Deconstructing the language of design

Acronyms and technology are barrier islands between most of us and the tools we need to use and understand to promote, manage and run our businesses.


So, here are some basics to help you communicate in the language of the designer.

  • Icons. An icon is a small image that represents something else. Ideally, it should be very clear so there is no guesswork on the part of the viewer about what they are looking at. Icons - like the ubiquitous man/woman bathroom signs - may be used to overcome language barriers and appear in all manner of sizes. In the online/digital word, icons are often much smaller and designed to be a call to action. When you see an envelope symbol, you just know that is the link to use to send an email.
  • Favicons. A variation on the icon theme designed for today's social media marketplace. These are 16X16 pixel images that represent a company or an individual online. Favicons are used on websites (the image that appears in the browser tab alongside the name of the site), on Twitter/Facebook and other sites and in situations where it's not possible to run your full logo. A favicon can be a reduced version of your logo or a specially designed alternative version. If you intend to have a significant online or social media presence, you should ask your designer to create a favicon since not all logos will lend themselves to reduce or crop to this size.
  • Pixel? What's a pixel? Take a photograph. Get a magnifying glass. Look very closely at the photo and you will see it is made up of millions of tiny squares. Each square is a pixel, which is the smallest unit of a picture. Each pixel has its own grid coordinates on the image. Step back and the pixels visually join together to create the overall image - or in the vernacular - a pix. 
  • Resolution roulette. I - or someone with an advanced degree in printing technology - could go on forever on dpi (dots per inch) vs ppi (pixels per inch) and how each is used. But here's what 99 percent of us need to know:
    • The higher the resolution the more detail in the image.
    • High resolution is only as good as your ability to see it.
    • Computer monitors - it doesn't matter how much you spend on them - display images at 72 dpi. 
    • Magazine quality printing is 300 dpi or better. 
    • Higher quality images are larger, take up more space and take up more time to load. So unless you are printing a magazine, you want your images to have a resolution of 72 dpi if they are being viewed on a webpage.
  • Understanding color: RGB, CYMK, HSL, Pantone, oh my! There are different color processes for different types of printing. The desired color is created by either adding or subtracting colors at certain percentages. Different types of printing utilizing different inking and color systems and thus require photos and graphics that are created using the right color process.

    For example, newspaper offset printing is a four-color process known as CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black), colors on web pages are represented by hexadecimal codes created by an RGB process (Red Green Blue), and many high end printers match colors using the Pantone Color Matching System which uses a patented process of base inks with a precise color matching to reproduce just about any color that the eye can see.

    Why does this matter? Because there is no such thing as RED. There are hundreds of reds. And if your logo uses Pantone 185 (232 Red/17 Green/45 Blue), it will not match up with Pantone 187 (175 Red/10 Green/45 Blue).

    Make sure you ask your designer to provide you with the color values for all the colors used in your logo and any alternate color palette that's developed for you. Only with that information can you guarantee a proper reproduction of your logo and your brand every time.

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Have questions about your logo or branding? We'd love to talk with you. Email us at design@portfoliosc.com.