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10 Of The Most Beautiful (And Obscure) Words In Design

Peter M April 10, 2024 · 4 min read

Design is a visual medium. A picture, as they say, paints a thousand words. The aesthetic beauty of a piece of art or a nicely crafted piece of design is is usually appreciated by looking at it, rather than talking about it. But sometimes words about design can be beautiful, too. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most unique and underestimated words in the field of design. Enjoy.

1. Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is an Italian word roughly translating to light-dark. In art, it refers to the use of contrast between the dark colors and light. Or the variation in black and white tones that combine to create depth and visual interest. Its usage is felt in every creative field from cinematography to illustration. When you shade the far side of an apple in a still life drawing, or play with the shadows and highlights of an image in Photoshop, you’re affecting the overall chiaroscuro composition of your work. Chiaroscuro

2. Cinquefoil

Cinquefoil refers to any plant, usually within the rose family, that has five leaves. Their visual beauty has made them a sought after subject for photography and illustration throughout history. There’s something about the evenly-placed leaves arranged around a center circle that feels visually harmonious. Cinquefoil

3. Couture

The technical term for the design and manufacture of fashionable clothing according to the wearer’s measurements is known as couture. Cutting edge fashion is known as haute couture. Couture

4. Architectonics

As much as it sounds like a team of evil villains in a Transformers movie, Architectonics refers to the science of architecture. When architects discuss the technical behavior and construction of their structures, architects discuss architectonics. Architectonics

5. Spandrel

Here’s a trivia tidbit for you. The next time you’re in a Church, look up and check out the ceilings. The triangular space formed between the arches is called a spandrel. It’s also a term that’s sometimes used in biology. Spandrel

6. Paisley

Paisley is a pattern or design that’s commonly seen on Persian rugs, and your uncle’s party shirts from the 70’s. It’s a droplet shaped motif that’s believed to have originated centuries ago, first appearing on kashmir shawls and other textiles. Paisley

7. Bokeh

You know that beautiful soft focus effect you get when your DSLR’s depth of field is too shallow? That’s known as bokeh (pronounced boh-kay). Despite occurring when an image isn’t sharp, it’s a pleasing look that many photographers seek out when shooting. Bokeh

8. Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie is a word used to describe the imitation or evocation of Chinese motifs and techniques in the Western world. (Like replica art on the wall of your local Chinese takeaway). It’s also extremely difficult to say. Chinoiserie

9. Luminescence

The aesthetically-pleasing glow of an object is often described as luminescence. The word refers to things that give off light without the presence of heat, like glowsticks or fireflies. A beautiful word for a beautiful effect. Luminescence

10. Serendipity

Serendipity refers to those chance moments of luck or happenstance that you stumble on without even trying. And once they’ve happened, it’s like they were destined by fate all along. When designing, be sure to keep an eye out for color combinations, layout options or font pairings that work like magic. These are the serendipitous ones. The happy accidents that great design is often made of. Serendipit So there you have it. Ten beautiful (and obscure) words used in design. Hopefully you’ve learned a few new ones as well as brushed up on definitions of some of the others. Do you have a favorite design-related word? Let us know in the comments.

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Peter M
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