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Content Driven Design Grids

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 05:20

The first thing every designer learns when they go to school is the power of using grids. That is, to establish a framework from which all of your content can be arranged. Thus, it will all be neatly organized and consistent.

At best, design grids make work easier and can be proprietary – as much a part of the brand’s toolkit as its color pallet or typeface. At worst however, it can be an obstruction, as it may prioritize mathematical cleanliness above visual and contextual considerations.

This all comes to mind because I find myself working on a collateral piece, which of course I began with a grid. I went for a two-column solution with symmetrical margins on the facing pages. Simple enough. That is, until I ran in the content. Before I knew it I had overruled the grid in favor of a solution that better served the subject matter both aesthetically and functionally.

It was kind of a familiar feeling for me as I’ve had a similar experience when experimenting with grid systems on the web. Don’t get me wrong, many of these frameworks are brilliantly functional and have certainly been used to generate a number of beautiful sites.

I however have never been able to cash in on their promised efficiency. I end up writing my own classes and breaking out of the system. Just as with the print assignment I find the provided ratios at times left the spacing between content too narrow or too wide for my taste or the subject matter.

But I’m not saying we do away with grids.

Rather, I am saying that the grids we use should owe less to mathematical cleanliness than the content they showcases.  You wouldn’t cut down the size of a painting to suit the wall of a museum. Why then should you compromise a logo to fit within preordained column widths?

If you agree with me then you are free to hang the painting, as you like. Construct a room that suites it perfectly. Install lights to optimize its presentation and arrange complementary pieces throughout the gallery.

However it works, the key is that it works for the painting and for the public. By putting our subject matter before our ruler we as designers are acting less like carpenters and more like curators. For this reason I prefer that my grids be shaped by their content, rather than math or production expedience.

John Gavula
Contributed By John Gavula

John is the creative director of Gavula Design. He has provided design and illustrator services for many of New York and the region's biggest brand consultancies. Leveraging this experience, and his multidisciplinary background he now works closely with Gavula Design’s clients as a trusted branding partner and steward.