You might think designers are anarchists – rule-breakers in jeans and running shoes. I hate to blow up the mystique but we actually love rules. And rulers. One of our secret design tools is so restrictive it might take a while for your brain to process it. Like architects and engineers, designers use grids. That’s right, we drag a bunch of guidelines onto our layouts to make sure everything lines up. It just looks better that way.
Of course, we might intentionally break our own rules but that’s level two. Let’s just stick with creating grids for now and you can see how easy it is to make your layouts looks better.
Now, the web and some applications like Word have built-in grids that tend to have everything line up flush left. That’s okay in some applications but like I’ve said before, if you want your work to look plain and get passed over please keep using the defaults like every one else does.
If you don’t want to use defaults, and you want to spice up your work start looking at magazines and jaw dropping websites to get some grid ideas.
To help you out, here’s an example of a very simple grid taken from A PDF on grids by Andrew Maher.
In this example the text is closer to the edge of the layout than you might like – that’s just a thing designers like to do to freak people out. You don’t have to do that, in fact, I recommend you don’t. Unless you’re a design student and you want to impress your instructor.
There are a lot of complex resources online for grids. I don’t want you to waste too much time reading all of this info because you’ll wake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night when prison-like framework starts folding around you and a monkey in jeans and sneakers throws away the key.
Instead, I want to introduce you to a few simple grids you can play with for your next project. My main objective is to make you aware of the way you’re currently using grids (if at all) and encourage you to try something different. Using these frameworks creatively takes a lot of practice so you won’t have it all mastered by the time you’re done reading this.
Below is an example of a complex layout where the grid lines have actually been included in the design. This is the front and back cover of a promo folder. You can see how a layout like this is great for organizing many small pieces of information that might otherwise look lost or messy.
Another great place to look for layout inspiration is fashion magazines. I just pulled one off the rack that sits next to my reading chair and snapped this with my phone. Notice how few elements there are on the page yet they’ve managed to make the layout interesting.
If you want to draw extra attention to something, have it break the grid. Create a simple grid to start and then choose one important element to break the grid. There’s something deeply satisfying about busting through our self-made constraints.
Now that you have completed the first lesson on grids I truly hope the next time you are faced with a layout dilemma you don’t cave and just centre everything. Yes, I will admit that I have resorted to centering on occasion when nothing else was working but you’ll never improve your skills and the look of your layout if you resort to an easy out. Have a look around for some grid inspiration and feel free to appropriate (steal intelligently) for your next project.
If you want to run something by me for quick feedback just drop me a note here.
If you need a more in-depth analysis of your website, logo, brochure or any other design project a Creative Review might be just the thing to get you looking your very best.
Happy New Year!