Using the Grid

By LaurenMarie

The more I learn about how designers use the grid system and the different ways they construct their grids, the more free I feel to take my creativity to new heights! But how can using a complex, confusing, restrictive set of lines help me be free?

Glad you asked.

What is a Grid?

A grid is a series of lines that make up the structure or the foundation of a layout (for print or web). Grids are made up of columns, rows and margins.

The Grid

Why a Grid?

A grid will make your life easier because much of the burden of figuring out the best placement for elements will be lifted.

How a Grid?

Ok, so that question doesn’t make much sense, but we’ve already asked what and why; how just seemed to follow.

Begin building your grid with margins, head and foot space. Then start building the columns. I like to use the option in InDesign that allows you to align the grid to the margins instead of the page (in CS2 it’s under Layout>Create Guidesnot margins–and you select the radio button Fit Guides to Margins). You’ll want to make your alleys at least ¼ inch, or 1p6 (one pica, pronounced with a hard i, 6 points, aka “one and a half picas”), depending on the size of the page and the columns.

Now comes the fun part, figuring out how many columns you want your layout to have! There are so many options! You can have anywhere from two to seven (or more for larger spreads). Two columns will give the heavy, blocky feel of a textbook. Three columns is increasing in flexibility, but still a little rigid. Four is probably a better choice than two, again because of the options it opens up for placement of text and images. Five is good, too, though less common than the others (but maybe that’s what you want!). Six is probably the configuration I use the most; I find it flexible but still conventional. Seven is another underutilized structure that offers a lot of layout variety.

For even more structure (and less work placing elements), add horizontal guides, too. You can do this from the same dialog box, Layout>Create Guides. I don’t add any alleys to the horizontal guides. It is a good idea to use horizontal guides in multiples of three. I find that nine–which divides the space into thirds, and those thirds into thirds–works well for me.

Three is a magical number for composition; if you’ve ever taken a photography or cinematography class, you might remember this. Things look more balanced when in one of the thirds, and this way, you can put an element directly in the center.

When a Grid?

Every time! Don’t want to make your life easier?

Remember, a grid is a tool, not an unbreakable rule.

Make sure to also see the Creative Curio article on The Grid in Practice.

Further Reading

There are many great articles and books about using the grid system out there.