Making or breaking the grid

The typographic grid is an organising principle in graphic design, loved and hated in equal measure.

For some designers, it’s an essential part of their workflow to ensure precision, order and clarity. For others, it’s a bit ‘old school’ and they feel it hinders creativity.

So who’s right?

The grid is made up of horizontal and vertical divisions that present a starting point for design and ensure an orderly layout. This helps the viewer to locate information easily and ensures harmony of all the visual elements. It can also streamline the design process, making tight deadlines (or budgets!) easier to manage.

Many people probably won’t notice if type and images aren’t aligned to a grid, but they will notice when a design is cluttered and or disorganised.

Grids are also essential in responsive web design, which has shifted towards a “mobile first” starting point.

But grids are a convention, and like all conventions, we like to break them every once in a while! Their purpose is to create order in a layout, but this isn’t always the solution necessary. Content such as imagery can have its own structure that a grid could ruin. And sometimes content must ignore structure altogether to evoke specific reactions. Breaking the grid can often create richer, more specific and memorable designs.

So like ‘em or not, there’s no doubting how useful grids can be, but they can also stifle a design if used with the wrong content. Communication is key and a grid is just one tool in the locker.