Uncommon but useful design terms

Some design terms have a useful meaning, but aren’t in common use. Here’s a collection of the terms I’ve come across.


Chrome is a general term for the parts of an interface that frame the content. e.g. the controls in a web browser.

Elegance and extravagance

Something is elegant if it does a lot with a little. Something is extravagant if it does a lot with a lot. Both are about efficiency of use of materials, and both are valid. Both are easy to get wrong.


A greeble is something you add to an artefact to make it look more visually interesting. A greeble does not need to have any apparent function other than to break up what would otherwise be a plain visual appearance.


From Leander Kahney’s biography of Jony Ive:

In design, details like buttons and latches that make a design pop have a name: They’re called ‘jewellery’. In the auto industry, door handles and radiator grilles have the same name and the same effect.

Leading lines

In interior design, leading lines are used to guide the eye to points of interest. These can be literal/visible lines, or implied lines. For example, you might design a room so that the way the shadows fall create edges that guide the eye to the fireplace.


Luminance is generally how bright something appears. Importantly, different colours have different luminance. e.g. yellow is brighter than blue, even at the same technical “brightness” value.

Paper cut problem

Some problems are like paper cuts: one doesn’t do much damage, but a few hundred hurts a lot. Each problem is easy to ignore, but if you wait it‘ll be hard to fix them all.


Application posture is a concept described in Cooper’s book About Face. It relates to the different ways that software might be used. How you design an interface depends partly on what posture it is expected to have. e.g. a “sovereign” posture means that the application will often be the main focus of a person, and should be designed to reflect that.


In its unfettered derivation, rigour refers to the quality of being extremely thorough and careful and has positive connotations … The adjective, rigorous, commonly refers to strictly applied or adhered to rules, systems or codes of practice … [An alternative title for this paper could be] ‘the value and role of care and thoroughness for Design Practise’.


Lots of designers use the word “affordance” when they mean “signifier”. A signifier communicates something about an interface. For example, the depth effects added to a button signify that it can be pressed. This term was introduced to interface design by Donald Norman in The Design of Everyday Things.

Thrillers and fillers

This comes from the world of gardening. If you are designing a display made of flowers and other plants, you normally want some “thrillers”, which are plants that grab attention, and “fillers” which provide a good back-drop and take up space. The theory also includes “spillers”, which spill over the sides of the plant pot and make the display feel more natural, but this applies less to interfaces.

Pixel peeping

From the world of photography, pixel peeing is when you zoom in so far that you can see the individual pixels. In photography it’s got negative associations. You shouldn’t get caught up in flaws at such a low level. I think in visual design the opposite might be true.