What is Design Language?

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Ever wondered: What is design language? Here is the definition, some examples, and different areas of application. I also discuss the topics of design as communication, personal design languages, and the relation to what is called personal branding.

Similar: 9 Most Popular Design Systems (Google, IBM, Apple & Etc)

Definition of Design Language

According to Wikipedia, a design language is an “overarching scheme or style that guides the design of a complement of products or architectural settings, creating a coherent design system for styling”. And thus, the term design language is most commonly seen in relation to product design or architecture.

For example, when working with UX/UI design, I’ve created design systems. A design system is a set of visual “rules” or guidelines that are applied to new products being designed. Some of those guidelines can be:

  • Font family
  • Font sizes
  • Color schemes
  • Patterns
  • Layouts (grids, padding, margin etc)
  • Language style (tone of voice)
  • Image style

We use design systems in order to create a sense of continuity and similarity in all digital products that are supposed to be visually related. That is why for example, all of Google’s products have a similar aesthetic.

Design as Communication

Visual design is a form of communication. The visuals of something say something about the object (or person) in question. It is comparable to clothing and fashion. How someone dresses also say something about the person. Some dress up consciously to express a certain ideology or idea, but even if you do not mean to make a statement with your clothing, you always are.

Visual language

We, humans, are visual animals and our brains can’t help but make connections and create internal models of the world. That’s how we function. As long as we have sight, intelligence, and social concepts; we will always gain an impression of something through visuals. That’s another reason why I think the term design language is a good one. It is using design to communicate something: a feeling, a mood, a voice, an aesthetic, an ideology, a view of the world.

Personal Design Language – What is it?

In my view, not only brands and products have design languages. I think a person, or group, can have it as well. Although perhaps companies have it in a more systematic and artificial way, whereas a person or a social group develops it in a more “organic” way.

Since I’ve worked with product design and business branding, it is possible that I am creating my personal design language in a much more conscious and planned way than someone who hasn’t had the same background. But, even the people in my life who do not work with building digital personas (aka personal branding; although I don’t enjoy that word), express their own visual language in real life through their clothing, makeup, hair, accessories, body language, and photography.

My personal design language, for example, can be seen through the continuity of aesthetic style and expression in my:

  • Clothing and fashion style
  • Makeup preferences
  • Webdesign on my personal website/blog (here)
  • The voice I chose to use in my writings
  • The visual style I chose in my digital designs
  • My taste in photography and art

All of those things are ways that I am communicating who I am, and what I want to stand for, to others. Some parts are unconscious, but a lot of it is also about how I consciously want to present myself to others.

Critiques against “Personal Branding”

Related to this topic, is the discussion on personal branding. I have seen quite many forum posts on the internet from people who absolutely detest the concept of a personal brand. And I can fully see why.

Individuals are not companies, we are not something “made up” in order to make money or to be capitalized on. And so, it can be very sensitive to make a human into a brand. It can give off the vibe of stripping the realness and authenticity of a human.

However, there is no denying that every person who aims to have a strong digital presence, benefits greatly from developing a way of standing out from the sea of millions of other active agents. One very effective way of doing that is through deciding on a visual language and digital tone of voice. And this is not only for social media influencers, but also for bloggers, writers, musicians, artists, and anyone else really who needs to reach the audience of the internet to earn a living.

But perhaps the word branding just isn’t fitting then, for someone who actively does not want to see themselves as a product.

Perhaps personal design language or digital persona fits better and can replace the term personal branding.

Although it can be discussed if anything that draws in money in this capitalistic system that we live in isn’t some sort of product. In many countries, companies are even treated as a sort of organism that can buy real estate, food, services, and can be prosecuted under law and order. Actually, if you think about branding long and hard enough, you’ll see how it is a way of creating a personality and distinct identity for a non-living agent. It helps to create mental models of companies as something “alive” and “real”. Making us feel affection, empathy, and loyalty to companies. A little surrealistic, isn’t it?

Anyway, my point is that everything visual communicates something. And if you want, you can decide on what you personally and consciously, want to communicate and stand for.

Thanks for reading!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jackie

    I’ve been working on my branding lately and this describes the feeling I had during the process. I’m an espontaneus person but not extroverted. It challenges everything I had in my mind about stereotypes or common conclusions like this and it was also a very interesting practice of self knowledge. The most challenge thing for me was to conciliate what I really like and what I really am with something which has to be “comercial” too in order to be more open to people, for example.

    I have no ideia how people see me in the end and maybe I should but I’m not too worried in how people will see me if I act in a certain way. I don’t know if its good or bad. I just like to be in peace with everything. ♥

    This post gave me alot of things to think! Thank you!
    I’m loving your blog! <3

    1. Wendy Zhou

      Yeah, exactly! It’s a very complex topic that some people are quick to jump the hate train on, or don’t reflect on at all.

      I like your thinking though, to just be authentic, and not worry too much about what others will think. I mean, there are so many people on earth, at least some of them (if not a lot) will enjoy whomever you really are. Thank you for your comment, happy to hear that you love my blog! 😀 ♥

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