8 Graphic Designs Terms to Know Before You Start Training

Considering starting graphic design training this year? Think you've already got a pretty solid grasp of basic design terms and concepts?

Let's test that, shall we? In this post, we'll walk you through 8 terms you should be familiar with before you start graphic design school.

Think of it as a mini-preview of what you'll cover in class—the skills and knowledge you'll build during your 10 month diploma.

Get comfortable with these terms, and you'll be ready to talk the talk from day one.


1. Graphic Design

This seems like a fairly obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many people aren't entirely sure what this term includes. What exactly is considered "graphic design" these days?

There are a couple of definitions we really like. The first is from the Professional Association for Design:

"Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content...such as images, words, and graphics."

The second is from the Interaction Design Foundation, and gets right to the point:

"Graphic design is the craft of creating visual content to communicate messages."

We see graphic design everywhere—online, in print, on television and in film.  As these two definitions highlight, graphic design is all about communication....making people think, feel, and act a certain way through visual messaging.

graphic design trainingGraphic designers play with colour, symbols, and scale to create emotion and inspire action


2. Typeface & font

Is there a difference? Yes! A typeface is like an alphabet family—a group of letters, numbers, and symbols that share the same style. There are many, many kinds of typefaces.

The term font refers to how designers manipulate a particular typeface, by making it italic or bold, for example.

If you want to talk about the style of lettering you're using for a graphic design project, you'd use the term typeface. Want a visual? Check out these cool examples of creative typography, courtesy of Creative Market.

But to be honest, pretty much everyone (even designers) uses these terms interchangeably these days. As long as you can tell the difference between Helvetica, Arial, and Times New Roman, you'll do just fine.

Once you get into graphic design training, you can expect to spend quite a bit of time learning about typography. You'll study the evolution of type, categories of type, and how to use typography to enhance your designs.

graphic design trainingTypography has a huge impact on the look, feel, and message you communicate in your designs


3. Layout

Layout is one of the fundamentals of graphic design. It refers to how visual elements are arranged on a page (or screen). Think of it this way: you could have the most beautifully designed images and an amazing concept—but, if your layout is confusing, it's all lost on your audience.

Your first goal as a graphic designer is always to communicate clearly. Layout is key to achieving this goal.

In graphic design courses, you'll learn several techniques for mastering layout, including using a grid, following "the rule of thirds", and considering scale, contrast, and visual hierarchy (more on that one next).

graphic design trainingThe Rule of Thirds involves dividing a page into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, to find natural focal points in the middle (Source: CreativeBloq)


4. Visual Hierarchy

Take a look at this poster by designer, Rebecca Foster (courtesy of 99designs). What do you see first?

graphic design trainingThe word "cracking" practically leaps off your screen, right? You're witnessing the graphic design principle of hierarchy.

Designers want control over how their message is delivered. They use colour, placement, layout, and scale to help us know where to look first—and clarify what's being communicated.

Let's face it, with shrinking attention spans, you might only have a few seconds to grab your audience's attention—you've got to make sure the most important messages come across first.

Whether you're designing for a brochure, movie poster, app, or website, you'll always consider hierarchy when putting together your concept and finalizing your layout.


5. Colour Theory

You probably already know a thing or two about colour theory. For instance, most people have heard of primary and secondary colours, and seen a colour wheel at some point—probably back in elementary school.

graphic design trainingImage courtesy of canva.com

Designers have the job of figuring out how to combine and balance colours. They study the components of colour—hue, saturation, brightness—and how certain combinations impact the look, feel, and message of their design.

Are you looking for a high contrast, high intensity experience? Or does a peaceful, soothing colour palette make more sense for your design? How does colour influence our moods and behaviors?

What colours work best for web designs?

These are all topics you'll be exploring in graphic design training, where you'll learn the fundamentals of colour theory, and how to manage colour in Photoshop.


6. Vector VS Raster Images

You know how certain images get blurry or pixilated when enlarged? Those are called raster or bitmap graphics. They're made up of pixels, which can only be scaled up to a certain size before they lose quality. Common bitmap file formats are .jpg, .png, .gif, .bmp, and .tiff.

And then you have vector images. They're made up of lines or curves (known as vector paths), which are determined by mathematical equations.

You can enlarge them as much as you want, and they won't break down or lose quality. Common vector file formats are .svg, .cgm, .odg, .eps, and .xml.

graphic design trainingImage courtesy of vectr.com

By the time you finish graphic design training, you'll know how to produce and manipulate vector graphics in Adobe Illustrator—plus create complex animated vectors for your web designs.


7. White space

In graphic design, the space you leave untouched is just as important as the space you fill in.  Known as "white space" or "negative space", the untouched areas between elements is key for balancing layout, emphasizing certain objects, and ensuring your design is easy to read.

Cluttered, chaotic designs are harder to understand, and in contexts like web sites, could actually drive people away.

For designers, less is often more. Take a look at how Chanel uses white space to create a clean, impactful, easy to navigate website experience.

graphic design training

8. Visual Brand Identity

A big part of your job as a graphic designer is to help companies define a unique and memorable visual brand identity. This usually includes elements like their logo, business cards, website, brochure, advertisements, and product packaging—all of which must follow the same set of brand guidelines.

Brand guidelines include things like the colour palette, typography, and image styles to be used across all marketing materials. These elements should reflect the character and purpose of the company, as well as its target audiences.

Think of Apple. Their logo, white colour palette, and typography is instantly recognizable across the globe. Visual branding is key to building a presence and connecting with consumers, no matter what kind of business you're in.

After graphic design school, you could find yourself working at a marketing, advertising, or digital design agency, where you'd focus on producing branded materials, and helping new businesses come up with exciting visual branding strategies.


Now What? Learn More About Graphic Design Training...

Phew. That was a lot to take in. We could go on, but by now you've got a solid grounding in the graphic design concepts and terms you'll dive into in training.

Where some of these ideas already familiar? Others completely new?

It doesn't really matter where you're starting from. If you're passionate about design, and ready to learn, you'll do just fine.

Take the next step and figure out what's involved in earning your graphic design diploma. We're happy to talk with you about your needs and goals, and ensure this career path is your perfect fit.

Chat live with an Advisor right now, or click below to explore the Graphic Design program in greater detail.

Explore the Graphic Design Program at Herzing College Toronto


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