5 Graphic Design Terms You Need to Know

5 Graphic Design Terms You Need to Know


By Adam Hoffman, Owner and Designer at Hoffman Creative

If you’ve ever heard designers talking to each other it can seem like they’re speaking a different language. There are mentions of leading, kerning, orphans, widows, bleeds, trim and serifs. What the heck is all this stuff? It’s okay, we don’t expect you to follow along—we really do have a lot of confusing terms in our industry. However, as a marketer or someone else who works with designers, it’s important to at least have a basic, high-level understanding of some of this jargon.

After discussing the goals of your company or client, brainstorming and planning media, it’s finally time to start a project. Before the designer can even begin, we need to know some very important information.


This is the basic size and shape of the final product. Ideally, the designer would be involved in the planning processes to help define this. But, at the very least, it needs to be defined. Some common specifications include:

  • Dimensions: The width and height of a document; typically measured in inches (for print documents) or pixels (for web/video projects). Be sure to specify if something is horizontal or vertical!
  • Colors: What colors will be used. CMYK and Pantone colors are used for printing while RGB colors are used for web/video.
  • Unique needs: Anything that requires additional planning for the designer. This includes special folds and cuts for print projects.

The more information you can provide for a designer—even if you aren’t quite sure what it means—the more efficient their process will be.


For a designer, “identity” usually means a set of existing guidelines or other materials that define the visualization of a brand. This usually includes colors, typography, logo usage and other visual elements. A brand’s visual identity is used to design consistently across all forms of media.

A well-defined brand identity will answer questions for a designer before they’ve had a chance to ask them. Many corporations have brand identity documents that are several dozen—or even hundreds—of pages long. Creating these documents might be a large up-front cost but they are certainly helpful and ensure consistency even if multiple designers are used.

Other companies simply provide examples of past projects to base designs off of. This is fine—it’s still your brand identity—but it leaves more open to interpretation deciding what’s brand canon or not.


In Graphic Design, hierarchy is the order in which your eye is drawn across a page. This is determined by the layout and structure of the text and graphics. This is what Graphic Design is at its core—drawing your eye to what’s important.

A basic hierarchy for any given design project is as follows:

  1. A large image or graphic catches your eye first.
  2. A headline provides quick support to explain what this is all about.
  3. Subheads and smaller supporting imagery give viewers a basic understanding of content.
  4. Body copy that provides the meat of what’s being said. To be read at the viewer’s leisure.
  5. Disclaimers and footnotes (that need to be legible but hopefully no one reads).

As always, there are often exceptions to this order. There are several tricks designers use to get you to notice a specific part of a page without drawing too much attention to it. This can be something as simple as bolding text or creating callouts to highlight important text.

Without proper hierarchy, viewers get confused, lose interest and move on to something else.

“White space”

A common joke in the Graphic Design community is “Make the logo bigger!” As cliché as it has become, that doesn’t make it any less true.

The authenticity of this statement lies in that fact that business and people are proud of their brand and want to fill up every possible space with their logo and other brand elements. This “efficient use of space” seems logical but the flaw is that potential customers view this type of design as gaudy or even insulting to their senses.

Luckily, there is a solution. “White space” refers to the areas in a design or layout that are purposefully empty. This is done to offer a cleaner presentation, better organization and to direct the eye of the viewer to what they should see next. In the example of “Make the logo bigger!” the counter-argument would be “Surround the logo with appropriate white space to make it stand on its own and appear more important!”

Graphic Designers certainly aren’t trying to impress you or “get all designy” by using white space in their designs. We’re simply trying to create a legible layout with proper hierarchy—all to help your brand or product stand out.

“Final art”

Unless explicitly stated by the designer, you should always assume that the files they send are not ready to print or publish. To ensure that design is printed or published to its highest quality, there are several items that need to be checked off before we send “final art” (typically a high-resolution PDF or whatever is appropriate for the medium). This checklist includes:

  • Are all stock photos (or other assets) purchased and used legally? Don’t be embarrassed by printing a photo with a stock photo watermark on it. Oh yes, it has happened. 
  • Are all photos the proper resolution? Images that look fine on screen can very well look blurry once printed. 
  • Is all art in the proper color space? All items should be CMYK or Pantone for printed pieces and RGB for digital (on-screen) projects. 
  • Has the entire piece been thoroughly proofread and signed off on? You don’t need to hire an editor but we do need your approval before providing final art!

There are also many other criteria to consider depending on the project. The bottom line is double-check with the designer before printing or publishing anything.

What you can do with this knowledge.

A good designer should be aware of this information and walk you through these steps as they are necessary. However, I am always impressed when a client takes the time to learn my language so we can increase our efficiency—just as I learn their business to help them improve their bottom line.

Do you still have questions about the design process or just want to know why designers like coffee so much? Reach out to me at adam@hoffmancreative.net.

11/28/2017 11:53 AM |Add a comment |Comments (5)
Informative post! Thanks for sharing practical insights related to graphic design terminologies. It helped me sharpen my graphic design skills. This article precisely explained the design process that is essential for the success of any project. Probably the most useful logo guide I have come across. Thanks for posting.

Amtul | amtul.rafay@outlook.com | http://www.logoorbit.co.uk/ | 06/20/2018 6:04 AM
Thank you for sharing. This is what most designers went through specially when handling client's project. A more specific planning is a great way to impress clients.

Cassandra Board | cassandraboard26@gmail.com | https://electroimagellc.com/ | 06/06/2018 12:31 AM
I just wanted to thank you for explaining these graphic design terms. I didn't know that white space is to refer to having empty space that can make a layout seem more cleaner. It sounds like it's important to know how much of this is a good amount for an effective design.

Hey Adam, Great post. Love reading it. We are coffee roasters in Sunshine Coast, currently working with branding agency in Sunshine Coast to promote our brand online. Here I got some useful tips to implement in our design with the mentioned terms. Thanks for sharing.

Stephany | chilligroupau@gmail.com | https://www.chilligroup.com.au/ | 01/23/2018 4:46 AM
Thank You for sharing these tremendous designs, I really like them and I hope you keep it up like this.

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