Interface Design Week 4 – Grids

This session was all about grids. We learned about the importance of an underlying structure when designing something, and how to see the logic behind any design layout.

Otl Aicher, a graphic designer and typographer from Germany,  said “the creation of a common language through repetition” and “use the design grid not only as a design aid but as a direct inspiration for schematic representation.”

The most famous work Aicher did was for the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 – all his designs were on top of a grid system, and featured on posters, flags, mascots, medals, tickets and stationary.


Otl Aicher – Graphic Designer & Typographer

The design grid he spoke consists of a set of alignment-based relationships which act as guides for distributing elements across a format.


Aicher used the grid system to develop his pictograms

Grid systems are a simple and effective way of communicating a large amount of information (multiple pictures, text, quotes, headlines etc..) to a viewer in a coherent manner. Each and every part of the system fulfils a specific function. A designer can use their discretion to combine and/or omit parts as required.


Manuscript Grids

This is the simplest of the grid structures, comprised of a large rectangular area taking up most of the space within a format.

Manuscript grids are excellent for extensive and continuous blocks of text – for example, in books and long essays. Images can also be used to fill the block.

Tinkering with the margins can create interest, with wider margins focusing the eye on the text. This gives a sense of stability. Narrower margins push the text to the edge of the format and create a sense of tension as the two are close together.

In order to create visual interest, typography is important in manuscript grids – the choice of typeface, font-size, leading etc are all important considerations.


The Manuscript Grid System


An example of a Manuscript Grid system

Column Grids

Column grids are made up by placing multiple columns within the format, and are useful when non-continuous information needs to be presented. There could be one column for text, one column for images, another for image captions.

There are a great degree of flexibility when organising information on the page when the column grid system is used. Columns can be dependent on each other, independent from each other and crossed over by design elements.

If a column is too wide…or too narrow, reading can become difficult.

Consideration needs to be payed to gutters – when the margins are wider than the gutters between the columns, the reader’s eye is drawn inward and this eases the tension. When the margins are narrower than the gutters, the reader’s eye is directed outwards and there is increased tension.

The traditional rule is that if the size of the gutter is Y then the margin is set to 2Y.


The Column Grid System


An example of the Column Grid System

Modular Grids

Modular grids are the most flexible grid option. They are like column grids, but they have horizontal divisions marked by rows – the columns and the rows and the gutters between each, form a matrix of cells.

These modular grids are extremely useful for more detailed design projects since they offer greater control that column grids. They are often used for charts, forms, schedules, tables of data and image galleries.


The Modular Grid System


Another Modular Grid System


An example design which has used a Modular Grid System

Hierarchical Grids

This form of grid is widely used on the web, and involves more intuitive and spontaneous placement of elements, yet still conforms to the needs of the information. Hierarchical grids are handy when a design project needs a grid which does not fit into any of the other types of grid.

They mostly use customised proportions, with varying column widths. Development of a hierarchical grid often starts with random placement of design elements. Later on in the project a rational structure to coordinate those elements can be established.


An example of a Hierarchical Grid System


Another example of the use of a Hierarchical Grid System



Grids bring order to a layout and make it easier for readers to find and navigate through information. They lead to rational and standardised systems which help people absorb the information which is being communicated.


Grids impose constraints on a layout, which helps to reduce an overwhelming number of possibilities to a more manageable few. They allow designers to elements to a layouts quickly. This is because many layout decisions are made while building the grid structure.


Grids make it easier for designers to work and collaborate on the design, as they can provide a plan for where to place elements. The grid can become a blueprint for other to quickly follow.

Consistency, Proportion and Harmony

The use of grids leads to consistency in the layout of pages, creating structural harmony in the a design. All parts of the grid (fields, rows, columns, gutters…) are based on geometric and natural proportions, which lead to rhythm and structural harmony in the layout.

The Task This Week…

…was to choose two examples from magazines, and two examples from books, of a modular grid-system in action, and then to show how it is modular in nature using Photoshop tools.


My first choice of magazine – The Week Junior


My second choice of magazine was Total Film


I used a psychology book for my book examples


Example number 2 of a modular grid system in a book

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