A Pocket Thesaurus for Describing Design Work
Finding the correct vocabulary to unpack creative compositions
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. Visit tallneil.io.