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The Urban Dictionary Of Design Slang

Here are all the designer terms you need to know, as well as quite a few most designers would love to never hear again.

Joining the ranks of any profession is the same as committing yourself to learning an entirely new language, most of which is frankly gibberish. (TPS reports, anyone?) Design is no exception. So we asked some of our friends at design firms—including Pentagram, Ammunition, Huge, Ziba, Pensole, Google Ventures, Sagmeister & Walsh, and more—to define their favorite examples of design slang and jargon. The answers we received range from serious to tongue-in-cheek, but if you've ever been puzzled by a designer telling you he needed to "ideate a more approachable FTUX" or "add more value to that horsey megamenu," this resource should help you translate.

We've updated the post below to contain a few more definitions, and we will continue to update this story with new definitions supplied by our readers: just leave a comment or Tweet at @FastCoDesign with the hashtag #DesignJargon to get your entry added. Let us know if we missed anything!

2x2 n. The design world’s favorite visualization of strategy. Typical axis labels include "high cost/low cost" "emotional/rational" "mild/wild" (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

A

A bunch of numpties n. A group of idiots. Can also be used to refer to placeholder elements on a page that have zero UX thinking behind them. (Source: Kate Proulx, Huge)

A magnet that acquires meaning n. A design that gets recognized over times, and becomes associated with people's experiences. For example, your first MP3 player. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Above the fold adj. "This term is about whatever content can be seen on a web page before the user starts to scroll. It originates from the print industry, where above the fold meant the top half of a front page on a folded newspaper. This term is disliked by many designers I know (myself included) because we know that although first impressions are very important, users will inevitably scroll down a page to see the remainder of the content. Also, the "fold" in digital is different depending on what device the user is on, so designing with a specific size in mind will actually do more harm than good." (Source: Natalie Be'er, Huge)

Add more value v. Something a client requests when a project is already overbudget. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Align v. To have a meeting with your boss, client, or team, especially if someone's thoughts are going off the rails. (Source: Regina Rose, comments)

Approachable adj. Something super boring. (Source: Jesse Reed, Pentagram)

ASAP  adv. "This acronym really irritates the shit out of me, so I believe it means this: As Slow As Possible. Otherwise, why not give me a fucking date?" (Source: Eddie Opara, Pentagram)

Authentic adj. Something fabricated to feel like it was not fabricated. (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba)

Authoritative adj. An antonym for friendly. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

B

Belt-and-suspenders n. Typographic redundancy such as making text both bold and italic. (Source: Lisa Rosowky, comments)

Big data n. A number, table, chart, or database that may be very large or very small, but is dependably very impressive. (Source: Alex Geller, Fathom)

Brainstorm session n. "We'll get together and sell you our ideas in a casual group forum." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Busy adj. A blanket term for an unclear visual hierarchy, usually due to multiple factors such as too many different styles and/or unclear grids. (Source: Julie Meridian, comments)

C

Celebrate v. In sneaker design, a way to say: "Make it look like the old shoe." (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Charrette n. Because designers don't sound pretentious enough already, so let's throw in a French word. (Source: Jake Knapp, Google Ventures)

Classic adj. A politically correct way of saying 'boring.' (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Clean adj. Example: I want a design that looks clean. Undefinable. No one exactly knows what this means. (Source: Mark Kawano, Storehouse); Smooth and uninterrupted design. The visible elements are functional, not embellished. Easy on the eyes. (Source: @SoftGoodsJess on Twitter)

Create an experience v. Design a banner ad you can click on. (Source: @Maitexf on Twitter

CMS abbrev. Clients May Suffer (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

CMYK abbrev. Can’t Match Your Kolors (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

Collaboration n. A project combining the inputs of multiple people. Frequently used in place of the traditional "client/consultant" or "employee/employer" title. Collaborator is seen as a more valuable relationship working as peers. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Collaborative adj. Working with your partners, instead of just telling them what to do. (Source: Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt)

Collaborative process n. Client would like to make the decision. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Commercial adj. Something that works now, rather than when the product will actually come to market (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Contemporary adj. A solution that is fresh and appropriate to the current marketplace. A classy, slightly longer-term version of trendy. The opposite of retro. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Content n. What used to be called "writing." (Source: Carl Alviani, Ziba)

Contrast n. As in "needs more contrast." Make the big things bigger, the dark things darker, and the colorful things more colorful. But don't change it! (Source: 12stringmonkey)

Cool adj. An adjective used to describe any color associated with blue. (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Craft n. Using EPS and TIFF files in a page layout instead of just chucking random file formats into it.

