design is in another format, it isn’t editable in Photoshop (with one exception that isn’t worth going into)

eps – EPS is a vector file (see vector below). Usually your logo will be in a .eps or .ai file format.

ai – This is an Illustrator file that is still editable. Illustrator creates vector files.

indd – This is an InDesign file that is still editable. This program is best for layout such as creating magazines or books.

high resolution – The resolution of an image speaks to the amount of pixels (small squares that make up an image) that can be packed into an inch. The more pixels, the more concentrated the image, and the bigger the file. You need high resolution graphics for print (usually at least 300 ppi or pixels per inch). Resolution does not affect vector files because they are not pixel based.

icons – Icons are usually small, simple designs that represent something more. You use them as links, in headers, in buttons and anywhere you are trying to represent something visually.

infographic – If you break down the word, you are 90% there. An infographic is a visual design that conveys information. It’s a great way to represent statistics, reports, definitions, instructions, or anything that requires text.

low resolution – Just as I said before, the resolution speaks to the amount of pixels that are in a square inch of an image. Low resolution images are used on the web because the color can be less concentrated and the file size is smaller (usually about 72 ppi).

pixel – You know those tiny squares you begin to see when you zoom in too far on an image? Those are pixels, and when an image is pixel-based, it is constrained by its size unlike a vector-based design.

source file – Whatever initial file your designer uses to create the design will be your source file. It is typically an Illustrator (.ai), Photoshop (.psd), or Indesign (.indd) file. This is important if you ever wish to have the design modified.

stock photography – Photos that come with a reuse license, regardless if they are paid or free, can be considered stock images. These are great for blogging, websites, and all kinds of designs. Not all stock photography websites are created equally, so you usually get what you pay for with the exception of a few sites that were made by creatives to provide high quality, free images to other creatives.

vector – A vector is a file type created in a program like Adobe Illustrator that doesn’t change in resolution no matter how big or small.

Branding

logo – A design that represents your business and is used as the identifying mark of your business. Your logo can be the name of your business or a symbol. Either way, it has the same function.

patterns/textures – I know you know what patterns and textures are, but I want to quickly explain how you use them in your brand. If you set aside specific patterns (like polka dots) and textures (like linen) then you always have backgrounds for your designs and go to looks when you are creating anything.

submarks – Submarks are abbreviated designs that represent your brand. For instance, you have your logo, but maybe you have a small badge that you put at the bottom of your blog post images. That would be a submark.

watermark – Anytime you want to put your mark on something without stealing the entire focus of the design, use watermark. It’s usually your logo faded until it is almost gone. It’s a great idea to use watermarks on your original photography to avoid theft and you want to place it somewhere prominently, otherwise someone could just crop it out.

Print

bleed – If you get something designed and the color runs off the edge of the paper, then your design has a bleed. It works like this: the design has to be set up so that the size of the design is a little larger than the actual size of the final document and then it is cut down. Always check with your printer for design specification including bleed. Most bleeds are .125 in. from the edge of the page.

digital printing – This is where the printer uses the digital image to recreate something on the printing surface. It is much more cost efficient than offset printing (see below) and gives you the ability to print smaller runs. It can lack in quality compared to offset printing, but the machines are so good now that you probably won’t even notice. (the print snobs of the world just gasped in disbelief)

gutter – If you are printing a book or anything with facing pages, the inside margin (where the pages meet) is called the gutter. Often the inside margins will at least be .325 of an inch so that text and images don’t get lost during binding.

Lorem Ipsum – This is latin placeholder text that most designers use to see how a design would look filled with text.

margin – Your margins frame the safe area where text and images can reside without the threat of being cut off during the printing process. Your margins will be at least .25 inches.

proof – When getting anything designed or printed for your brand, you always want to see a proof before moving on to the final stage. For design, that proof may lead to other revisions or it could confirm that the designer got it right. For print, the proof can be digital or physical and it is your opportunity to make sure everything is good before blankety blank copies are made.

offset printing – A method where the printable image and text is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket and then to the printing surface. It is more costly, and most printers will only do large quantities since preparing the plates can be tedious. Offset printing is typically more precise on color and sharpness.

