Using industry specific jargon without realising that it might be confusing for people is something we should all try to avoid. Here’s a quick guide to some basic design terms to help you understand our world.
Over the last three years our work with technology clients has meant we’ve had to get up to speed with all sorts of new concepts and terms like continuous integration, cloud native, microservices, DevOps, digital transformation, and quite literally, Anything-as-a-Service (AaaS).
In the process we’ve become aware that we’re also guilty of using terms that might not be all that obvious to people outside our design bubble. Here’s our quick introductory guide to basic design terminology. We hope it’s useful and informative!
Are these two things the same? What’s the difference?
Logos and brands are frequently confused and interchanged when people are talking about the visual identity of a company.
The logo is your emblem, your badge, your icon. It’s the Nike swoosh, the McDonald’s arches, the overlapping circles of Mastercard. These are logos, but they’re not brands. At least, not on their own. The brand is a much broader concept that goes beyond design to include what you stand for, your company values, and the tone of voice you use to communicate with your customers.
For example, as part of your brand you may also have a tagline that accompanies your logo.
• Just Do It.
• I’m Lovin’ it.
• For everything else, there’s Mastercard.
These are taglines that accompany those famous logos as part of their overall brand identities. Once you have an image and a message you’re on the road to having some sort of brand.
In the creative process, when we’re creating a brand from scratch, we’ll start with the logo and build the brand out from there. The logo is the point of origin to which everything else refers back to. It’s the gravitational centre of the brand - everything else revolves in orbit around it.
So, when we talk about logos we’re referencing only the swoosh, the arches, the overlapping circles. When we talk about brands we’re discussing everything else that influences the way customers feel about your company. This means any experience a customer has of your company, right down to the smallest piece of brand merchandise.
Top tip! - don’t give away disposable merch with your name and logo on the side. You don’t want your brand associated with a bunch of cheap pens that run out of ink or break easily.
This one’s a little trickier. What’s the difference between a typeface and a font? These must be the same, right? Not exactly.
A typeface is a family of fonts. Examples of typeface include Calibri, Lato, Roboto, and everyone’s favourite, Comic Sans.
But each typeface will have many individual fonts in its family and these tell us how heavy or light the typeface is. For example, Calibri comes in bold, light, italic, etc. So,
An example of a typeface - Calibri.
An example of a font - Calibri Bold.
Nearly everyone confuses these terms. Even the google doc I’m using to write this post lists the available typefaces as “fonts.” Come on, Google, these are typefaces!
There are literally volumes upon volumes of books on colour theory, so I won’t pretend to cover all of it here. How we use colour is vitally important in our work and the question of colour theory has fascinated great minds throughout history - Leonardo Da Vinci, Newton, and Goethe were all intrigued by it. Let’s start with a basic colour wheel which Newton invented by mapping the colour spectrum into a circle.
Using the colour wheel we can make the following combinations.
Complementary: Complementary colours come from opposite sides of the wheel. The contrast makes them appear brighter and sharper in relation to each other. Blue and orange is a classic example that finds regular use in logos. Think Firefox, Gulf Oil, and Scotland’s favourite soft drink, Irn Bru.
Monochromatic: A monochrome combination takes 2 or 3 shades of the same colour from one area of the colour wheel. Think of how the PayPal logo relies on different shades of blue.
Triadic - Triadic colours are derived by taking three evenly spaced colours from the wheel to form a triangle. The Pittsburgh Steelers use triadic colours to form one of the most iconic logos in sports, and Burger King use the same aspect of colour theory in their logo. But the most famous triadic combination in the world surely belongs to Superman.
Tetratic - With a tetratic combination we’re taking 4 colours from the wheel at evenly spaced intervals. This provides a very bold explosion of colour that can be difficult to balance. Tetratic combinations work best with big brands who want to project dominance by making a powerful statement with the logo. Think of how software giants like Ebay, Google, and Microsoft all use tetratic colours to do just that.
And that’s some basic colour theory! Understanding how designers use colour will give you a good eye for design. It will also discourage you from asking your design team for a yellow and pink logo :)