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Design Glossary

Design can sometimes feel like its own language reserved for those in the know. Now you can stay up to date with industry terms across design, prototyping, usability and user testing.

A

A/B test

During an A/B test, 50% of users are shown one version of a design (aptly named 'Version A') while the other 50% is shown Version B. Predefined metrics are recorded during the test, while the resulting quantitative data is analyzed at the end of the test. This helps designers make informed design decisions.

Accessibility

Accessibility is a measurement of how well users are able to access something, factoring in the wide range of disabilities that might affect their sight, hearing, movement, or thinking.

When it comes to user interfaces for example, text that isn’t contrasted enough, large enough, spaced efficiently, or aligned correctly can be difficult to read, especially for those with visual impairments.

Adaptive design

Adaptive designs are those that adapt to all screen sizes, resolutions, web browsers, and operating systems. The term was coined on a slow news day as we were conned into believing that it’s any different to responsive design.

Agile

Agile is a software development technique that values the ability to quickly adapt to change, especially in uncertain and turbulent environments.

Agile software development is fueled by frameworks such as Feature-Driven Development ('FDD'), Extreme Programming, and Scrum. These frameworks involve Pair Programming, Test-Driven Development ('TDD'), stand-ups, sprints, and more. Agile software development can be adapted to include UX designers.

Annotations

Annotations are comments made about a design. They can come in the form of observations, suggestions, calls for discussion, the spotting of mistakes, or if there are no meetings that day then comments can be the alternative to making designers more irate.

API

APIs ('Application Programming Interfaces') conveniently facilitate access to data or functionality without requiring GUIs ('Graphical User Interfaces'). However, since APIs tend to result in better organization (and reusability) of code, APIs are often 'called' from GUIs.

Another benefit is that APIs can, in theory, be called from anywhere. If you've ever used the Unsplash Plugin from within Sketch, you'll know exactly what I mean.

B

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a technique used to informally explore ideas without boundaries. In design, this relaxed approach to problem solving can result in a wider spectrum of ideas, even ideas that might be considered downright crazy but without excluding those that are sweet and simple.

C

Chief Product Officer

Chief Product Officer (alternatively referred to as VP of Product or Head of Product) is an executive-level role that’s responsible for leading the product organization and having final say on the product strategy, DevOps, and DesignOps.

Click Map

Generated from a prototype or even a live website, click maps are a type of analytics that indicate where users are clicking.

Click maps offer quantitative and qualitative data, and while this data isn't very useful on its own, it can highlight areas of concern that can be further explored using other methods.

Cognitive load

All elevators have weight limits and feel more strain as they reach their limit. Our brains have a similar limit that we refer to as 'cognitive load', where having more things demanding our attention adds to our cognitive load, creating mental strain.

When designing user experiences, there are a number of things that we can do to reduce cognitive load, such as writing clear UX copy, removing any redundancy, reducing the number of steps in user flows, and reducing visual clutter and inconsistency.

D

Democratising design

Democratising design means approaching design in a way where everybody has a say regardless of their skill level. It brings together stakeholders of varying expertises to share their views and even sketch ideas. Everyone can be a designer.

Design analytics

Design analytics is the information that results from the systematic computational analysis of data. In design, we use analytics to discover and interpret meaningful user patterns that can help us design better experiences for those users.

Design debt

Design debt is having to pay for something later (sometimes unexpectedly) as a result of cutting corners. Examples include:

  • Paying for lack of visual consistency with design bloat
  • Paying for lack of research with unexplainably low conversions
  • Paying for skipping wireframing with suboptimal usability
  • Design debt can be avoided by not rushing into things and agreeing on budgets, deadlines, and workflows ahead of time.

Design Pattern

Design patterns are reusable solutions to common problems that users face when using a product. Patterns introduce familiarity, helping users to more quickly recognise visuals and concepts they’ve faced before, making their tasks easier to accomplish.

