Alignment: A text’s alignment refers to how text is aligned for balance, hierarchy, and layout. There are four common alignments: center, left, right, and justified. Center alignment is common for titles, while left alignment is the default for Word documents. Headers are often right aligned, and justified text is both auto-kerned and auto-leaded for visual balance.

Ascender: The ascender is the part of a lowercase letter that “jailbreaks” upwards, extending beyond the x-height (see x-height). Some examples include ‘d’, ‘f’, ‘t’ and ‘k’.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Body copy: Body copy is the main text element in a design or publication –written website content, book text, this lexicon are all examples of body copy.

Brand: The term “brand” refers to the overall ethos and imagery associated with a company, organization, club, or celebrity. This identity is built through image and idea and hopes to build ethos. Every element of a company should reflect the brand, from the logo to the mission statement, advertising details, employee codes, and uniforms. Strong examples include Apple, Coca Cola, The New York Times, The Girl Scouts of America, Lady Gaga, and Stephen Spielberg.

Brand Identity: The identity of a brand is how that brand is actualized, through values, content, ethos, and iconography. Brand identity pieces include logos, swag, letterheads, uniforms, design, etc. Brand identity can be strengthened by behavior, but brand identity relies strongly on the material.

Brandmark: Brandmarks are what we commonly think of as logos, but they are actually logos that stand in place of the company name. Some common brandmarks include the World Wildlife Fund, Apple, and NBC, among others.

Color schemes: color schemes are design palettes that are used for a specific design purpose. There are several types of color schemes.

Color Wheel, courtesy of
  • Monochrome: a term linked with design and color palettes, a monochrome is a color scheme that is built from multiple gradations of a single color. This palette would include lighter and darker tones, but no dynamic color shifts. For instance, a series of blues or greens.
  • Analogous: An analogous color scheme is one that is built from 3 consecutive colors on the color wheel. So, blue, green, yellow or cyan, blue, violet.
  • Complementary: This color scheme is built of colorways that sit opposite each other on the colorwheel: yellow and blue; red and green; orange and teal; purple and chartreuse, etc.
  • Triadic: A triadic scheme is composed of three colors that are equally spaced in the color wheel: ex. red, yellow, blue and purple, teal, goldenrod, etc.
  • CMYK: Short for Cyan, magenta, yellow key, CMYK is what is called a “subtractive color” model. This model begins with white and adds color until the end result, which is black. CMYK is the basis for many common printers. CMYK relies on color saturation.
  • RGB: Short for “red, green, blue” and is a color model common for screens and film. While CMYK is a subtractive color model, RGB is an additive color model, meaning that color mixing begins with black and terminates in white as more color is added. RGB relies on light saturation.  
  • Pantone (PMS): This is the Pantone Matching system, which is a standardized system of colors for professional printing. Each shade is numbered, making color identification easier.
  • Warm Color scheme: warm colors are those that imbued with heat or warmth. These include reds, yellows, oranges, etc. Warm colors suggest friendliness, cheerfulness, joy.
  • Cool colors: Cool colors tend towards the cool side of the color wheel and include violets, blues, and greens. These colors can provide a sense of serenity, calm, nature and colder seasons.  
  • Color Theory: Color theory is the study of how colors rhetorically impact an element of design. Color theory suggests that color can be used to invoke certain responses, such as abstract ideas, and emotions. Color theory is used in advertising and logo design, lighting and color saturation in film and photography, and in web and material designs.

Contrast: Contrast is the degree of difference between two elements, although it is most commonly used to discuss variations of light and dark. However, in materials, contrast can refer to texture differences and density.

Descender: The opposite of an ascender, a descender is the part of the lowercase letter that “jailbreaks” below the x-height, for example: ‘g’, ‘j’, ‘p’, ‘y’, etc.

Die-cuts/ die-cutting: Die cuts are cut out areas in printed design that can intensify texture, highlight elements, and are often used in high end greeting cards, brochures, and business cards. Die-cutting is a finishing process that can work in concert with whitespace.

Display type: Type that is designed to attract attention and rhetorically suggest what lies beyond. Examples of display type include movie titles on posters, article titles in magazines, newspaper headlines, etc.

Foil Stamping: The process of heat-pressing metallic foils into stamped lettering or design elements in order to give them a metallic finish. Popular in wedding invitations and memorial documents.

Gradient: This is the gradual intensification of a single color. Linear gradients include ombres, while radial gradients shift color from center to outside edge.

Grid: In graphic arts, grids refer to a framework overlaid onto a markup sheet that provides a template for designers to arrange individual elements in a neat and consistent way.

Hierarchy: When in reference to printed text, hierarchy refers to the visual arrangement of design elements to imply importance. For example, the display type might be larger and bold in order to ensure that it attracts more attention than smaller, caption text.

Kerning: Kerning is the manual space adjustment between two characters in any type. Kerning usually aims to achieve a more proportional and pleasing balance of space between each character. See here for more about kerning:

Leading: Pronounced “ledding,” this term refers to the space between lines of type. Overly tight leading causes tension and letter-overlap, making text difficult to read. Leading that is too loose can equally make the type appear disjointed, which can also disrupt reading. The goal is to find a balanced leading that encouraged ease of reading.

Legibility: Legibility refers to how easy a text reads, based on the way letters interact with one another. Legibility of text is important to consider when you are determining the size of font and the density of body copy.