Web

back-end – People use this term when referring to the place where the code, content and files are managed for a website.

CMS – CMS stands for Content Management System and it is a nifty invention that allows you to update or modify a website without knowing (or knowing very little) code. Examples include WordPress, Squarespace, and Shopify.

CSS – CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and it is the type of code that makes a website look the way it does. If your background is blue, it is because it says so in the CSS document.

developer – This is your code person who can make magic happen with lines of stuff that looks like gibberish. Sometimes a developer will also know design, but most of the time, your developer is there to fix code problems or develop something awesome from scratch.

drag and drop – When you hear people say Drag and Drop in relation to websites, they are referring to the platforms that allow you to insert text, images contact forms, or whatever without knowing code. Squarespace, for instance, is a drag and drop site.

front-end – People use this term when referring to the look of their website.

FTP – Without getting too technical, an FTP connect allows you to transfer files (usually large ones) directly onto a server.

header – Your header is at the top of your website and it typically stays there no matter which page you are on. It usually houses your logo, navigation menu, and your social media links.

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com – I’m not sure if I just dropped a bomb on you by telling you that there are two different WordPresses in this world, but there are. WordPress.org is a CMS (see above) that is installed on your server and then used to create whatever custom website you want. WordPress.com is a blogging community where you build a profile, choose one of their limited templates and then try to gain followers within the community.

Typography

kerning – Kerning is the space between the letters of a word. Added space can work great for headlines or titles.

font face – The face refers to the name of the font. So Montserrat is a font face.

font weight – The boldness of a font is its weight. A nice design principle is to combine words of the same font face with different weights.

line spacing – The amount of space between each line which can really improve readability or bring emphasis to a certain point. Line spacing is truly a design element, so don’t be afraid to play with it.

Sans Serif – Any font without the tails on the end are Sans Serif fonts (get it . . . without serifs). San Serif fonts typically look more modern and clean.

Serif – You know that time you saw that font that has the little tails on the ends? For example, the nostalgically classic Times New Roman (we had some good times together in middle school).

P.S. Ready for the free workbook that has questions for you to ask yourself (so that you can better understand your project) AND questions to ask your potential designers (to better understand their capabilities)? Hint: It also has a design brief (slash communication form) that you can fill out and just hand to your new designer. Boop. Boop.

Download it for free by clicking the image below.

Design Project Workbook by Brittany Mays

  1. This post is so awesome and I really needed this refresher on these terms. Wish I had this when I was getting my logo together for my WordPress site together. It would have saved me a lot of trouble because I couldn’t properly communicate things with my designer the way I wanted to.

    I also love your Opened Hand Plan. That’s genius because I know when I started out I was going for what I found to be more of my taste compared to looking at mass appeal. So that’s something I know I’ve had to be mindful now as a blogger when creating both content and design.

    BTW: I love your workbook designs B.Mays! I think I print every one that I come across because they look so amazing and have great content!

    1. Jen!

      Such kind words. It has taken me years on the other side of the equation (as the designer) to learn to communicate with the client properly as well. And there are always those moments when you think you covered everything and that one thing comes up that changes everything!

      Well, I appreciate you reading, and I love that you like the workbook designs (I have the most fun with those).

  2. Oh Britt I SO know this pain from an interior design stand point. Successful communication is always key and yet can be hard to achieve/maintain.

    I’m big into organization and visuals so I always think about how to set expectations and educate clients using well organized information and imagery. I know people are notorious for not reading things, but I also think that’s a lot because so much documentation out there is B-O-R-I-N-G. While it’s obviously a lot of upfront work, I think it’s so valuable to have snazzy materials that people won’t be tempted to brush off, so they can learn relevant lingo, tips for getting the most out of the exchange, and receive an introduction to the designers process.

    In a world of “I give you money, you make me thing fast.” it’s helpful for clients to be reminded of their part in getting the results they’re after, and it’s helpful for designers to make it easy as possible for them to do that. Some initial hand holding is useful and appreciated. You’ve done a great job jumpstarting that process with this post and the awesome workbook!