Design Sprints

Design sprint is a business-centered framework that compresses weeks (or even months!) of research, design, and testing into a single 5-day sprint, saving a lot of time, money, and resources.

  • Monday: find a high-value problem to solve
  • Tuesday: sketch multiple solutions
  • Wednesday: decide the best solution
  • Thursday: create a high-fidelity prototype
  • Friday: test the prototype with target customers

Design System

Design Systems combine organised libraries of design tokens, elements, and components with documentation that explains how designers and developers should utilize them.

Design systems often integrate directly with UI design tools, however, design system documentation can be used to showcase code snippets. For this reason, design systems remain the best way to maintain an organised and minimalist design while also reducing conflict and a back-and-forth between stakeholders.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is a framework for solving complex problems. Although all frameworks are the same in a roundabout way, design thinking specifically takes a 5-step human-centered approach:

  • Empathise
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

Design Token

A design token is a reusable variable that can represent anything from styles (such as colours and spacing amounts) to settings (such as dark mode toggles and logged in/out states).

Since design tokens are low-level variables, they're used in design systems to construct higher-level components, helping to maintain visual consistency not only within a single product but across multiple products like websites and cross-platform apps.

Design Transformation

Design transformation is human-centered framework that applies traditional design skills in non-traditional settings, resulting in new operations, methods, or roles. For this reason, design transformation can result in anything from new ventures to new job descriptions — whatever 'transforms' the organisation.

Developer Handoff

Developer handoff is the workflow of handing off designs to developers. This includes assets such as fonts and images, and also the screen themselves with all interactions intact. With design systems becoming more common, developer handoff today often includes documentation and even complete code components. Marvel automatically creates specs and design handoff for developers, saving your team hours of manual work. Find out more here.

Discovery Phase

When starting a new venture, the discovery phase involves collecting relevant information and defining the objectives, scope, and limitations. In product design, for example, this means learning about the target market and customers, and deciding which customer needs to be addressed (and when to do so).

E

Experience design

Experience design (or 'user experience design') is the umbrella term that covers all aspects of design regarding the moment that users are actually using the product. This includes aesthetics, accessibility, usability, ethical design, branding, and more.

G

Guerrilla user testing

Guerilla user testing is a type of user testing where the participants are random members of the public. While the method isn't always reliable (since the participants aren't necessarily our target audience), it's still real user feedback and doesn't cost anything beyond buying the participant a cup of coffee.

H

Heatmaps

Heatmaps are a type of analytics that indicate what users click on ('clickmaps'), where they scroll to ('scrollmaps'), where the most activity happens (by detecting where the user's cursor is), and basically what's captivating users and what's being ignored. Heatmap analytics are visualised by colour, where the reddest (i.e. hottest) areas are seeing the most activity and the bluest (i.e. coldest) are seeing the least. Heatmaps can be a stepping stone to research methods that yield more meaningful insights.

Human-Centered Design

Human-Centered Design (or 'HCD') is similar to Design Thinking in the way that it's a framework for coming up with solutions in an empathetic and customer-first way. It's a 3-step methodology.

  • Inspiration Phase: understand customer needs
  • Ideation Phase: find opportunities and come up with solutions
  • Implementation Phase: prototype, test, and launch

I

Ideation

Ideation is the process of coming up with ideas. There are endless ideation techniques to choose from, involving writing, sketching, or mind mapping ideas.

Interaction design

Interaction design ('IxD') is a design philosophy centered around words, visual representation, physical objects and physical space, time, and behaviour. Combined, these facilitate the design of interactive dialog between people and products.

While a specialisation in its own right (one that goes beyond digital design), UX designers also leverage interaction design.

J

Jobs-to-be-done

Jobs-to-be-done (or 'JTBD') is a design framework for helping consumers to, well…get a job done. The difference between this framework and any other is that JTBD focuses on how a customer wishes to transform their life (or themselves) into something better. This makes JTBD especially useful for helping consumers to adopt unfamiliar innovations.