Creating an experience v. Designing a banner ad you can click on. (Source: Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister & Walsh)

Crisp adj. A design with tight edges and materials. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Critical Path n. The most important things you need to pay attention to in a design. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

CSS abbrev. Create Slither Slather (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

D

Data ink ratio n. If your information design were a car, this would be its miles per gallon rating (Source: Brian James, Fathom)

Decorative adj. A four-letter word. (Source: Sagi Haviv, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv)

Design research n. See: research. Adding the word "design" in front makes your focus groups seem less like total bullshit. (Source: Nate Bolt, Ethnio)

Design thinking n. Just a fancier word for brainstorming. See also: ideating. (Source: Mark Kawano, Storehouse); Gluing innovation and collaboration together with some common sense and some flash cards. (Source: Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt)

Disruptive adj. A design that both changes the market and simultaneously references what currently exists. No one likes it. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole); Break some rules until we realize we can't really break any rules. (Source: Paul O'Connor, Ziba)

Do a walkthrough idiom. Translation: try to stay awake. (Shawn Harrington, comments)

Document the shit out of it idiom. Take pictures from a million angles and post-process the images to make it look 5 times cooler than it actually is. (Source: Vidhyamohankumar, comments)

Do whatever you want idiom Translation: I don't have time and I don't know what I want. You work the whole thing up and I'll tell you what I don't like later. Which will be everything. (Source: Monette B. Velasco, comments)

DPI abbrev. Ducks Per Inca (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

E

Ephemera n. A fancy word for printed material that has a short life span. Usually posters, brochures, or invitations. (Source: James Grady, Fathom)

EPS abbrev. Especially Pleasing Standard (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

Evolve the brand idiom. A polite way of saying, "Your logo sucks." (Source: Greg Osborne, comments)

Executive review n. An overly simplified presentation of actual work. (Source: nitishq on Twitter)

Experience n. The gestalt of a complete solution that considers the solution of a core product as well as all the surrounding context like packaging, messaging, and customer journey. Most designers see themselves as responsible for a consistent positive experience with a product or brand rather than resolving just the core product. Also called UX. Few designers would not see "experience" as their expertise. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Exploring notions of typographic instability v. "I'm putting the outlines of several different typefaces on top of each other." (Source: Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister & Walsh)

F

Familiar adj. A term non-designers use to say they like something. See also: progressive. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Faster adj. Put more shit on a design. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Feature creep n. When a client requests more deliverables with the expectation of no additional cost after a project is bid and underway. (Source: Linda Cobb, Bumpercrop Studio)

Feminine adj. Anything tasteful. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Fit and finish n. Use this phrase to make it seem like you embody Apple's design principles. (Source: Nate Bolt, Ethnio)

Flat adj. Ugly. (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba)

FPO adj. An acronym technically meaning "For position (or placement) only." What it really means: stock photography sucks, please let us actually shoot this. (Source: Colin Murphy, Huge) abbrev. Fake Pictorial Offering (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

Framework n. "A diagram that proves I am right." (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba)

Frankensteining v. (1) The combination of the best parts of multiple independent concepts into a single uber-concept. Beware this siren song. The sum is rarely greater than the parts. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Fresh adj. A synonym for something that feels new. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

FTP abbrev. fast-ish transcommunication portal (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

FTUX n. A vaguely profane sounding acronym meaning "First Time User Experience." See also: NUX. (Source: Mark Kawano, Storehouse)

G

Gating item n. Something that prevents a design from going to market. Example: "We don't want packaging to be the gating item." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Give them a finger idiom. Intentionally placing a glaring mistake (e.g., typo in headline) so the client points their finger at that mistake, rather than pointing their finger at something more fundamental. (Source: Joel Emmett, comments)

Greek n. Copy that is meant as a placeholder, and represents approximately one third of what marketing and legal will actually try to fit in that space. (Source: Martin Massinger, comments)

Grilled cheese n. A menu icon represented by two stacked lines. (Source: Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt)

GSP idiom. Acronym for "get shit paid." (Source: Nyuudo on Twitter)

Guerilla adj. Typically paired with "research," guerilla can refer to any process that is done quickly or without a completely rigorous process. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Guidelines n. Telling a client exactly what to do—forever. (Source: Sagi Haviv, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv)

H

Hack v. A quick and dirty approach to problem-solving. To hack is to be a free-thinker and unafraid to break rules in search of the right answer. The cool new version of prototyping is hacking. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Hamburger n. A menu icon represented by three stacked lines. (Source: Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt)

Heuristics n. To use your gut instinct to solve the problem instead of research. An educated guess that is most often right. (Source: James Sposto, comments)

Holistic approach n. Translation: "Let us do everything for you, we need the money." (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Honking adj. Ugly. Synonym of 'horsey', just more fun to say. (Source: Julie Bunnick, comments); Too big in general. (Source: Normalcod, comments)

