A Pocket Thesaurus for Designers Describing Their Work

Finding the correct vocabulary to explain design work

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

Words like “clean,” “flat,” and “whitespace” have become banal catchalls for tech-oriented design work. Generally speaking, I no longer find these words effective in communicating the specificity of a composition.

When presenting work and giving feedback, I aim to use language that is descriptive, specific, and clear. Here are some of the words I use:


Words that describe “clean— meticulous, orderly, organized, rigid, grid-like, structured, polished, precise, finished.

Words that describe “flat— deconstructed, standard/standardized, normal/normalized, scalable, seamless.

Words that describe “whitespace”— low-density, spacious, comfortable, readable/readability, breathable/breathing room, expansive.

Words that describe “tight” — dense/high-density, cozy, compact, condensed, packed, informative/informational, detailed, intricate, authoritative.

Words that describe “less color”— desaturated, sparing, restraint/restrained, conservative, responsible, intentional, careful.

Words that describe “more color” — saturated, lively, energetic/energizing, attention-grabbing.

Words that describe “abstract” — provocative, evocative, emotional, human, non-uniform, unconventional, unexpected, irregular, suggestive, metaphorical.

Words that describe “literal” — concrete, obvious, associative, referential, product-centric.


Neil Shankar is a designer on Creative Engineering at Google, embedded through Left Field Labs. Follow @tallneil on Medium | Twitter | Dribbble.