Industry Resources

Design Terms Every Entrepreneur Should Know

As a non-designer, working with one can be daunting. You may have an idea of what you want, but don’t know how to communicate that idea to the designer. It’s much easier to collaborate when you have a working knowledge of key design terms. Here are some common terms every entrepreneur should know before working with a designer.

Basic Terms

Alignment: the positioning of elements on the page (images, text, etc.) in relation to one another and the page (for example, top left, bottom right or center).

Below the Fold: drawn from the newspaper days when articles would literally be below the newspaper crease, this term describes web content placed in the area of the webpage that can’t be viewed without scrolling down. It’s the opposite of “above the fold,” which is generally considered the most visible location.

Eye Movement: analyzing viewers’ eye movement on a page—understanding where their eyes initially land and the flow they follow across the page. Designers often use various strategies, like bright colors or customized layouts, to moderate the flow of eye movement.

Pixel: the smallest spot (dot) visible on a computer screen.

Stock Media: images, fonts, audio, illustrations, etc. available for purchase and reuse from websites like iStock and Getty Images.


Color Harmonies (aka “Color Schemes”): the way colors complement and contrast one another; the relationships colors have to each other. Complementary or harmonious colors are often used to create a color palette. Complementary colors are directly across from each other on the color spectrum.

CMYK: print color model based on cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black).

RGB: digital color model based on red, green and blue.


Baseline: the invisible line that underpins all text.

Cap Height: the space between the baseline and the top of a capital letter.

Font: a specific size, weight and style of typeface (e.g. Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, etc.).

Typeface: letters, numbers, punctuation and special characters created by a designer. Each typeface is different and may contain many variations of a font. Some are free to use, but others require licensing for commercial purposes.

Open Fonts: available fonts that have digital and print versions in a single file (.oft) and are compatible with PC and Mac.

Weight: the thickness of a keystroke. Most fonts default to regular, but others offer options of light, extra light and degrees of bold. Type families present these options for particular fonts.

Image Types

Bitmap: an image defined by a particular composition of dots or pixels. Most images on the web are bitmaps. They’re sometimes called “raster images.” These images aren’t scalable, meaning a 500x500 pixel image in this format cannot be made into a billboard and retain the image quality and sharpness it has on the web; the pixels will be visible. Typical bitmap formats include:

  • GIF: best for small, simple images with few colors or for animated images.
  • JPEG: best for realistic images, such as photos or paintings.
  • PNG: best for images with transparent backgrounds and large swaths of a single color.
  • TIFF: used to store images with metadata within a single file.

Vector: images that scale infinitely and retain their quality. Because vector graphics are created with lines and shapes instead of pixels, it’s possible for a designer to resize images without the pixelation that occurs when bitmap images are resized. The vector images are typically used for print work, while bitmaps are used for screen displays.


Comps: computer-generated mockups based on early sketches and ideas prepared for the client to review. Designers expect feedback on comps and make changes to them based on your comments. Typically, a project includes multiple rounds of comp revisions before final production.

Mock or Wireframe: this is either an initial sketch of a design based on the client’s specifications or a visual outline created by the client that illustrates a general picture of what the client wants. Free wireframing tools are readily available online; if you’re just getting started, try Mockingbird or Cacoo.