Know the Lingo: Demystifying Design Speak

Know the Lingo: Demystifying Design Speak

Sometimes, we designers forget that not everybody lives and breathes graphic design, and we can be guilty at times of throwing around odd terms like vector, ghosting or sans-serif and expect everyone to know what we’re talking about. It’s almost as if we have our own secret language, and it can be baffling if you’re not familiar with it. The good news is, you don’t need to go to design school to understand the basics. In this post, I’ll go over some principal terms and processes familiar to most designers to make communicating with us right-brainers a little easier.

Have you ever been asked by a designer for an EPS, AI or vector version of your company’s logo? Did you ask yourself, “What the heck is an EPS?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked this of a client and the only thing they have available is a tiny JPEG that was copied from their website.

Most people are familiar with the friendly JPEG file, it’s widely used on the web for images that are really small or that don’t need to be of high quality. But, because JPEG images are raster-based, they lose quality when enlarged (even a little bit), you’d never want to use a JPEG for an image that contains text or large blocks of color. Also, JPEG files do not support transparencies, so if if an image such as your logo needs to be over a colored or textured background, it will display a box around the image.

A vector image may also be referred to as an EPS or AI (Adobe Illustrator) file. Vector images are a must when making truck wraps, banners, billboards or large trade show graphics as they can be enlarged to any size imaginable and never lose any quality. These files can also be easily edited if colors or any other elements need to be changed. Adobe Illustrator (and occasionally Corel Draw) is the industry standard for creating logos in vector format.

JPEG versus EPS

Here are a few other important file extensions and the best uses for them:

  • GIF – Use a GIF for simple web images that don’t have a lot of different colors. These are great for small animations, logos, web buttons, charts or diagrams, cartoon-like drawings, and web banners.
  • PNG – Use PNG extension when you need smaller file sizes with no loss in quality. PNG files support transparent backgrounds and are great for the web to display logos, web banners, web buttons, and photos.
  • TIFF – TIFF files are large and there is no loss in quality. It’s a fairly old format, so it is well supported by a large range of applications. It also supports transparency and is good for both raster and vector data. However, because they are fairly large files, TIFFs aren’t a good choice for the web.
  • PDF – PDFs are widely used across the internet to share files with others who don’t have the same software. They’re also great for electronic documents and forms, and for ebooks. PDFs are often used to send print materials to a print shop, and can also support vector data that can be edited in Adobe Illustrator.

Another important thing to know when it comes to communicating with your designer is knowing and understanding the Creative Process. There are 4 basic steps to this process:

  1. Creative Brief: First off, a designer will collect a Creative Brief from the client. Learn more about Creative Briefs here. 
  2. Research: Then, based off of the information collected from the Creative Brief, the designer will then begin researching, collecting  both data and inspiration. One thing that I find extremely helpful is writing down a word-association list. Then I take the word-association list and begin sketching Thumbnails. Thumbnails are just quick sketches to illustrate basic ideas for a design. The more time a designer spends in the thumbnail stage, the faster and more productive the next step will be.
  3. Comps: Comps, or comprehensives, are when the designer takes their thumbnails off the sketchpad and onto the computer. These are the first drafts of the design. A designer will show several different styles and directions in these comps and let the client decide on a look and feel that they like. After being reviewed by the client, the comps go back to the designer with feedback and changes. There are usually several rounds of the feedback process.
  4. Implementation: This is the final step and when your design has reached perfection. Now, your designer will present to you all the final files you will need to put your new lovely design into action.

There is definitely much, much more to the graphic design glossary, but these few terms are surely some of the most important and will hopefully help you and your designer to communicate more effectively.

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  • Chris Johnson

    This is a GREAT guide.

    And great minds must turn alike – we did one : to help people get logo requirements met and made.

    Thanks for doing this post!