Layout | Basics

Designing a grid systems

Ratios are at the core of any well designed grid sys­tem. Some­times those ratios are rational, such as 1:2 or 2:3, oth­ers are irra­tional such as the 1:1.414 (the pro­por­tion of A4). This first part is about how to com­bine those ratios to cre­ate simple, bal­anced grids which in turn will help you cre­ate har­mo­ni­ous compositions.

Start­ing with a blank canvas
It’s always easier in these kinds of tutori­als to put the example in con­text, in some kind of real world scen­ario. So, this is it. You’ve got to design a pro­gramme for a gal­lery exhib­i­tion. You know you want the size to be A4. You also know that there are going to be pho­to­graphs and text, and the pho­to­graphs will be of vary­ing size. There you have it — your blank canvas.

Sub­divid­ing ratios
The grid sys­tem we are going to design is a simple sym­met­rical grid based on a con­tinu­ous divi­sion of the paper size in the ratio 1:1414. Using the paper size as a guide we can retain the pro­por­tion through­out the grid, this will give our ele­ments within the design a rela­tion­ship to one another, the grid and the paper size.

This is one of the easi­est ways to cre­ate a bal­anced grid. By using the size of the paper as a guide we can divide using that ratio to begin cre­at­ing the grid. You can see this through dia­grams 1 — 6 that we begin by simply lay­er­ing divi­sion upon divi­sion to slowly build up the grid.

Get­ting creative
Many have said grid sys­tems can stifle cre­ativ­ity, but I dis­agree. Grid sys­tems can facil­it­ate cre­ativ­ity by provid­ing a frame­work and already answer some design­ers ques­tions such as ‘where should the folios go’, ‘how wide should the meas­ure be?’ etc. A well designed grid sys­tem will go some way to answer these ques­tions and more.

So, we have our grid. We can now begin to exper­i­ment with type areas, shapes and com­pos­i­tion. We can explore how type and image will work together on the vari­ous types of pages our pub­lic­a­tion will have.

Dia­gram 7 shows the text area with the first ele­ments of the access struc­ture — run­ning heads and folios. Dia­grams 8 and 9 show how adapt­able the grid is to vari­ous design options.

Short but sweet
A simple step to begin with. Next we’ll go onto to more com­plex ratios, such as the Golden Sec­tion, and com­bin­ing mul­tiple ratios across spreads instead of single pages.