Letterpressing: This is the process of pressing designs into the surface of heavy paper using metal plates. The result is three dimensional, tonal stamped images that can be colored or left alone.

Logotype: Logotype is a certain type of logo that is deeply connected with a company’s branding, so much so that even if it is used in another context, that brand is still suggested. Some Logotypes include IBM, Disney, FedEx, Coca-Cola, NASA, and CNN, among others.

Lorem ipsum: AKA “dummy copy,” lorem ipsum dolor sit amet… is the placeholder text used to demonstrate a typeface or design concept in process. You will see this text in website themes, where text is needed to demonstrate layout.

Margins: Margins are spaces around the outside edges of a page. Margin size is important for sorting text.

Opacity: Opacity refers to the degree of transparency in a visual element. Low opacity is equal to high transparency, while high opacity results in a lower transparency.

Orphans and Widows: Orphans and widows are brief lines of text that hang off a column or paragraph of text. While these are sometimes unavoidable, they can be reduced by editing down the text once it is placed. This editing should not change the meaning of the text; it should only work to clean up the visual aspects of the text. Orphans end paragraphs while widows begin new ones.

Palette: A palette is the chose set of colors that have been used for a design project. In WordPress’s website themes, there is often a set color palette, although some allow for adjustments. Likewise, in other platforms, like Word, Photoshop, and Excel, certain templates have assigned color palettes, as well.

Pull Quote: A pull quote is a short quote or block of text that is pulled from the body and then used on its own for emphasis or visual interest. Pull quotes are very common in magazine articles, but they have become more common in blog posts and have their own widgets in some website themes.

Pull quote, courtesy of

Resolution: This is the clarity of an image and the amount of detail that the image includes. Higher resolution results in a clearer, more strongly rendered image. Lower resolutions can have a pixilated or blurry result. Resolution is important for digital images, like films, television, and websites.

Resolution: This is the clarity of an image and the amount of detail that the image includes. Higher resolution results in a clearer, more strongly rendered image. Lower resolutions can have a pixilated or blurry result. Resolution is important for digital images, like films, television, and websites.

Rule of Thirds: The rule of thirds is a theory that if one divides an image, vertically and horizontally, into thirds, where these lines intersect are natural focal points of interest.

Serif: A serif is a small, decorative stroke that caps or foots a text. These strokes can be horizontal or vertical. Serif typefaces are often used to relay tradition, formality, or authority. This lexicon is written in a serif typeface; common serif typefaces include Times New Roman, Garamond, and Cambria.

Sans Serif: The word “sans” means “without” in French. A sans serif text is one that omits the small, decorative strokes and privileges simple, straight lines. These typefaces have a clean, modern feel and tend to amplify the thickness of a text. Popular sans serif texts include Arial, Calibri, and Candara.

Saturation: This term refers to the richness and intensity of color. A low saturation image might feel duller, paler, or faded. A heavily saturated image, however, may appear brighter, stronger, and more vibrant.

Scale: This is the size of an object in relation to other objects, as well as the change in the size of an object, while keeping its original proportions attached. A larger scale item can be dramatic or shift emphasis, while a smaller scale focuses on details.

Script Typeface: A script typeface is one that imitates handwriting, often cursive. These typefaces tend to feel personal and elegant, although they can also tend towards the informal (think the dreaded Comic Sans).

Slab Serif Typeface: A slab serif typeface is a typeface whose serifs are thicker and boxier. Rarely used in body copy, but common in titles, slab serifs are heavy and bold. Common slab serif typefaces include Rockwell and Memphis, but you can see a larger list here:

Stock photography: stock photography refers to photos that are sold to multiple people and are available for multiple uses. Advertisers may use stock photos for background imagery or archetype people. These are purchased in place of generating a specific photo shoot, which can cost time and manpower. Stock photos are often sold by companies that hold on to the licensing rights and lease those rights for a fee. One excellent, free stock site that actually crowdsources photos from amateur and professional travelers is Unsplash (

Texture: Texture has multiple meanings, depending upon the context. Physical, material items can have both tactile and visual textures that impact the design of the object differently. However, single images and even entire graphics can also have textures that create visual appearances that mimic physical texture and can suggest age, cleanliness, etc.

Thumbnail sketch: Thumbnails are rough drawings made during brainstorming visual design concepts. These sketches are the first visualizations of an image which will then be finalized or translated to the screen.

Tracking: Tracking refers to the space between letters and is often confused with kerning. While kerning concerns the adjustment of space between individual sets of letters, tracking refers to the entire body of text. When bodies of text are tracked, the space between each letter in a word or a text is adjusted with the aim of changing the density or appearance of the overall body copy.

Typography: Typography is defined as the artistic arrangement of type in a readable and visually appealing way. Typography typically concerns the design and use of various typefaces in a way that helps to better visually communicate ideas. Typography mistakes that can affect the look of a page can be found here:

White space: White space, which is also called negative space, is the area of visual design devoid of any content. You can consider white space to be a background or base layer and is important to allowing the rest of the design elements to settle of expand. In photography, sky can serve as white space, while in graphic arts, the limits of the text are suggested by white space. Good use of white space keeps a design clean, while poor use of white space can make an image feel cluttered or even hide important elements.

x-Height: Letter dimensions are measured by other letters. The standard height of lower-case letters is measured as the x-height, where the “x” in any given typeface is the standard for the rest of the typeface

x-height example with the word "sphinx"

This lexicon was developed with help of