Glossary of Design Terms

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. R
  18. S
  19. T
  20. U
  21. V
  22. W
  23. X

layers

In some applications (such as Photoshop and InDesign), a level to which you can consign an element of the design you are working on. These layers can be used to better organize the file or to blend elements together.

leading

Also called linespacing. The amount of vertical space between lines of type. The term leading comes from the thin strips of lead placed between lines of text to add vertical space to fill pages in metal type printing presses. To this day, increasing leading is referred to as adding lead. Most software programs auto-set leading by default to a 1:1.2 (120%) ratio, which fits nicely at 10pt type with 12pt leading, but starts to use fractional points on different sizes (11/13.2).

letterform

The graphic form of a letter of the alphabet, either as written or in a particular type font. Our alphabet is made up of twenty-six distinct symbols that represent thousands of years of evolution. As a designer, you can modify, simplify, or embellish the forms, but you cannot change the basic shapes without weakening communication.

letterspacing

The space between characters in a line of type. Letterspacing can be overall or selective. In overall letterspacing, also called tracking, all the letters are affected; in selective letterspacing, more commonly referred to as kerning, only certain letter combinations are affected, such as AT, AV, Te, Yo, LY, etc. The amount of kerning required will depend on a number of factors, such as the specific letter combinations, the typeface, and overall letterspacing. While kerning is now done automatically by typesetting and layout software, with metal type, adding space between letters and words was accomplished mechanically by inserting pieces of metal between the type. This spacing material, being lower than the type itself, did not come in contact with the paper and therefore did not print. For letterspacing, most fonts had spaces of 1 point (made of brass), which could be used singly or in groups. Other spaces were even thinner: 1/2 point (copper) and 1/4 point (stainless steel). There were even letterspaces made of paper, which is how fine adjustments were made. See illustration under tracking.

ligatures

A set of two or more characters designed together. Ligatures were widely used in metal-type printing presses, created by carving the character set into a single block. They are used to help solve spacing problems where certain letter pairs are uncomfortably close or crash. With the advent of computer typesetting, ligatures fell out of use until recently, where many fonts now include a large selection of ligatures. By using ligatures, the text is more legible and has a better flow for the reader. However, some ligatures can look like entirely different characters, creating a potential confusion for the reader. Examples of ligatures include: ff, fi, Th and st.

light face

Also referred to simply as light. A light (thin) version of the regular typeface. An extremely light version is referred to as thin.

living hinge

A thin flexible hinge made from plastic that joins two rigid plastic parts together, allowing them to bend along the line of the hinge. It is typically manufactured in an injection molding operation that creates all three parts at one time as a single part and if correctly designed and constructed, it can remain functional over the life of the part. This compares with a mechanical hinge.

logotype

Also called logo. Traditionally, this referred to one or more type characters which were joined together in a single metal body for use as a trademark or company signature. The term is now used to describe any design or symbol, such as a pictogram, which forms the centerpiece of a corporation’s or organization’s corporate identity.

lookie

A coined term for a soft copy file saved for the purpose of review. A lookie is usually a jpg or PDF and is saved in a shared network location where another person can open it and look at it. While a lookie can be saved at any time while putting together the design, it is usually done when a design is completed and before a proof is printed.

lowercase

Also called small letters or minuscules. The smaller letters in a font as distinct from the capitals (this versus THIS). The term originates from the days of metal cast type, where the capital letters were stored in a top case (drawer) and the small letters were stored in a bottom case—consequently the letters themselves were referred to as “uppercase letters” and “lowercase letters”. See uppercase.

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