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A Guide to Design Buzzwords & Lingo

As our senior designer Andy often says, “words are hard.”

We like to remind ourselves that our jobs are, at their core, about good communication. However, there are times that we get stuck in “design-speak” and our clients who haven’t worked with a design studio before might not know how to ask about all the lingo and jargon. No one should be left scratching their head over fancy buzzwords, or tech terms. That’s why we created this glossary, to shed some light, and get everyone on the same page about our day-to-day office-talk:

Design Thinking

The idea that design is not it’s own solitary discipline. Better problem solving should comes from considering multiple perspectives, and taking a multi-disciplinary approach. It requires being flexible and open to tackling a problem in a creative way.

Mobile-First Design

When the mobile phone design is finalized before designing larger screens like tablets, and laptops. This is a popular approach because it forces the content, interactions, and UX to be created and tested in the “harshest” environment it will ever exist in: spotty wifi, limited viewport, and rich touch-screen based interactions.

Value Add

An asset, design element, or tool that makes the overall design more valuable.

Content Management System (CMS)

Examples include Squarespace, WordPress, or Wix. These platforms let the website owner or administrators manipulate the front-end of a website without having to fuss with the code.

Front-End

The Interface of a website or application. It’s the part that a user interacts with. As opposed to the “back end”, which can either mean the code itself or the content management system.

Cut up

Flat (or “static”) HTML and CSS. Cut up eventually becomes the front-end of a website or application after it is attached to a domain, and/or hooked up to a content management system.

Wireframes

The “skeleton” or “blueprints” of a website or application. Wireframes allow you to plan out the best layout for the content, user flows, and experience we’re building.

Comps

Short for “Compositions.” Comps are the “interior design” phase of a project, which typically come after wireframes. It’s where decisions are made around color, typography, imagery, interaction animations, and other “front-end” design elements.


If you’d like to see more, I’ve designed a free, downloadable one page PDF that includes nine more terms and acronyms. I encourage you to print it out, pass it around, and educate your teammates! This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. There are a ton of other weird words out there, and we are always looking to add more if you come across any!