Honking in the tunnel idiom. The escalation that happens once more than one area of a design needs emphasis. This can happen with weight (many pieces of text becoming bold), size (everything is large), and color (everything becomes a different color). (Source: Julie Meridian, comments)

Horsey adj. Ugly. See also: honking. (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba); Too big or ungainly for the space it's in. (Source: Norcalmod, commnets)

I

Iconic adj. You know you should like it. Even though you don't. (Source: Dave MacDonald, comments)

I showed this to my (wife / husband / other)… phrase. "I don't like the concept, but would rather attribute the criticism to someone else." (Source: Todd Greco, Ziba)

Ideating v. Another fancy word for brainstorming. See also: design thinking. (Source: Mark Kawano, Storehouse)

Ideation n. "Give me time to think about stuff." (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Immersive experience - n. Low hanging fruits on the design tree that sound impressive. See also: multi-sensorial touchpoints. (Source: derjo_de on Twitter)

In progress idiom. "This means that we either don't like a design yet, or there are things wrong with it we haven't figured out yet." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group); "We have nothing to show you, because we haven't started working on your project yet." (Source: Charles Samuels, comments)

In real time idiom. A solution that is developed on the fly without prior planning. This has a more positive connotation than saying "unprepared." (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Industrial chic adj. Unknown. Something made by wealthy artisans? (Source: Jesse Reed, Pentagram)

Infographic n. The same information that's in the text, but in a different font and with a lot more pictures. (Source: Carl Alviani, Ziba)

Innovation n. Not doing things in the same top-down bureaucratic way as you were doing them before. (Source: Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt)

Insight n. Translation: what came up when I Googled "trend" plus the name of your industry. Source: mrBallistic on Twitter)

Internal review n. "We need to see what we've actually done so far." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Intuitive adj. The "ideal" product interaction. Based on the assumption that there are built in instincts in all human beings that provide the keys to a product experience that is easy and enjoyable. Examples of intuitive interactions are often in fact just familiar. What may be intuitive to one person (based on his/her experience) may be counter-intuitive to another person. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Invitational adj. A synonym for friendly. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Iterate v. "Try another version, please." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

M

Magical interaction n. Any design with magnets. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Makai target consumer n. A nebulous, imaginary consumer who can be retrofitted to support anything it is that I'm saying at any given moment. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Make it look like Apple v. "We have no idea what we want." (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba)

Make it quick v. Find some designs that look good and copy-and-paste them together. (Source: Gabriella Potsa, comments)

Make it sexy v. "We have no idea what we want." (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba)

Marketer n. "A term I was once called trying to push through a bus shelter ad with very witty copy." (Source: Jesse Reed, Pentagram)

Masculine adj. Any design with straight lines and angles. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Megamenu n. A dropdown menu with a ton of content. (Source: Deroy Peraza, Hyperakt)

Merch together v. Make it all the same color. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

MLG n Acronym for "Make it look good." Chiefly used in design adaptation, the practice of ignoring established brand guidelines in the interest of aesthetics. See also: "Make Logo Bigger" (Source: Jim Teal, comments)

Modern adj. Something that looks good, but your client doesn't know what it is. (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge); Looks like an iPod. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Multi-channel adj. An obsolete term people use when they mean "multi-device" instead. (Source: Kate Proulx, Huge)

Multi-sensorial touchpoints n. Low hanging fruits on the design tree that sound impressive. See also: immersive experience. (Source: derjo_de on Twitter)

N

New material n. "We're still trying to find a spot for that uber-cool but expensive ceramic we saw once." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Not fully resolved adj. "We're probably going in the wrong direction." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

NUX n. A vaguely profane sounding acronym meaning "New User Experience." See also: FTUX. (Source: Mark Kawano, Storehouse)

O

On-trend adj. A back-handed compliment similar to fast follower. Applying proven ideas rather than pushing forward. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

P

Pain points n. Things that will be difficult for people. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Parallel path n. "There's a difference in opinion. May fate shine on the winner in terms of schedule and budget." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Partner n. Term that the client likes to refer to you as before they change direction on a project and, in their minds, not incur a scope change. (Source: Dave, comments)

Pivot v. Where a client spins around and becomes something else, like a ballerina! (Source: Eddie Opara, Pentagram)

Pop of color n. Literally anything that has color when other things don't. (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Problem set n. "The things you already asked us to work on." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Progressive adj. An adjective designers use to say they like something. See also: familiar. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Q

qualitative research n. "We only had time to interview four users." (Source: mrBallistic on Twitter)

quantitative research n. The infinite monkey theorem in practice. (Source: mrBallistic on Twitter)

R

Rag n. The edge of the text that no one but designers cares about. (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Rapid prototyping n. Quickly verifying an idea rather than assuming you are right, typically using a 3-D printer and Arduino. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Relevance n. The appeal of a solution to a particular user group. Companies find it especially difficult to maintain cultural relevance as technologies change. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Research n. Something you should do, even though nobody will listen. (Source: Nate Bolt, Ethnio)

