Google calls material design their 'design language'. IBM and Airbnb also call what seems like a style guide a design language or design system.

What's exactly the difference? From what I see at a glance, a design language seems to be more broad and also extends to other aspects like animation and interaction.


  • There is a book by Brad Frost (Atomic Design) that talks in-depth about Design Systems. atomicdesign.bradfrost.com/table-of-contents Might be worth a look. Dec 13, 2016 at 14:51
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    One thing you'll soon learn, Ameen, if you haven't already: a certain kind of individual loves to create new terms for old concepts, generally to hoodwink the unsophisticated and make them think that the new name refers to something important that they need to buy.
    – MMacD
    Dec 13, 2016 at 18:59
  • Ameen Akbar, apparently the UX mods considered this Q off-topic on their site. I'm not going to go against their word, especially since it is on-topic here.
    – Vincent
    Dec 14, 2016 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


A design language typically articulates a general design direction or philosophy that can be used to harmonize presentation and user experience across multiple media types, such as print, video, apps and websites. It is often somewhat more aspirational than prescriptive.

A style guide is typically a more specific interpretation of that design language for one particular medium. So the same organisation might have a print style guide and an app style guide, both of which embody the same design language.


The Wikipedia description of "Design language" is actually pretty good. From that article:

A design language or design vocabulary is an overarching scheme or style that guides the design of a complement of products or architectural settings. Designers wishing to give their suite of products a unique but consistent look and feel define a design language for it, which can describe choices for design aspects such as materials, colour schemes, shapes, patterns, textures, or layouts. They then follow the scheme in the design of each object in the suite.

Usually, design languages are not rigorously defined; the designer basically makes one thing in a similar manner as another. In other cases, they are followed strictly, so that the products gain a strong thematic quality. For example, although there is a great variety of unusual chess set designs, the pieces within a set are usually thematically consistent.

As read above, a design language is simply making sure that designs look similar to each other to give off a singular look and feel for a product or company. Styleguides can be used in part to help enforce the design language. Animation and interaction are part of the styleguide as well in the cases you mention.

The only real difference between design language and styleguide is that a design language is a unified feeling and a styleguide is how to accomplish that feeling.

  • Yep: "design language" is just another buzzword.
    – MMacD
    Dec 13, 2016 at 18:55

A style guide is a specification. It tells you what fonts and colors you can use under what conditions.

A "design language" should be a Very-High-Level language oriented to design tasks, whether visual design or something else. But usually it's just a buzzword, from whatever I've seen. Nominally, HTML and CSS are "design languages", since they have no other utility at all.

  • A style guide is a recommendation. A design language defines far more than a style guide. A design language is low level. A style guide is high level. A design language defines the components, a style guide describes how to manipulate the components. Also: html and css are markup. A different thing entirely.
    – Yorik
    Dec 13, 2016 at 20:01
  • I've written style guides for corporate-identity programs. They're not "recommendations" in most companies unless you look at them as recommendations about how to do style and still keep your job.
    – MMacD
    Dec 13, 2016 at 20:02

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