L

Lorem Ipsum

Lorem ipsum is the standard dummy text for mockups that don't yet have their real text content. When working with lorem ipsum, it's important to consider edge cases where the text is shorter or longer than expected, since its real length is undefined.

Low-fidelity prototyping

Low-fidelity prototyping means to create interactive mockups, emphasising speed over detail as a low-risk way of learning as much as we can about the user’s needs while investing minimal time, money, and resources.

Low-fidelity wireframing

Similar to low-fidelity prototyping, low-fidelity wireframing also emphasises speed over detail; however, with less focus on interactivity and more on the layout of the individual screens.

As with all wireframes, low-fidelity wireframes are used for mocking up layouts and UIs, with not much focus on aesthetics.

M

Micro-copy

Micro-copy, more commonly known as UI copy, is the name for small snippets of copy that help users understand and interact with the UI better. You'll find micro-copy within tap targets such as buttons and form elements, but also within key elements such as headings and wherever else additional context is needed.

Micro-interaction

A micro-interaction is an interaction that starts and ends on the same screen, usually with a stunning (but subtle) animation that aptly relays what’s happening throughout the interaction.

As an example, a heart icon that visually transitions into an alternative state when tapped or clicked, with a nice animation to add delight to the experience, would be a micro-interaction.

Mockups

A mockup is a visualisation of an idea that hasn't yet been built — basically, the umbrella term for wireframes, prototypes, and in most cases the intended meaning behind the noun 'design'.

Designers create mockups for experimentation, but also for communicating to developers what the end-result should be like.

Motion design

Motion design is the design of visual effects that include animation, and in the context of apps and websites are much more cinematic compared to the average interaction-driven experience.

A motion designer's main objective is to create engaging experiences that deliver something more out-of-the-ordinary.

MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

An MVP is the quickest and rawest conceptualisation of an idea that one can think of. Prototypes, wireframes, or even sketches can all be MVPs, where the right choice is simply whichever one communicates the concept using the fewest amount of resources.

N

No-code

Programming without code is better known today as 'no-code'. Although it's certainly not a new concept, no-code is becoming so common that some might call it a movement, and there are now several tools available to facilitate designing, developing, and more — all without code.

P

Paper Prototyping

Paper prototyping is, simply put, the process of prototyping with paper (and a pen, of course). Similar to how no-code tools circumvent the need to code, paper prototyping circumvents the need to use design tools. It makes the design process more democratic, allowing anybody to contribute regardless of skills.

Besides that, paper prototyping is faster and more disposable, making it easier to explore crazy early-stage ideas, risk-free.

Participants

Participants are those that have agreed to cooperate in a customer, consumer, market, user, or UX research study. These research studies can range from interviews to tests, and are a useful way of obtaining qualitative and quantitative insights.

Product Designer

Product designers are involved in the design of all aspects of the product, including the user experience, customer experience, and even coming up with the product ideas themselves. The scope of responsibilities is a little wider than that of UX designers, however, the role requires many of the same skills and mindsets.

Product Management

Product management is a senior-level role that oversees all stages of the product lifestyle, including the justification of new product ideas from a business angle, managing the research, design, and development of the product, pricing, launching it, and then maintaining it once launched.

Q

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is research that results in data that cannot be measured but can still reveal valuable insights (for example, user interview feedback). Where other types of research (for instance, quantitative research) can tell us the 'what', qualitative research can tell us the 'why'.

Quantitative research

Quantitative research is research that yields data that can be definitively measured and compared, for example conversion rates from an A/B test or task completion rates from a usability test.

R

Remote user testing

Remote user testing is when users are asked to test an app or website while a moderator remotely watches, asks questions, and records feedback. The main benefit to remote user testing is convenience, but it also means that we can source user testers from anywhere in the world as long as they have internet access.

