Designers throw loaded words about all the time. Words like “modern” and “sleek” and “bold” and “editorial.” Words that can have a variety of meanings depending upon the perspective of the observer. Sometimes, professionals like to throw around industry-sounding terms to make themselves seem indispensable or to tout their knowledge around a client.

To be fair, we are not just picking on designers. Professionals in every industry use industry lingo. But, in the field of graphic design is it particularly important that the designer and the client are on exactly the same page.

Sometimes it is useful to broadly define design preferences in this way. In fact, when we begin a new project, one of the important issues we need to work out with a client is how the client wants their company to be perceived. Perhaps the most common answer to that question is “modern.” Since “modern” is a feeling that many clients want to establish, that is the term that we will focus on here.

Modern as a general design attribute.

When we think “modern,” what do we mean? We have found that to a lot of people, it simple means “up to date” which is, of course, perfectly valid. However, in terms of design, there are certain style elements that constitute a modern look. These include:

1. Simple, clean lines
2. Sans serif fonts
3. One dominant image
4. One dominant color
5. Negative space

6. Small amounts of copy (particularly in advertisements)
This design style is not for everyone. An often cited downfall to modern design is that it can be perceived as “cold.” It is, of course, possible to develop a brand that is both warm and modern, but that can present a design challenge.

Tropicana took a shot at this definition of “modern” and was roundly rebuked by its customers. A lot of money was spent developing a new look with a simple, sans serif font, one large focal image and a good amount of negative space – something modern. Unfortunately, this is not always what the market wants. Tropicana wildly miscalculated how emotionally connected their loyal customers were to the iconic logo and graphic of an orange with a straw and were in the end forced to bring back their classic packaging.

Modern in web design
The term “modern” when applied to web design also carries with it certain style elements. With the wider availability of high screen resolutions and high speed internet access, designers have more real estate to play with. Modern web sites are just bigger. Some of the elements that are common to modern web spaces are:

1. Graphics with rounded edges
2. Large dominant graphics
3. Areas of large text
4. Glassy, reflective images (thank you Apple)
5. Box-based design
6. Creative backgrounds
7. Large icons
8. Blogs or some other form of feedback/interaction

The most important thing to remember is that no matter what feel or personality your brand is aiming for, communicate that message effectively to your design team from the beginning. Do not just let your designer throw around industry buzz words without making sure everyone is on the same page in terms of the emotional and graphic impact you want your design to have on your audience.