It's Fun to Stay at the CMYK: Design Terms to Know

September 11, 2017 Jayci Morrison



As insurance agents know, jargon can be useful when talking to other people in the industry. It allows you to talk shop with ease and get your point across fast. But what happens when someone from a different business sector uses their jargon with you?

Designers have an uncanny ability to do this. They’ll use jargon when commonplace words will do. Sometimes it’s intentional to help them look smart or better at their job. But mostly, it’s habit. (Designers don’t get out much).

So, I compiled a list of design jargon to help decode your next interaction with a designer. Whether you are redesigning your website or your agency’s logo, this guide should come in handy.


Serif, Sans Serif, Script

We start off with what some consider the hardest design challenge, and others the most fun. You be the judge. There are three types of fonts. Once you learn the differences, they’re hard to forget.

Serif – Letters with little feet

serif alphabet

The origin of the word is highly debated. All you need to know is if  letters have feet or little extensions, you’re working with a serif type. Serifs are the most formal of the three categories. They are usually used in law offices, doctor’s offices, and term papers.

Sans-Serif – Letters, sans feet

sans serif alphabet

Sans comes from the French word meaning without. Sans-serif fonts don’t have feet. Sans-serif types are more modern and have been more popular than serif fonts for some time now.

Script – Emulates handwriting

script alphabet

This type gained popularity recently because many designers see it as an even friendlier and more modern option than sans-serif. Script types also have a formal side. Formal script is often used in wedding invitation headings and in letterheads.



There are two categories of colors your designer can confuse you with: Modes and schemes. We’ll start with modes. A designer should never really bring up modes. Just in case you need a reference, here you go.

CMYK – Cyan, magenta, yellow, black

This is used for printing purposes. The K in CMYK stands for key. Key comes from printing press days when the key plate was the plate that printed the details in black ink. Now, we just use black.

RGB – Red, green, blue

This is the mode our computer monitors and TV screens run on. This is also how our eyes perceive the world. Think of a rainbow (ROYGBV) which is a visible light spectrum. The RGB mode is modeled after adding light spectrums together to make different colors.

PMS – Pantone matching system

This is a man-made standard color reproduction system so designers and printers can use the exact same color.

Now, for something your designer will and should ask your input for.


Color Schemes

Each of these terms can be explained in common English, but what’s the fun in that? The easiest way for me to explain these is to use a color wheel, so let’s begin!


monochromatic scale

Mono means one. The word comes from the Greek monochromes which means having one color. Pick a color, then add white or black to get different shades. That creates a monochromatic look.


color wheel

Using the color wheel, choose a color and put your middle finger on it. Place your pointer and ring fingers on the colors on either side of your middle finger. Those are analogous colors!


complementary color wheel

Put your finger on a color. Now draw a line straight across the center of the wheel to the opposite color. The two colors are very different, but complimentary.

Triadic or Tertiary

tertiary color wheel

Make a triangle with your two pointer fingers and thumbs. Put that triangle over the color wheel. The points of your triangle mark tertiary colors.

That was fun! Now, on to the most impressive jargon I could ever teach you. Your designer will be amazed that you know these terms.



There are two types of images that designers use: Raster and vector.


puppy raster image

Raster images are made of pixels, or tiny squares of measurement. Raster images cannot be resized because they will lose quality. As you enlarge or shrink them, they will eventually become blurry. Any image you’ve taken with your camera is a raster image.


vector image

These are images made up of points, lines, and curves. Vector images are scalable because they use a mathematic equation to condense or expand the points, lines, and curves. They won’t get blurry no matter the size. For example, your agency logo is likely a vector image.


Last, But Not Least

And finally, the commonly used (and sometimes misused) jargon in the design industry.


The easiest way to explain opacity is with transparency.

  • More opaque = Less transparent
  • Less opaque = More transparent            

White Space

I personally like to think of this as a design’s breathing room. It’s also known as negative space because white space isn’t always white. It’s almost always lacking content, though. White space can also give more impact to design elements, if used correctly.


Learning a new language can be daunting. But, top agencies know how important good design is to customer experience. And hopefully I’ve helped you decipher your designer’s next email.


If you’re tired of deciphering, let us do the work for you. We’d love to put our knowledge (jargon and all) to help you expand your business.

About the Author

Jayci Morrison

Jayci Morrison is a design and media specialist on ITC's Insurance Website Builder team. She's responsible for giving each website its distinctive look and then bringing that look to life. She also has a hand in creating AgencyBuzz email templates, ITC marketing collateral, and any other design needs the team has. When she's not staring at a computer screen, she can be found anywhere outdoors with her husband and their two dogs.

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