Traditional Terms Still Used in the Digital World

We were discussing in the design studio how a lot of the work we do in digital today has its roots in much older traditions. These “old school” words, terms, and concepts have stood the test of time and are still in use in the twenty-first century.

So, let’s have a quick look at the history of modern-day digital terms and their historical roots…

Upper & Lowercase

Before computers became commonplace for typesetting, printed pages were composed using individual pieces of metal type that were put together by hand. These pieces of type were stored in wooden cases with the smaller letters kept in the case at the bottom, the lower case, and the capital letters stored in the case above, the upper case.


Still on the subject of letterpress printing, pre-press type was held in metal trays, ready for proofreading before being sent to the press. These trays, known as galleys, were long and narrow, just like a ship’s galley (kitchen).

Whilst hot metal printing is a rarity these days, the term “galley” or “galley proof” is still in use in publishing for books or documents printed for proofreading before final publication.


In traditional print, line spaces (The spaces between rows of type) were created by inserting a long strip of lead. This was known as “leading”.

Whilst it’s now more commonly known as line-spacing, some publishing tools still use the term leading for that whitespace between lines of text, as do the typographers in our agency.

The Fold

Laying out the content for the front page of a newspaper it’s important to make sure that all the headlines and photos that sell the main story that day can be seen when the newspaper is folded in a pile in the newsagents. This content therefore needs to be “above the fold”.

Nowadays, “above the fold” in the web industry refers to the content on a webpage that needs to be immediately visible on a screen without having to scroll down.


Since the days of hot metal type, typeface characters have been designed on an Em body, which is generally accepted as being the width of the letter M. Traditionally, a 12 point (12pt) letter M would also be 12pt wide. In this instance, the Em body would be 12pt wide and 12pt high, with the height defining the minimum line height. The width of the Em body would then be adjusted to suit the width of the narrower characters.

The term Ems is now used to specify font sizes in web development as it can be used as a variable for responsive web pages.

Radio Buttons

Old analogue radio sets used to have a row of station selector buttons — if one button is already depressed, it would automatically pop out when another button was depressed.

Forms on web pages have the option to use radio buttons for selecting choices and are based on exactly the same principle – you can only select one option. If you select another option, you deselect the other one you pressed.


The RGB colour model predates the web and PCs having already been used as the principle behind creating TV pictures. There is a direct relationship between RGB (Red, Green, Blue) and CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow – the ink system used in printing). Excluding ‘K’ which is used to apply black, combining any two RGB colours will give you a CMY colour:

  • Green + Blue = Cyan
  • Red + Blue = Magenta
  • Red + Green = Yellow

End Note

There are all sorts of other traditional old items we still use in digital. There’s the floppy disc icon to indicate that a file can be saved, or a magnifying glass to signify that you can search.

When I was trying to publish on the world wide web in the late 1990s, someone lent me the HoTMetaL software, by Canadian firm, SoftQuad. Hot metal refers to the method of mechanical typesetting and the capital letters in the name spelled out HTML, so that was a nice transition from the old to the modern.

Logo of Clever Marketing - Digital Marketing Agency in Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. Our designers each have over thirty years’ experience and expertise in traditional print and modern methods, so they know their stuff – you won’t get that in many digital studios these days.

So, for all your graphic design requirements, from flyers to digital brochures, and logos to web design, give Clever Marketing a call on 01276 402 381 or complete the contact form.