Despite a long history of use, grid systems have enjoyed a resurgence in graphic design in recent years. One of the best ways to organize graphical and typographical information on a page, a single grid or multiple grids can be utilized to achieve an unmatched consistency and coherence over even the largest of projects. Grid systems are incredibly important because, although invisible on the finished graphic design project, they can be referred to when creating the web and print layouts.


Credit: Ben Martineau

Grid systems are incredibly flexible and can be manipulated to suit all types of graphic design projects. However, most grid systems have common features, which form the general building blocks of each unique design. In practice or on a real project, a graphic designer should adopt using a grid system to experience for themselves the important improvements it can make when creating a great design.

Rules are there to be broken. Once a graphic designer becomes sufficiently skilled at using grid systems they can get creative with the grid based design. Graphical and typographical content can be made to cross over columns, extend across adjacent pages or down to page ends. It pays to experiment with designs that break free from the grid system, just ask David Carson.

What are the most important parts of a grid system? Whether basic or complex, most grid systems have common elements, however not all of these parts need to be present in every grid system. To become proficient with grid systems and understand their importance within graphic design, graphic designers should learn the basic elements.


Credit: renato campana.

First, there is the FORMAT, which is the area in which the design, the text and images, are placed. In website graphic design the format is the browser, whereas in print it is the page. MARGINS are placed between the edges of the format and content to define the tension within the whole composition and can hold design notes as guidance. Separating the design area into horizontal bands, FLOWLINES are used to set start and stop points for images and texts, creating hanglines and baselines.

The simple building blocks of a grid system, MODULES are areas of space which establish the rows and columns. ROWS and COLUMNS are vital in a grid system. A row holds vertical information and can be allowed to match the content. A column is the horizontal equivalent, whose flexibility allows the width to be altered to match the content, often varying throughout the grid system. The space between rows and columns are called GUTTERS.

Then there are the fields of adjacent modules known as SPATIAL ZONES, each of which are usually given a specific function within the design. For example, a long horizontal spatial zone might be assigned the function of holding a large image, whereas a substantial amount of text would be placed in a long vertical spatial zone. A RUNNING HEADER or FOOTER is placed at the top or bottom of the format to give an indication of a graphic designer’s position and can contain titles and author information. When page numbers are placed in order above or below the composition in the margin they create FOLIOS. MARKERS are placed to indicate the location of folios and page numbers.

Grid systems are vitally important in graphic design. Designers should learn the various elements, experiment with them and implement them in their graphic design work. Becoming proficient with grid systems can greatly improve a graphic designer’s work. They can help achieve the overall consistency and coherence to a design project that every good graphic designer is striving for.