If you didn’t take a second language in high school or college, you can pat yourself on the back because you are still bilingual. We all understand the language of design whether we realize it or not. That’s because we use and interact with this language everyday.
Think about the device you’re on and the article you’re reading. Do you spot an “X” at the top of the page? How about a partly sunny icon at the top right? Do you notice a lock and key in your search box?
All of these icons tell us something: where to close the article, what the weather is like and if the site you’re on is secure. We understand these symbols because design language is ingrained in us from the time we are born. We are comfortable reading, using and trusting the language to be productive in our day-to-day lives.
Here are a few reasons why design is a language in itself.
We rely on symbols to be predictive and consistent.
When you look at your weather app, what do you see? Icons of suns, clouds and wind are used to tell us what the weather is going to be without actually using words.
Design linguistics become familiar to us and we use them in ways that make sense. Every time we see a sun with clouds, we know this means “partly sunny” regardless of the app or platform being used.
Design language offers comfort and familiarity.
Whether you’re an iPhone or Android fan, both hardwares use different symbols, shapes and colors to communicate to users. This is a big part of why people become so attached to iOS or Android. They learn the language and feel comfortable using it.
When you hand an Android to an iOS user or vice versa, the hardware is difficult and frustrating to use. Even though the functions are simple, they become confusing when a different language is introduced.
We can understand direction using symbols.
Web design is often responsible for prompting action, such as getting a person to click on a link or fill out a form. The same is true for the design language.
Road signs tell a person which way to turn. Airport signs indicate where to find the baggage claim area. A man or woman icon points us to the bathroom. With this clear language, it’s easy to know exactly where you are supposed to go without a second thought.
Personalities are similar to accents.
Design systems use similar shapes and lines, which can cause problems when brands use them. To separate one brand from the next, brand personalities are created. You can think of them as foreign accents. Consider that MTV and Lego use similar UX web experiences but can be distinguished because of their distinct personalities.
Design language is expandable.
Design language is not set in stone. It’s expandable, just as the English language gets new words. We’ve seen design language grow through smartphones and apps. Open up any app and you’ll recognize the same symbols that are used for navigating a shopping center or hospital. New elements are probably added in as well.
As we further embrace technology, our design language will evolve. It will be be ingrained in our minds from a young age and expanded upon as we get older, connecting us as human beings. The better brands understand the design language, the better they can create positive experiences for users.