I’m reading an old article on A List Apart by Andy Rutledge called Contrast and Meaning, which, before getting into the meat of the content of the article, lays the foundation by defining communication fundamentals.

I think it’s great to think of design elements in this way, especially for someone like myself who prefers writing over designing. Andy’s post divides these fundamentals into two categories: vocabulary and grammar.

The vocabulary consists of the things you see, that have definite form and visuals: Colors, lines, textures, etc.

The grammar consists of things that are seen, but aren’t as visually formative: distribution, contrast, harmony, balance, etc.

For someone like myself who has zero formal design education, this is a great way to help me visualize and categorize better what is on a page. I think most of us get into the habit of focusing far too much on the vocabulary of a design, and not nearly enough on the grammar.

After reading that article, I’ll definitely be thinking differently about the things I design in the future.