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Digital Design Glossary

Breaking down the boundaries – a beginner's guide to the most commonly-used digital design terms

Everyone knows how important digital design is, but it can feel quite an impenetrable world with a whole host of terms that sound familiar but you’re not quite sure what they mean. To help make sure you’re not left nodding along in the next meeting, hoping nobody asks you anything too specific, we’ve put together a glossary of some of the terms that crop up the most and what they mean in the simplest way possible. You’ll be laughing along at jokes about skeuomorphism in no time!

Coder, developer, programmer
These are all essentially terms for doing the same thing – writing computer software, and debugging existing software by checking code and fixing it, either working on one specific programme or working across multiple kinds of software.

CMS
This is the content management system (or “back end”) into which all content for a site, such as text, images and video, are placed and edited. These are used for all platforms, be it a blog, magazine, or an e-commerce site. In most cases, they mean that people who have no knowledge of coding can easily create and modify content.

UX
UX stands for “user experience”, so a UX designer takes care of the broader feel of a digital product, ensuring that it is easily navigable and usable. It involves taking into account how people use a product in both practical and emotional ways, looking at how easy it is to use, how fun it is and how efficient it is. Behind-the-scenes, this is achieved by using programmes including Photoshop, InVision, Fireworks and Sketch to create storyboards and wireframes.

UI
UI stands for User Interface, so the things that users see. The UI designer works on how the pages of digital products are laid out, aiming to ensure the programme or product looks great, and that the user can do what they want easily.

Skeuomorphic design
Falling out of favour rather a bit now, but skeuomorphic design is about creating a site that looks like something “real”; so using turning knobs or shadows to create a sense that a digital interface is familiar, or resembles something more organic, like wood (think Apple iOS).

Flat design
Now that digital platforms are familiar for most people, many designers are reverting to “flat” design - almost the opposite to skeuomorphic. This means no shadows, no 3D elements, no texture (like the Windows interface).

Interaction design (IxD)
This covers designing products including both hardware and software that people interact with computers to use. It cover a huge range of things, from art installations to iPad apps to kids’ games and NHS services. Interaction designers focus on behaviour, looking at how people react to the digital piece they’re working on.

Information architecture (IA)
This means how a website, app or other digital platform is structured, so it looks at things like how sites are labelled, its search function and its databases. Like building blocks-based architecture, its about the structure and the build, just in a digital way.

Experience architecture (XA)
This brings together the principles of interaction design and information architecture. Looking beyond the structure of where things are and where they lead on a platform, experience architecture covers how users navigate their way through a site: where they click, where that leads, and how easy it is to get where they need to be. Crucially, it looks at how a site, app etc can be as pleasurable to use as possible.

Responsive
Responsive design aims to create sites and other digital platforms that give an optimal viewing experience across all platforms. This usually means the layout adapts to the screen size, so a site that looks great on a desktop computer will also function in a way that is more friendly for devices when viewed on a mobile or tablet, with scrolling or panning that makes sense on that particular screen.

Wireframe
A website wireframe is a visual guide representing the framework of the site, allowing you to visualise the structure and function of the site. The wireframe will usually include the key elements of a page and where they sit (such as header, content objects and branding). It shows how elements such as side bars and navigation bars are grouped, as wells as headings and images. The functional and graphic elements are separated, allowing digital design teams to use the wireframe to look at how users will interact with the site.