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Coming to Terms with Web Design: A Glossary

Web designers talk about webpages in words that can leave your typical non-techie non-designer baffled in two ways at once. It’s one thing to talk about CSS queries, and another to talk about the difference between analogous and complimentary color schemes — but when you mix both of those into one sentence, people’s eyes start to cross. Here’s a little bit of a primer in ‘web design speak’ for any of you who need help understanding your web guy:

Analogous Colors: The colors that lie to either side of the color you’re currently discussing on a color wheel. On the basic, six-panel wheel, for example, red and yellow are analogous to orange.

Ascender: In fonts, the part of any letter that goes above the midline of the letters’ space.

Baseline: In fonts, the invisible line upon which letters rest.

Cap-height: In fonts, the distance between the baseline and the top of a standard capital letter.

CMYK: The four-color scheme used to define colors as produced by a printer. Stands for ‘Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-blacK.’

Complimentary Color: The color that lies opposite the color you’re currently discussing on the color wheel. On a basic, six-panel wheel, for example, blue is complimentary to orange.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheet): A document of code that defines the style of the website, separately from the content of the website.

Descender: In fonts, the part of any letter that goes below the baseline.

Drop Shadow: In fonts, a shadow that sits ‘underneath’ the letter.

Fold, the: The bottom edge of the screen; used to define what part of a webpage a visitor will be able to see without having to scroll.

Grid: The (often purely mental) set of horizontal and vertical lines used to align elements of a webpage.

Hex Code: A way of indicating a specific color in HTML and CSS.

HTML: HyperText Markup Language — the fundamental language that websites are written in. Can define the content and the style of a website, though most modern websites restrict the style to the CSS, and use the HTML to define the content.

Hue: Of a color, what a layperson would call ‘the color.’  For example, ‘orange’ and ‘indigo’ are hues.

Kerning: In fonts, the space between each letter.

Leading: In fonts, the space between each line of text.

Midline: In fonts, the line at which the tops of most lowercase letters (the ones without ascenders) stop.

Orphan: A design element that appears to exist without the appropriate context. Often in a context such as “that paragraph is mostly beneath the fold, and it makes that first line look like an orphan.” See widow.

RGB: The three-color scheme used to define colors as produced by a computer screen. Stands for “Red-Green-Blue.”

Saturation: Of a color, the intensity or brightness of a color.

Serif: Of a font, the small ‘feet’ that appear, usually at the end of ascenders and descenders.

Shade: Of a color, the amount of black mixed in with the hue.

Stem: Of a font, the primary vertical stroke of the letter. For example, the only vertical line in the letter ‘B.’  Some letters (S, C) have no stems, and just to be contrary ‘V’ has two stems, but ‘M’ also has only two stems despite the fact that the ‘V’ in between those two stems is the same as the ‘V’ that itself has two stems.

Tint: Of a color, the amount of white mixed in with the hue.

Triadic Colors: Three colors on a color wheel that form an equilateral triangle. On a standard six-panel color wheel, for example, Red-Yellow-Blue is a Triadic set of colors. Often, Triadic color combinations are thought to make the best palettes for coloring a webpage.

Typeface: Another word for ‘font.’

Value: Of a color, a number that, in certain schema, describes the tint or shade of that color.

Visual Hierarchy: The way in which a website is built to guide your eye from one element to another in a manner the brain finds reasonable.

Widow: The opposite of an orphan, a ‘widowed’ element is one that doesn’t quite fit within the space allotted — the part of the element that spills over is the ‘widow.’

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