I am a front end web developer. I tend to mostly deal with code but do, from time to time, have the opportunity to create graphics. I notice the designers I work with are able to talk in great detail about the images/designs they create. They can give meaning to why a button looks a certain way or the feeling behind their design decisions. What I am wondering is, as I have done some searching with no luck, are there any books on how to talk/describe this way? I am finding it hard to describe my question but I am looking for info on how to better 'sell' a design or justify a design decision.

Backing up layout decisions from studies/stats is fine, justifying those things can be backed up with numbers. But, it is more the whys and whats of color decisions and the purely visual side of things.

Update: Any links to good books would be a great help - typography, color theory, etc.

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    I think you are asking the wrong question. Unless you just want to sound smart (or fit in) without actually knowing anything (or much) about the subject...which doesn't make any sense to me. – Joonas Nov 24 '11 at 11:58
  • Well at the moment I am working on the basic idea that something looks better than something else. There is no meaning behind what I do apart from the technical/usability side of things. I understand there is meaning behind design decisions, and from what I hear even the most minute detail has a reason. Basically I find it really hard to vocalise my design decisions. And, fluffy to me is pretty much because it sounds great but I don't really understand it. – DBUK Nov 24 '11 at 13:02
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    They can talk in great detail and give meaning to why something is designed the way it is because they fully understand why and design with a purpose. No amount of searching will get you there. You have to actually know why you designed something the way you did. Great design serves a purpose and solves a problem. – Chris_O Dec 2 '11 at 2:40
  • Thanks for the reply. I am not looking for a fast answer. I understand it will take a while to learn the fundamentals but am lost about where to start. I got myself the Elements of Typographic Style, some color theory books, and a grid book to start with but at the moment I feel like I am randomly grabbing stuff with no clear path. I can justify decisions based on studies and how users interact with a page but for the actual visual side (not layout/structure) its a new area for me. – DBUK Dec 2 '11 at 9:02
  • Bear in mind many designers went to school for it and they had to sit though hours a week in group critiques where they attacked and defended theirs and other people's work. This encourages a vocabulary, but it also teaches them how to BS like a MF. It may sound good, but some of it is pure BS. Don't get me wrong: their choices may be dead-on correct, but their assertions about why are often just smoke and mirrors. – horatio Dec 2 '11 at 17:23

This was going to be a comment turned out to be quite long, so here it goes:

I don't want to sound rude, really. But how do you expect people to believe in something YOU don't believe in? You are going to be designing, how are you going to make the design decisions about something looking this or that way? There is a theory behind our options when creating graphic/web products, and it's not only about making things look pretty.

Instead of a book on how to talk like a designer, I would get one on what design is...


After reading your answer I think I can say some more things. One thing I always find inspiring is looking at logo creation processes. For example: http://creativenerds.co.uk/articles/30-professional-logo-design-processes-revealed/

When you see how these guys went from a very simple idea to a whole concept, you really understand what this is all about. At the end, you spend days thinking about the why, and really a few hours on the how. After something like this, I can imagine it's not difficult at all to explain the client why you did what you did, because you followed an idea, you developed it and the final result is the product of this personal work.

And if your strength is code, then your words can go for functionality, simplicity and user experience: "This is good because this is the best way to do it, because it's the shortest path to your aim". Programming is all about that, right? Finding the best simplest solution? Designers are all different, some are great with art and lousy with coding, some create strong structural websites that look ok. And some have it all, but I guess that requires either talent or lots of work.

  • Oh, no, I do believe in it, I just don't understand it. This isn't an attack on designers. There is a whole language based around this and it is a hard one to crack. I guess people learn little bits here and there and from theory on uni courses. The books I read are a + b = c. There is no human element such as what design gives people. I can understand that something looks good as opposed to something but putting it into words - properly - is really very tough. It is probably second nature to designers but to me it's hard to 'describe' things this way. And I want to! – DBUK Nov 24 '11 at 12:57
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    Sorry for the reaction then :) For me this came with time, but there's always an idea behind a mock-up. When you start designing something you always take certain concepts, keywords, and depends on what the client tells you (what he wants his design to say). From there you just go deeper on those ideas. I guess it's important to know WHY you are doing certain things, and the rest comes along. It's always good to hear what the client wants and talk around that. Is this useful? – Yisela Nov 24 '11 at 13:02
  • Yep, it is useful. Thanks. It mystifies me a little and I guess mainly because I assumed it was just a case of 'a' looks better than 'b', but I am finding out there is a huge amount behind design decisions. I got some books on graphic design and typography but they were technical or historic as opposed to the theory I am after. So if the client wants something friendly you might go for lots of rounded corners and bright palet? This I can understand but its how to justify the rounded corners that I find hard e.g. "the rounded corners help give...." – DBUK Nov 24 '11 at 13:10
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    I don't think you'll end explaining round corners, so don't worry. The focus will be on color, maybe (you can say lots about color, and there is a quite strong relation between color and industry/type of product), and navigability (how visible contents are, for example, what comes first in the index, where's the attention going). Give a 100% on what you do and you'll have tons of reasons (soulful designs are the best ones) – Yisela Nov 24 '11 at 13:14
  • Thanks for the link, I am currently in the process of making my way through all the logos. Some nice examples so far are: "The tight kerning gave the logo a more modern and attractive appearance" "The calligraphy-like form of the icon alludes to the handmade furniture and craftsmanship." "blue was an appropriate choice with it representing mind, body, confidence and intelligence in colour theory" The above is especially interesting and I will be looking into the impact of colors and how our brian responds to them. So much to learn! – DBUK Nov 24 '11 at 13:28

