The great appeal of WordPress is that with so many different themes and pre-made templates to choose from, you don’t need any background in coding or website design to make a beautiful and effective site.

However, as you’re in the process of developing your site, it’s extremely useful to have a basic understanding of graphic design.

This allows you to identify weaknesses in your site and see how to improve it. It shows what each element is doing on the page and how you can use them to better communicate your message.

Many non-designers struggle with design terminology, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as learning a foreign language. Check out these 10 terms that everyone creating a website should know, and how these concepts play out on your site.


Visual hierarchy refers to the order of importance within your design. Your page’s composition should make that the most important elements are seen first and information is presented in the right order.

Size, color and font all create hierarchy, and working with a grid can help.

Balanced asymmetry

Draw a line down the center of a composition. If both sides are identical or mirror images across the line, your design is symmetrical. If they’re different but still project a sense of harmony and stability, you have a balanced asymmetry.

A balanced asymmetrical design is much more dynamic and engaging than one in symmetry.

Kerning, leading and tracking

These three terms are fundamental concepts in typography.

Kerning is the space between individual letters.

Leading (pronounced “ledding”) is the space between baselines of type, above and below each line.

Tracking is the space between groups of letters.

Kerning, leading and tracking all have big impact on the readability of a text.

Complementary colors

Complementary colors are opposite from each other on the color wheel: red and green or blue and yellow, for example. A complementary color scheme, built on such a pair of colors, is vibrant, high contrast and eye catching.

(The opposite would be an analogous color scheme, using colors next to each other on the wheel, or monochromatic, using only different shades of a single color.)

Negative space

Negative space (also known as “white space”) is all the space within an image or on a page that is not occupied by an object. Although empty, it’s an extremely important aspect of composition. It allows images to breathe, highlights important elements, and creates structure and direction across the page.

Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum is a filler text used to show how textual elements will look on a page, without distracting you with actual content. The text is usually a scrambled Latin passage taken from Cicero’s book De finibus bonorum et malorum.


Working within a grid, a framework of evenly spaced, intersecting rows and columns, helps designers arrange elements into an even, balanced and harmonious composition.

Serif and sans serif

A serif is a small flourish on the ends of letters. Some fonts have them (eg. Times New Roman), some don’t (eg. Arial). Serif fonts tend to look professional and traditional, while sans serif fonts (without serifs) look more modern, clean and stylish.

Orphans and widows

Orphans and widows are words or lines that are left dangling at the beginning or end of a column, separated from the rest of the paragraph. These look awkward. Clever typography (especially tracking) will help bring them back into their right place.

Flat design

A flat design is simple and minimalistic, featuring bright colors and two-dimensional illustrations (if any). This style is currently very trendy, both because it looks so sleek and modern and because it’s very easy for people to use.

and it all depicted in an infographic:

10 Graphic Design Terms That Every Non-Designer Using WordPress Should Know Infographic


These are just a few terms that I consider essential for anyone involved in web design to be familiar with.

If you ever feel like there’s something just a little off with your webpage and you can’t put your finger on it, take a closer look, keeping in mind some basic design principles. Maybe the kerning isn’t right, or the colors don’t quite match, or there isn’t enough negative space.

In this case, a little knowledge can be a very powerful tool.

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