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Non-designers Essential Glossary of Design Terms

Every industry, business and profession has its own language and that language can leave you feeling confused and result in lots of misunderstandings.  We thought you might find our Design Terms Glossary useful whether you are using the training in our Members’ section or dealing with a graphic designer directly.

Sans Serif Fonts

Sans Serif fonts



Even though at first glance typefaces may seem to be very similar, typography is one of the most varied area of graphic design.

Sans Serif typefaces generally look more modern than Serif faces, and there is a huge variety of weights available within most of the fonts eg. bold, medium, light, extra light.

Sans Serif fonts are often paired with more decorative fonts in logos and brand graphics to add visual balance to a design.

Many decorative fonts use existing Sans Serif fonts as a framework to ground the decoration.


Serif / Sans Serif Typeface

Saturation of Colour




Colour Value diagram

Saturation including Hue and Value

When designers talk about the SATURATION of a colour they are referring to the purity of the HUE.

HUE is really just another name for colour, but it’s a bit more precise than that.

A HUE (colour) that is at its full 100% strength, with no white or black added, is FULLY SATURATED – in other words, as bright as it can be.

A hue that is less than 100% strength is said to have a low VALUE as the top diagram here shows – going from 100% FULLY SATURATED in the centre to just 1% SATURATION at the edge.

Muted SaturationWhen a fully saturated colour is mixed with a percentage of another colour or black, the hue becomes MUTED.

As you can see in the diagram on the right, new HUES are beginning to form as the basic colours are muted by the addition of a new colour.

As you can see, colour is so much more than the shades we can name, and when it comes to graphic design colour HAS to be reproduced EXACTLY for branding to work.

So when designers talk about HUE, SATURATION and VALUE  it’s not enough to say red or turquoise or pale yellow or murky green.

Thankfully there are ways to pinpoint colours exactly!

See the page called Hex Colour Coding for more details.


Secondary Colours

Secondary Colours



Colour WheelThe Secondary colours are Violet, Green and Orange.

They are made by combining equal amounts of two adjacent primaries together.

Red + Blue = Violet

Blue + Yellow = Green

Yellow + Red = Orange

On the colour wheel they are positioned exactly halfway between each of the three primary colours.

For more information on the colour wheel see Primary colours and Tertiary colours.

Serif Fonts

Serif fonts



Even though at first glance typefaces may seem to be very similar, typography is one of the most varied area of graphic design.

Serif typefaces are particularly suitable for long passages of text, such as in brochures or booklets as the serifs provide a horizontal reference along the baseline which makes it easier for the reader.

Serif fonts convey a sense of authority and gravitas, and are often chosen in logos for professions who want to communicate these values to their target market.

Scripts and some decorative fonts also fall into the Serif category.

Serif / Sans Serif Typeface

Split Complementay Colours

Split complementary colours



Split complementary coloursSplit complementary colours combine hot and cool colours to create vibrancy and energy.

As with actual complementary colours, be aware that sometimes a visual ‘vibrating’ effect can occur between these colours – if this is a problem, try lightening  or darkening the hue to sort it out.

To generate this pallet, start with a main colour of your choice, and then combine it with the two colours on either side of it, the complementary colours indicated in the diagram on the right.

Split Complementary coloursEg. Violet + Yellow-orange + Yellow Green

or Red + Yellow Green + Blue-green


Square Colours

Square colours



Colour Wheel - Square ColoursSquare Colours  are a group of four colours from the colour wheel that comprise any four pairs of colours, as shown in the diagram.

Square colours can be jarring if used together at full saturation, but if used skilfully, e.g., by adjusting  the saturation of the colours or adding black and/or white to the colour scheme, they can be very effective indeed.

Eg. Orange + Red-Violet + Blue + Yellow-Green

or Red + Blue-Violet + Green + Yellow-Orange etc.

Related Terms:

Square ColoursPrimary colours, Secondary colours, Complementary colours, Saturation, Colour scheme, Analagous colour, Tertiary colours, Triadic colours, Saturation, Value.

SVG - Scalable Vector Graphics

SVG Scalable Vector Graphics



SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics and it is obvious to see why it is preferred by professional graphic designers. Well, obvious to us so I’ll explain!

Vector graphics stay smooth however much you increase or decrease the size of the artwork.  This means a logo or graphic designed for a business card can be scaled up with no loss of quality to appear on a 7ft banner and can also be used on the web.

The diagrams below show up close the difference between state of the art vector graphics and old style bitmap graphics, which need to be redrawn for each size and application.

Related Terms: Bitmap Graphics, Vector Graphics, Raster Images, Photos.

Vector vs BitmapVector vs bitmap



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