Design Speak

An outsider's attempt to decode designer jargon

Molly Geoghegan, Narrative Strategist

Molly Geoghegan

May 19, 2017

—œSo there—™s a crop tool now in Illustrator,— I hear my coworker mention across the table to a fellow colleague. I look back at my several Google docs open and continue working because, once again, news about Illustrator doesn—™t apply or affect me.

If you or a loved one has ever worked with or around designers of any kind, you might be familiar with the ostracizing feeling of not understanding what—™s going on.

I—™m a creative person. I have a —œflair for photography— and am able to edit film and audio clips in a linear fashion—”but the programs of the Adobe Suite are something that I—™ve kept a comfortable distance beyond my realm of knowledge.

This makes for an interesting day-to-day, speaking with coworkers who are each masters of design in their own right. They work in Illustrator and Afterlight and Everclear and the whatever the heck else every darn day. And the words they use don—™t just go over my head, but spin around and do somersaults atop it.

Each job comes with its own set of terminology, this is true. But I believe that the jargon of —œdesign speak— is so cluttered with bizarre double entendres and onomatopoeias that it—™s time I try, once and for all, to de-mystify them.

Without further ado, I attempt to de-code the mysterious language of design speak. I provide my initial definition followed by the word's actual definition, provided by my team. They laughed a lot at me. 


Something you do to a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Someone that knows what they're talking about: 
Export an image or animation as pixels (tiny dots of color).


A traditional Hungarian male name.

An image based on equations that can be scaled to any size.

Image trace

This seems pretty straightforward. Trace an image to use as the outline for something else, yeah?

Adobe Illustrator process that traces images into vector format.

Em dash, en dash

"Mmm bop! Ba duba dop."

Em dash = long dash the length of the letter m. En dash = short dash the length of the letter n.

Widows, orphans

Well now this is easy. These are just humans.

A widow is when the last line of a paragraph or sentence is cut off and displayed away from the rest of the paragraph. This happens around page breaks and in 2 column text. An Orphan is when the last word of a statement or body of text ends up on a line by itself.


My favorite superpower.

New in 2016 this PowerPoint slide transition can relocate and resize common elements between slides to create a morphing effect.

Lorem Ipsum

A delicious appetizer.

Nonsense fill text that is used as a placeholder and approximates a visual representation of the english language.


TCBY Frozen Yogurt??

The standard 4 colors used in printing. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black


An ELO cover band—¦?

The color format used by screens to combine values of Red, Green and Blue light to create colors and images.


Something the witch put on Snow White.

A hex color is a 6 digit sequence of letters and numbers that represent an rgb color used by browsers and other software. There are 16,777,216 possible hex colors to choose from.

True black

—¦As opposed to? Fake black? Imposter black?

True black is when a CMYK image uses more than just black ink to create a rich, dark black.


A strong craving for corn.

The amount of horizontal space between two specific letters. Tracking is the horizontal spacing between a group of letters. Leading is the amount of vertical space between lines.


The Mona Lisa.

Portrait format is when a layout is taller than it is wide. The layout is referred to as landscape when it is wider than it is tall.

Bleed Marks

This isn—™t literal, right?

A documents bleed setting is how far its background will be printed beyond where it is intended to be cut out from the paper.

Clipping Mask

The newest beauty trend

A shape that clips the boundaries of an image and determines where it is visible.


Rare Pokemon

A unit of measurement equal to 12 points (about ⅙ inch).


Something you widen for college papers.

The empty space around an object. Padding is the empty space inside an object between its edges and its content.



The standard proportion ratio of a wide screen monitor or TV. They are typically 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall, and were previously 1280 pixels wide and 720 pixels tall. The least common denominators of these numbers are 16 and 9.


An unfaithful geometric shape.

A ridiculous way to say divided into parts.

Ah-ha! Even they think it's ridiculous sometimes. My work here is done. 

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About The Author

Molly Geoghegan, Narrative Strategist

Molly Geoghegan is a writer, organizer, and film school dropout. She hikes frequently with her dog, Guinness, and signs up for too many email newsletters. Having lived in Chicago, Paris, Dublin and Galway, Molly has made her way back to the Rockies and calls Denver, CO home.

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