Coming to terms (with design terms)

Zack Walker

Communication is key when it comes to executing a great idea. I’ve found that projects can be hindered when not everyone is on the same page. Here are some of the most common design terms/concepts that I’ve seen being used incorrectly with a translation from “designer-ese” to normal English.

Font vs. Typeface

A typeface refers to a family of fonts whereas a Font refers to one specific version of that typeface. Gotham is a typeface, Gotham Bold is a font within the Gotham typeface.

Tint vs. shade vs. tone

Tint, shade, and tone all refer to the augmentation of a color. A tint is created when adding white to a color, a shade is created by adding black to a color, and a tone is created by adding gray to a color.

Whitespace and negative space

Whitespace and negative space are the same things. White space does not mean literal space of a design that is white, it is a term that describes the absence of design elements to help keep the focus on other design elements and translates across all mediums.


“Modern” and “clean” are two words I hear in every client meeting and are two of the most misused words in our field. When using them, especially if you are communicating what you are wanting/expecting to your creative agency, it’s extremely useful to have visual examples. Modern can mean different things to different people as there are many different modern styles. For instance, when I think modern, I think of white space, elements that are not ornately detailed, and the use of simple lines and colors for an overall sense of minimalism. This, however, could be very different from your visualization of what a "modern" design is, perhaps encompassing impactful elements and bold color.

“Make it pop”

“Make it pop” is usually a synonym for “make this element visually more important”. This can be a tricky subject because it’s very important to keep the visual hierarchy intact and easily digestible. To avoid any potential complications, ask “sure this element can be emphasized, but does it need to be emphasized?” Emphasizing a less important element to the same degree as the more important ones can distort the hierarchy of the design and cause your central message to become unclear to your audience.

So let’s all try to get on the same page. Clear communication improves things for both parties and ensures that your project's design will be exactly what you had in mind. When in doubt, show us creatives examples of what you mean… we’re definitely visual learners.