Speaking Different Languages:
Understanding Design Lingo

Ryan Miller - Graphic Designer


Thinking back to last month’s contributor article written by our lead designer Ashleigh Hotz, I started to think more about language and the terminology of marketing. Is it true that we really have a “language,” and is everyone outside the realm of design completely clueless to what we’re trying to communicate? Do we suffer the same monotonous, droning voices that the adults blurt out in Charlie Brown? This is a huge issue, especially when you consider the communications between a marketing team and their clients. Without proper communication, without a clear and concise line of dialogue, things can fall apart very quickly on any campaign. Expectations can fall flat, strategies can be misinterpreted, and the trust between marketer and client can easily dissolve.

This gap in language is to be expected in any business, even between professionals in the same industry. When it comes to marketing, every organization has its own language, its own blend of words or phrases that are used in a manner unique to that culture. COACT is no different. Sales Synergy, Physics, Client Mastery—all words that conjure up specific meanings to our staff, but would otherwise have an entirely different meaning for anyone else. This crossover in language and terminology can get confusing when two organizations meet for the first time.

Luckily, the graphic design industry is a bit more cut and dry, at least when it comes to some of the more common terminology used. In a field where the sky is the limit, it’s ironic that we had to limit our language in order to stay legible and consistent within our own group. The terms below are used commonly in the field of graphic design, but they’re beneficial in many other industries and will help you effectively communicate with your printer or graphic designer.

Bleeds are the space outside of the Trim Area that will be cut off by the printer. Due to the variance in printing, designers have to account for some wiggle room in where the artwork will be printed on the page. We do this by extending certain elements of our design past the dimensions of our finished document. That way. if there is some variation in where the artwork is cut by the printer, you won’t end up with a blank white edge where your artwork should have been.

Trim Area
This is the final size of your document after it’s been printed and cut. Anything beyond your Trim Area is in the Bleed area and will be cut out of the design.

Safe Zone
The space before your Trim Area ensures that your important artwork doesn’t get cut off by the printer and lost. This is the area within your margins.

Raster vs. Vector Images
This is a big one and unfortunately, not common knowledge for most people.

  • Raster Images – A Raster, or Bitmap, is made out of an arrangement of finite pixels to determine the color and form of a given image. It’s because these images are made up of a set number of pixels that it is recommended to never change the size of the image beyond its original state. Many people will enlarge a Raster image and expect it to look just as sharp as the 1” thumbnail it was used as online, but that’s unfortunately not the case. All you’re doing is simply getting closer to the square pixels that the image is made up of, which gives them a fuzzy or blurry look.
    • Designers work on these files with Adobe Photoshop.
    • File Types: JPG, GIF, and PNG images
  • Vector Images – Vector images are made up of points in a similar fashion to a Raster image, but with a lot more complicated mathematical values inserted into the mix that allow a Vector image to be resized with no loss in quality. Logos are often Vector files because they’re placed on everything from large scale billboards to the tiny business cards you carry around in your pocket. The need for them to be used at any size makes them a great candidate for a Vector file.
    • Although most Adobe programs are able to work with Vectors, Illustrator is the main program used to create them.
    • File Types: EPS and AI

Lorem Ipsum
For as long as there has been Lorem Ipsum, there has been someone who has absolutely no idea what it is when they first see it. Lorem Ipsum is a random assortment of Latin gibberish that has been used as dummy text for typesetting. Our minds tend to focus on the familiar, so when we’re trying to review and critique a design that has words in our own language, we often get distracted by them. We focus more on the words rather than the shape and structure of the words as a whole and how they interact with the rest of our design. Lorem Ipsum is all but illegible, making this task much easier for us designers.

Kerning is the adjustment of the space in between two specific characters (letters) and is a much more challenging and nuanced task then one might imagine. It’s hard to know exactly when you’ve got it just right, but you’ll know when you’ve got it wrong.

Like Kerning, Tracking has to do with the space between characters, but in regards to an entire word or sentence all at once.

You may know leading as “Paragraph Spacing” from Microsoft Word. Leading is the space between lines of text and is the reason why you were always so excited when you had to write a two-page paper for class and the teacher allowed it to be double-spaced. It’s referred to as leading because typesetters used slabs of lead in between their lines of text to help space them out more evenly as they had to apply letters by hand.

These are a very small number of common marketing terms, but ones that will help you tremendously to understand the language. Being able to communicate effectively within your team—and this goes for both sides—makes all the difference in the world when starting a campaign.  Whether you’re on the phones or designing an email, you have to communicate effectively and efficiently with your team. This will keep your messaging on point, your work well within their deadlines and your clients very, very happy.

Questions or comments? Please contact Ryan Miller at rmiller@teamCOACT.com