  3. Hi Brittany,

    As always I have a pressing question and you have the answer in perfect detail that someone as pedantic as me can finally figure stuff out. I didn’t even know what a submark was until yesterday. I am in mood board hell and I don’t even know why I need it.

    I am going to take this post and workbook and use it as a checklist when I get to the end, Bam! I am done. Okay off to dig in now.

    You guys are the best,
    Abbie

    1. Abbie!

      Don’t give in to mood board hell!!!! Thank you so much for commenting. I am always happy to answer any questions you have on this subject, so if more come along the way, just let me know. And good luck.

  4. Hi Brittany,

    This post was amazing! I love design and am familiarizing myself with new terms that I haven’t covered yet. I’m currently learning more about InDesign. I love that you’ve taken the time to break down all the terms, file names and what they mean PLUS what a designer’s nightmare is. Although I am a DIYer and DIY teacher, continuing education will help me and my brand fam so much! Thank you for such a great post! Xoxo

    1. Hey Natalie,

      I’m so glad it was helpful. And I hoped those file names and definitions would be helpful. And I LOVE InDesign. I actually just started making courses and one on InDesign is going to be my second one. I just have to get through the Photoshop course first.

  5. As I was a freelance web designer in another life (being a freshman feels like another life anyway), I can say 100% that this post is spot-on! Part of my job now is to mediate between the graphic design & web departments of the company I work for & the clients. They actually hired me partially to turn design lingo into layman’s English for the clients & vice-versa. ? It’s an interesting solution to put someone in the middle who gets both sides.

    1. Best of both worlds Daisy! That is an interesting solution and it always feels good when someone in the industry comes along and says, “Hey, this is pretty good.” I so appreciate it! Do you miss client work?

      1. I still dip my feet in it now & then but rarely now. I feel like I’m part of it though more the people side. Like when I have to convince the client that they’re not asking for something reasonable like wanting a copy of someone else’s work lol.

  6. Very useful stuff, Brittany 🙂
    I try not to burden my clients with professional terms more than they need to know since really, that’s what they hire me for, but I’ve devised a clever questionnaire to get exactly what I need from them (in their own words) and it’s been working very well so far.

    If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s the wrong use of the word “simple”.
    I don’t know how many times clients have said to me they want a really simple design, and then when I deliver simple, they realize they want something “more designed” (ie. with more details and visual interest).
    That’s why providing visual examples is crucial. I don’t know what they mean by “simple”, but when they say “like Apple and Nike logo”, we’re on the same page.

    1. Great point Nela,

      I love that you have set up a client process that gives them a voice and I’m sure your clients appreciate it as well. What gets under my skin is when I probe for direction and still end up practically starting from scratch!

  7. Thanks for sharing this! Great idea for a post and very helpful for those of us who are design-challenged. I’m always trying to get better at communicating with my designers.

  8. How much I wish I had this guide every time I went through the pain of working with a freelance designer to redesign my website!

    Ultimately, I spent a lot of time learning html and css myself. And even tools like Canva made my life easy.

    But now that I am occupied with more projects than I can handle, this guide has given me confidence to start on the road to outsourcing again. Thanks so much.

    1. No problem Hitesh,

      It’s so impressive that you took the initiative to learn that stuff. I meet some people who clearly have a designer’s mind, but just lack the experience of putting it together or using the software. You remind me of those people. I bet you have super creative ideas. Being able to communicate them when you decide to outsource again will make the process even better.

      1. Thanks for the kind words Brittany. You’re right. I lot of creative ideas come to my mind but it took me a while to figure what ticks with an online audience.

        In fact, a few weeks back I wrote a guide which I think complements your article perfectly.

        http://www.smemark.com/sticky-design/

        While your post is about design lingo anyone working with a designer should know, my post is about basic design principles they should keep in mind so that the end design is appealing to their audience.

        I hope you’ll find it useful in your work with clients in order to bring them on the same page as you.

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