Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Design Language: Match Customer Design Slang To Proper Information Design Terms

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Communicating clearly aesthetic concepts and ideas that relate to visual design is most often a much underestimated task. Take design presentation meetings in which you, the designer, are expected to showcase your visual proposal and ideas. Do you and your clients talk the same design language?

Photo credit: Marcin Balcerzak

More often than not clients talk in simple, colorful, non-academic terms which immediately convey to non-expert a "feel" or "characteristic" of the design that they want changed. If you are not used to talk and interact with design customers, it may be best to standardize your visual communication language with one that they also understand and identify with.

Forcing your clients to talk about design components the way you do maybe the hardest way to do this. But if instead you are willing to tune into your client design slang while finding the appropriate matching terms in your own information design vocabulary, you may have gone a long way in facilitating true understanding of your customer needs and desired solutions... which in many cases, is your key to executing a great job.

Joshua Porter has a fascinating short post that exemplifies such design situations and provides a great way to look at what some of those client terms really mean. The revelation here is not in appropriately matching client slang to academic design terms but to have the wit of being as humble as needed in becoming aware of these instead of classifying client's request has superficial and ignorant requests. Once you dress them, in your silent listening mind with the proper terms, you will have too a different appreciation of their design needs.


Intro by Robin Good

Photo credit: Diana Lundin

What it means when a client says "Pop"

by Joshua Porter

I was in a meeting the other day when someone said: "I think we need to make the logo bigger. It needs to pop". I looked askance...pop?

What on Earth does "pop" mean?

Does it mean that you literally hear a noise when you look at it? Probably not. Does it mean that the logo actually animates a popping action when its loaded? Again, probably not. These two common meanings of the word, I daresay the most common, are not what the person meant.

Balloon Popping

Non-designers use lots of interesting words when talking about design. They say things like "make it pop", "it looks sharp", "it feels cluttered", "the Web 2.0 look". All of these things mean something to them, and it becomes the job of the designer to decipher that meaning and take actionable steps.

This problem isn't limited to non-designers.

Everybody has their own way of talking about design. Designers are just more used to translating between one person's way of talking and another's.

I've come to rely on two design terms that really help in these situations.

One term is visual weight, which means how strongly something draws our eye toward it.

If a design element is so bold and stands out so well that we can't help but look at it, it has strong visual weight. In the case of "pop", the person was asking for more visual weight, not a small explosion.

The second term is visual hierarchy.

This means the order in which our eyes are drawn to objects on a page. In a solid design there is a clear visual hierarchy that focuses attention on the right elements and therefore the right message. In a weak design there is no clear hierarchy, so the message is potentially different for everyone and becomes weaker as a result.

If one is to use these terms with clients (as in my case), I have to use them consistently. Every time I use them I must ground what I'm saying to something they can immediately perceive in the design.

Showing them good examples of a strong visual hierarchy is an easy way to do this. In many cases they begin to use the same terms after I've used them. Most people like using shared terms.

I try very hard to stay away from the teacher/student role. I hate the notion that the designer needs to "educate" the client. When these roles are demarcated it often happens that the teacher becomes the teacher in all parts of the relationship in an effort to satisfy and maintain the role. But, while I may be doing design work, I'm the student when it comes to learning about how they do business. I need to be a student of their strategy if I am to translate it into actionable design.

Instead, I like a partnership role. I may talk about design topics that they aren't familiar with, and they might talk to me about how their business works. In many cases I discover really important information that I wouldn't have found out about if I wasn't in a partnership mode.

I've figured out by now that when people say "it feels cluttered" what they are really talking about is visual hierarchy.

When they say "pop", they are referring to visual weight.

When they say "Web 2.0″, they are talking about designing with larger, sans-serif fonts, rounded corners, and bright colors: a relatively common style now. And when they say "sharp", it means they find the design harmonious.

So the next time you hear someone say "make it pop", don't think of the loud sound of balloons popping, think of how you can translate that into concrete design terms and a shared vocabulary.

Example of visual hierarchy - the front girl "pops" - Photo credit: Yuri Arcors

This article was originally published by Joshua Porter on Bokardo and titled "What it means when a client says "Pop"" on September 5th 2007.

About the author
Joshua Porter is a well-known information designer and a witty design analyst. You can follow his wanderings via Twitter, find out his preferences with Delicious, and find more about who he is in touch with via Facebook. Or you can read some of his great articles directly at

Joshua Porter -
Reference: Bokardo [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, September 6 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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