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Design As a Language

Oct. 25, 2023 | Lindsey Hart

Web Designer working on team project

“Have you ever heard the adage that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal, i.e. body language and vocal variety? You probably have, and if you have any sense at all, you have ignored it.”Ubiquity

While this statistic may be hard to quantify, there is still an interesting underlying meaning. There is a great deal of subtextual conversation we take part in our everyday interactions that we’re not actively aware of. Whether that’s a slight lean towards a person you like, crossing your arms in a new place because you feel uncomfortable, or starting to play with a pen in a meeting when you get antsy, your body is fluent in an entirely different language you may not have ever thought about before, punctuated with nuance. 

Overall Design Language & Styling

Design can be thought of in a similar way. We have the well-known elements of design, shape, form, line, space, value, color, and texture. These are minute components that work towards a much larger framework – the design language or the design system. While using these individual pieces to create the experience of a brand or website, you should be speaking to a much higher level with your design than arbitrarily choosing fonts or haphazardly dropping circles all over the page. While building your design language, you can use all of these elements and more to craft your system, just as in writing you use words and punctuation to create a paragraph that turns into books (or this post).

Writing language has a set structure of rules to follow – every sentence has to have a noun, a verb, and end with punctuation. Design language is no different. It is a way to curate the harmonious interaction of the design elements as a whole by setting usage constraints and other guidelines to maintain a cohesive brand image and beyond. So rather than a focus on the primary brand color, it is also how it communicates with the secondary and tertiary colors in the set, and what that grouping means as a whole. The design language is also how these colors work to inform the typography, layout, form, and vice versa. 

[callout] Do you know how to compose certain elements into your graphic designs? Learn about the 6 Elements of Design Composition. [/callout]

The Big Brand Boom: An Argument For The Styleguide

There’s this famous saying, ”it’s hard to see the forest for its trees.” It rings true, meaning it’s hard to see the big picture if your laser-focused on the tiny details. Often times when we design, we aim for pixel perfect. However, when you work at this scale, it is hard to ensure the consistency of the overarching design system you are working within. Rather than thinking this way, where we work so granularly, it is a good practice to take a couple of steps back to see how the entire piece is working and how the elements speak to each other. This is where you interact with some of the higher spectrum design elements, such as unity, balance, dynamics, and composition across multiple applications.

The design language for your business works even larger than the graphics that design creates on a day to day basis. It is the holistic approach to the visual presence of an organization. It reaches across departments, well outside the four walls of the design team. This is why the creation of a brand guide is of the utmost importance, as it acts equivalently to a dictionary would, defining all the brand elements and their implementation. A brand guide houses all information about the organizational brand vision from logo use to when and why to use a certain font-weight.

Your design language goes even deeper than the brand guide though – it seeps into every visual aspect of the business, down to folder and file naming conventions.

PA Sets The Design Dialogue With Our Base Code

In our case, we have our PA Base Code that sets the precedent of the site’s design system. It is the basis of all we code out on a website build to start with a sound and solid foundation. In this, we have a built-in style guide, which is a somewhat watered-down version of the brand guide. We are able to define heading styles, colors, table styles, form styling, and a variety of other visual site elements. This ensures consistency across the entirety of the site without having to think twice about it.

So you may say, “Okay that’s great. Seems like a good organizational tool, but why do I really need one? Sounds like it’s more work to put together than it’s worth!”

With all good things comes a little elbow grease. There is more to be gained than just consistency of your visual presence. Consistency subconsciously creates legitimacy in your branding. People are going to trust your business more if everything they see from your messaging carries the same tonality in an ad that it does on your website and in your email newsletter blast. This type of consistency also reinforces your brand’s ability to be recognized, which is huge if you’re looking to grow your business. As if it couldn’t get any better, this will also help to speed up your company’s workflow as all the company assets will be neat, organized, and easily accessible to all the team members who need them with no question of usage. 

Does Your Company Have a Design Language?

Let us know how your design language has helped to shape your business in the comments below. If you now want PA to write one for your business, contact us!

Primary Image Source: Envato Elements