Last month on Freelance Switch’s Freelance Freedom comic strip, N.C. Winters published a cartoon titled “Client Translation Monkey.”

Client Translation Monkey Comic Strip
Client Translation Monkey Cartoon from Freelance Freedom

It’s funny since it underscores the disconnect and language barrier between designers and their clients. The language barrier goes both ways: Designers are mystified by what clients are talking about, and clients scratch their heads trying to figure out what language designers are speaking.

This divide is a problem in the art world, where those who don’t know the language are intimidated by museums and galleries, and it doesn’t help that those who know the arcane terminology tend to look down on those who lack the vocabulary to talk about it.

And in the design world, the worst is when designers go so far as to make fun of their their clients’ stupidity in public.

Of course, a good designer will take the time to educate his/her client, empowering the client to better articulate their needs. Designers, if a client knew exactly how to tell you what they want, they would’ve told you already.

So with all that in mind, dear client, here is a cheat sheet for understanding what your designer is talking about.


type – overall stand-in for typeface, which is mostly synonymous with font. Technically a font is all the variations of a typeface, or all the letters contained therein. (“Font” is derived from “fountain.”) Or it’s a computer file that contains all the characters of a typeface. Yes, it’s confusing. Don’t let the snobs get you down. Also, typography is the art of working with typefaces. (Lettering refers to type created by hand.)

Logo – a symbol or design for an organization for the purpose of identifying its products, uniform, vehicles, etc.

Logotype – the part of a logo that contains letters, numbers, or otherwise type.

Mark – the part of a logo that is a symbol, most likely an illustration or an abstract icon. A famous example is Nike’s “swoosh.”

dpi – dots per inch. This printing term refers to how many dots are in an inch, one dot high. Newspapers print with a low dpi since the paper doesn’t reward high-resolution printing. Fine engraving can be 600 dots per inch or higher. Most offset printing is done at 300 dpi, and with large format printing (such as banners, billboards, etc.) you can get away with 72-100 dpi since the dots aren’t noticeable from far away.

FTP – File Transfer Protocol is a method for sending and receiving files, usually done with an FTP client such as Fetch, Filezilla, or Transmit. There are lots of them. (I use Cyberduck since it’s free and it serves my purposes pretty well.) You can use FTP to upload files to be displayed on a website, or to send files to a printer.

TIF – Also TIFF. Tagged Image File (Format). A file format that is useful for photos in printing/publishing. Adobe owns it.

PSD – Photoshop document. A proprietary file format for use in Adobe Photoshop. Perhaps its greatest feature is that the files support layers of graphics reminiscent of the old days of pasteups created from transparencies.

EPS – Encapsulated Post Script file format. This most commonly refers to vector files such as logos or illustrations created/edited in applications such as Adobe Illustrator.

comp – short for composite, this refers to a representative draft of a design or layout. It often has placeholder text and low-resolution images.

greeking – placeholder text to demonstrate how type will look in a given layout. It usually begins with “Lorem ipsum” and is mostly meaningless Latin-esque gibberish.

copy – written text prepared by a copywriter and proofed and edited by an editor.

revision – any time a design goes to the client and requests changes from the designer. Designers often allow for a set number of revisions before the project’s price starts to go up from the original quote.

mockup/prototype – In print, this is something that looks very much like the final product, except it hasn’t been mass-produced and may be one of a kind. In web design, this could be a number of things: a paper prototype that demonstrates the way a website works, or it could be a digital version that mimics the way a site should work even though it is unfinished and probably has a lot of flaws and mistakes (bugs).

call to action – a marketing term that asks the viewer/reader/audience to do something, whether it is to buy something or otherwise change behavior.

brand – at one time this referred to a logo, but nowadays it refers to the general reputation a company has. Think of brand management as reputation management. Or PR.

case study – a more or less formal account of how a particular design or marketing project arrived at a particular outcome and whether specific goals were met or exceeded.


spot color – printing ink in a specific color, rather than mixed from process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, or CMYK). For example, Coca-Cola uses a specific red on their packaging. If you look very closely, you’ll see it’s solid color, not made up of little dots of mixed colors. In the US, spot colors are usually mixed according to the recipes in the Pantone Matching System. (The Toyo system is common in Japan.)

native files – This refers to all the files used to create a print project, including the layout file for Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress as well as any image files used in said layout. In the old days, all necessary elements were collected along with their related instructions were put in a bag/envelope and sealed up before being sent to the printer. The alternative to native files is usually a PDF file that the printer can print from.

proof – a near-final print of a project, this comes from the print house for final approval before the piece is officially printed, bound, and shipped.

on press – this means the printer is actually printing the project on a large machine.

registration – how well the colors line up with each other. If the colors don’t line up properly, it is said to be “out of register.”


interface – this is a tough concept, but at it’s core it is a way for people to interact with a particular piece of software or hardware. For example, a computer mouse is an interface for interacting with a computer, and a website’s interface affects how you interact with that site.

UI – user interface – essentially the surface treatment of a website or software application

UX – user experience – the study of how people interact with interfaces, it involves lots of research

IA – information architecture – the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems.

wireframe – essentially a rough draft of a website that demonstrates where elements go and how the site actually works rather than how it appears. They are usually kind of ugly to look at, but that’s kind of the point.

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