RFP abbrev. Royal Frakking Pain (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

Robust solution n. "We think it will work." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Rub a lamp n. A slightly tactful response to a completely unnecessary, unwieldy, and unrealistic request; usually by someone with the least amount of actual design knowledge in the room. (Source: Phil Balsman, comments)

S

SEO abbrev. Seemingly Easy Observations (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

Shaping someone's understanding v. Design that conveys to the audience the underlying strategy or message. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Sleek adj. The generic term for things that feel cool, modern, and or "designy." Frequently heard in focus groups as a positive. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Slow consumer n. Someone who doesn't know what's cool. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Slower adj. Put less shit on it. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Sustainability n. A wide-ranging term which captures all the philosophies on how to make responsible choices to protect our environment. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Synergize v. To take the worst elements of everyone's bad ideas and put them in a blender. (Source: 12stringmonkey, comments)

Synthesize v. "We're going to take what we heard you want, pick out the best stuff, and throw away the rest." (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

T

Take a meeting adj. Gather to listen to one or two people opine without providing any actual fresh direction. (Source: Deborah Budd in the comments)

Tasty adj. A term meaning 'attractive design' driven into the ground by yuppies in the late 70's and early 80's. (Source: Packgraphics in the comments)

Technical debt n. "I hacked this together to hit the deadline, and now we have to rebuilt it so it doesn't explode." (Source: mrBallistic on Twitter)

Thinking outside of the box v. What you did last year. (Source: Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister & Walsh)

Third read n. A solution that has been considered to a very high level of detail. The designer has considered elements that won’t be appreciated by the user until they look at the product for the third time. Interest in this level of solution is seen as a sign of craftsmanship. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Tight adj. Well-resolved. A design that features perfect detailing. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Timeless adj. A solution that will not be embarrassing in the future. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

TFB adj. Type is too fucking big. (Source: Lisa Rosowky, comments)

TFS adj. Type is too fucking small. (Source: Lisa Rosowsky, comments)

TK abbrev. Tomorrow Knight (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

TM n.The process of trademarking a new slogan, name, or other communication to express a new approach to design-based problem solving. This cliché captures the design industry’s thirst for invented words that describe innovative processes. The most desirable trademarked terms are mashups of two established concepts (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Too-pushed-on adj. Translation: you've gone too far. (Source: D'Wayne Edwards, Pensole)

Touchpoints n. Places in a design where something happens. (Source: Team, Ammunition Group)

Trendy adj. Typically, a dirty word in the design world, referring to a solution that appeals to the short-lasting whims of society. The opposite of timeless. See contemporary. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

U

Understated elegance n. Something overpriced without too much explanation. (Source: Jesse Reed, Pentagram)

Universal Design n. The search for solutions that appeal to humanity as a whole. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Unsophisticated. adj. Ugly. (Source: Chelsea Vandiver, Ziba)

Up-level v. To identify a more significant problem or opportunity beyond the original request. Up-leveling a conversation shows your ability to think big picture. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

Usability study n. "Get more numbers to convince the team and push obvious design solutions." (Source: @nitishq on Twitter)

USB abbrev. Usually Sorta Breaks (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

User advocate n. Most designers seek to represent the needs of a potential customer and provide a counterpoint to the myopic point of view that is common within large companies. Related to experience design. (Source: Dana Krieger, Minus-8)

UX abbrev. Undefined Expertise (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

V

Value Engineer v. A myopic corporate solution for re-drafting an approved concept, but instead design using cheap materials and shoddy fabrication. (Source: Donovan Design, comments)

Voice-controlled adj. Something that increases your budget by a factor of 10. (Source: Todd Greco, Ziba)

W

Warm adj. An adjective used to describe any color associated with red. (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

We need this tomorrow idiom. We forgot to tell you that the project started last week. (Source: Gabriella Potsa, comments)

White space n. Those blank areas. (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Widow n. When a lonely word is left on a line by itself. (Be nice! Give it a friend!) (Source: Katie Henderson, Huge)

Wireless adj. Something that increases your budget by a factor of three. (Source: Todd Greco, Ziba)

WIP abbrev. When I Procrastinate (Source: Bonnie Siegler, Eight And A Half)

Wordmark n. Not just a font. A special font. (Source: Sagi Haviv, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv)

Z

Zhuzhing adv. As in "needs more zhuzhing". Tiny little adjustments to make a design perfect. Creative Directors in fashion use this one. A lot. (Source: Mike West, comments)

What did we miss? Sound off in the comments or tweet at us (@FastCoDesign) using the hashtag #DesignJargon. (LAST UPDATE: January 23, 2015)