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Design involves a special kind of communication.
First, creators must have an idea or concept in mind. Second, they need to articulate their ideas in ways graphic designers can bring to life on a page. This requires a common language, and sometimes graphic designers are known for having a vocabulary all their own.
If you’re working on a design concept, knowing the right terminology will help you communicate to produce the results you envision.
Here are some design adjectives that can help you articulate the concepts you’d like to see in your next print project:
Cool vs. Warm
On the color wheel, warm colors range from yellow to red-purple.
Those colors that are reminiscent of fire or the sun are called warm colors. These hues are reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks. Warm colors communicate energy, playfulness, happiness, sociability, and optimism.
Cool colors include blue, greens, and purple. These colors typically stand for sky, space, water, and nature, and communicate a calming or relaxing tone. Cool colors imply dependability, trust, growth, beauty, confidence, and power.
Minimalist vs. Maximalist
Minimalism is a style or technique that is characterized by cleanness, simplicity, and expressing the most essential ideas.
Minimalist designs use a small number of colors, simple lines, flat designs, or plenty of negative space.
Maximalist or baroque designs are lavish, highly decorative, or triumphant (think ornate wedding invitations). Minimalist designs are sparse and clean, while maximalist designs are exotic or busy.
Feminine vs. Masculine
Feminine designs are usually characterized by details such as soft color palettes, florals, and cursive writing. They may employ fluid, flowing fonts, pastel colors, facial close-ups or silhouettes, or feminine associations such as love, curves, fashion, or beauty.
Masculine designs are typically more rugged, monochromatic, or modern (think IKEA kitchen layouts). They may feature gritty images, thick fonts, hard edges, and darker color schemes.
Playful vs. Professional
Playful design styles are fun, giving an informal (rather than rigid) vibe.
Playful tones may be colorful, fantastical, non-realistic, or cartoon/caricature focused. Often these concepts focus around animals, mascots, illustrations, and impish font pairings.
Professional designs are usually characterized by muted colors and minimal details that represent conservative ideas. Formal tones are communicated with straight, classic font types, simple shapes or objects, minimalist and geometric use of line art, and cool colors (think college diplomas).
Abstract vs. Literal
Abstract designs shape images that are unhindered by what these objects might actually look in real life.
Abstract designs (like this Starbucks water bottle) are imaginative and varied, including ambiguous shapes, contemporary color palettes, curves and splatters, geometric patterns, or blurred images. Abstract art utilizes pure colors, shapes, and forms to express meaning (without getting bogged down in the storylines carried by objects and scenery). Abstract art can touch the emotions in a raw and powerfully direct way.
Literal designs are just the opposite, with concrete, objective ideas. Literal designs use sharp images, bold and simple fonts, and clearly defined limits.
Vintage vs. Modern
Vintage or retro (short for “retrospective”) is a style derived from trends of the recent past.
These designs incorporate rustic, nostalgic elements, including visual clues such as old letterpress, hand-drawn typefaces, ornate ribbons, sepia-filtered photos.
Modern designs are just the opposite, often changing in style. In 2019, modern graphic design trends include 3D design and typography, duotones and gradients, warm or moody color palettes for photos, and asymmetrical layouts.
One of the easiest ways to have a better client-designer working relationship is to align your project’s design style. Use this guide to get you started as a handy reference to communicate your ideas from start to print!