For a little more insight into the real whys and hows of design, here's an excellent and insightful article by John McWade that will help you pick out the useful from the merely fluff-and-puff.

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    Great article, thanks. It really sums up it up nicely. – DBUK Nov 26 '11 at 10:47

There are valid, objective ways to show and describe why one particular design solution is better than the other. It's really about the business of selling--which Graphic Design is a big part of.

There's also the fact that one needs to be confident in what they are presenting, and that's a bit of the salesmanship side of things. Some incredibly talented designers aren't good at that. I don't have a magic answer for that - short of saying that there's great benefit in working with someone that does have that particular talent.

My advice would be to really study your client's user base. The more you know about your client's industry, and the needs of their customers, the easier it is for you to make strategic design decisions and back them up with appropriate arguments.

  • Thanks for the info. Selling by numbers and clicks is something I can do. Give me some studies/tests and I can justify my decisions - for layout etc. But, when it comes to the actual visuals I find it hard to go into detail. As you say, it is good to work with someone with this talent and hopefully learn from them. I have tracked down some books on color theory which should hopefully help me as I feel that is my huge weakness. The technical talk side I can do but people seem to connect better emotionally with the visual side/talk. – DBUK Nov 27 '11 at 12:34

Your question just reminded me of Hoefler and Frere-Jones in the film Helvetica in which they describe typography with subjective qualitative terms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd9zW5EuMtE

Notice how they use cultural references to describe design. It's this kind of awareness of and emotional connection with the cultural world past and present, which enables a more organic and natural description. You describe design with things you're most familiar with (in a non-professional setting). Try less to be technical and jargon-heavy about everything and bring it down to the level of the vernacular.

Specifically, in terms of color theory and description, I've been reading Colorist: A Practical Handbook for Personal and Professional Use that, within its first few pages, has a word image scale to describe colors. That should help you build a vocabulary for explanations of color choice.

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    "there is no way to describe the qualitative parts of the typeface without using descriptions that are wholly outside of the it" is an interesting thought. – Farray Jan 7 '12 at 20:04

I'm not sure I know what you mean by "talking like a designer" but using the words a designer understands can be learnt. There's a glossary of design terms here.

Searching for 'design glossary' also brings up others with different terms, though the one I've linked to seems to have the most definitions from the ones I've briefly read.

  • Its more how to justify a design decision and prove it was the right choice e.g. "we went for a darker color scheme as this....." or "I feel the choice of font...". At the moment I can pretty much just talk about the technical aspect and in no detail about my choice of design decisions. Thanks for the link. – DBUK Nov 24 '11 at 13:12
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    No problem. The way to justify design decisions is to show where they've been used in the past and the difference between what was done before and what has replaced it. These can also be run concurrently using A/B testing tools. See Google Webmaster Tools for info on this. – Scott Brown Nov 24 '11 at 14:01
  • Ahh A/B testing looks good. Its more backing up design decisions with numbers but that is definitely something my brain can work with. Sorry for lateness in reply, I had to get back from work before investigating. Thanks for the info. – DBUK Nov 24 '11 at 22:44

I think it's great that you want to understand more about how people you work with think and talk. There should be more of that!

I'm more familiar with resources on the print side, but I think some of the following could be both useful and fun:

Maura Keller and Michelle Taute. Design Matters: An Essential Primer. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2012. Expensive, but beautiful and wise. If it's too pricey, find a bookstore with armchairs and browse through it there.

Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton. Web Style Guide (3rd edition). http://webstyleguide.com/. This might be too elementary for you, but from what I remember, it gave a clear explanation of some major design and style issues.

Robin Williams. The Non-Designer's Design Book. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2010. A very engaging and non-intimidating introduction to basic design.

Good luck and have fun! Amanda

  • Thanks for the info/book list. I shall track them down and have a read. I imagine for designers with years of study and presenting experience this is all second nature, but for me it is a steep learning curve. Thanks :) – DBUK Jan 8 '12 at 16:37

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