That being said, user testing can be unmoderated too. Rather than video conferencing in real-time, users, in their own time, simply record their screen while answering a set of questions.

ResearchOps

Short for 'research operations', ResearchOps is a set of workflows that define how teams carry out research, including who does what, what they do, and how and when they do it. Like with all operations, 'wikis' are used to document ResearchOps.

Responsive Design

Responsive design refers to the steps taken to make apps and websites adapt to all devices, sizes, resolutions, and operating systems. Designing with responsive design in mind is a standard convention today, as it improves usability and accessibility.

S

Sketch (Design Software)

Sketch is one of the most favoured user interface design tools available today, and the first to rethink the way that we design interfaces. Building fresh features and concepts more suited to a modern workflow, such as artboards and symbols, Sketch helped designers transition away from unsuitable tools like Photoshop.

Marvel has a popular integration with Sketch to make it super simple to sync designs and prototypes to your projects. Download it here.

Staff Designer

Staff designers are salaried designers that usually work in-house, as opposed to freelancers who would likely work remotely by the hour or for a flat fee. Staff designers are employed indefinitely, whereas freelance employment is usually temporary.

Style guide

A style guide is a document that demonstrates the different styles used in a design. Creating style guides helps to ensure that designers are maintaining visual consistency by reusing styles that already exist, as opposed to creating new ones.

U

UI kit

A UI kit is a design file that doesn’t necessarily contain a design, but rather everything that’s needed to create a design with a specific aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic, like a wireframe).

UI kits are like design systems without documentation.

Unmoderated user testing

Unmoderated user testing is a type of user testing where the tester enters a remote user testing session via a URL, in their own time, and by themselves. This is a decent approach to take with testers that are too busy to choose a specific time slot or teams that are too busy to moderate user testing sessions. On the flipside, this makes unmoderated user testing much cheaper.

Usability testing

Usability testing is a quantitative method of UX research consisting of several different tests that can tell us how to make usability-related decisions (formative testing) or how to determine whether the usability-related decisions we’ve already made were sufficient (summative testing).

User Experience ('UX')

A user’s experience is a multifaceted sentiment towards a product while and after using it. User experiences don’t boil down to any singular thing; however, accessibility, usability, enjoyability, aesthetics, customer service, and many other things can all contribute to the user's overall experience.

User Experience Writer

A user experience writer (or 'UX writer') is somebody that writes 'UX copy' for user interfaces, of which there are two types. First, there’s visible UX copy, for example form label text or button text. Second, there’s invisible UX copy, for example the 'alt text' that most images require or text that offers additional context only to those using screen readers.

User flow

User flows are screen-to-screen journeys that users take in order to carry out a specific task. Designers create diagrams known as 'user flow maps' to help visualise these user flows.

User Interface ('UI')

A user interface is the part of an app or website that users interact and engage with, consisting of forms, links, buttons, content, and so on. Users interact and engage with these user interface elements using touch screens, mice, keyboards, and various types of assistive technology, such as screen readers.

User stories

User stories describe a type of user, what they want, and why they want it. Essentially, they’re feature requests that benefit the end-user. User stories can be used to create user flow maps.

User Testing

User testing is a qualitative method of user research where users are asked to test an early-stage prototype. The type of feedback typically expected is a little more generic than that of UX testing, where at this stage we mostly just want to know that the idea is useful and viable, or how we can make it so.

V

Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is the styling and structuring of various elements in a design, first in relation to others of their kind (e.g. buttons or headings), and then in relation to the design overall. The objective behind optimising visual hierarchy is to help users understand the structure of the design, and to some extent, control the order in which they observe its content.

W

Wireframe

A Wireframe is like a blueprint that outlines the layout and structure of a user interface and its related content. Creating wireframes offers up an opportunity to build a solid foundation, focusing on usability and accessibility without being weighed down by aesthetics, which is somewhat considered less important.