Guides and grids

Guides and grids are probably the best friends of a layout designer. They help him organize the content and divide it into digestible chunks for better clarity. If we take a building as an example, the layout would be its base and the content its height. Without a proper base, the building will be unstable and eventually fall apart.

But what is a proper base? There isn't a universal solution, which can simply be reused. Every situation requires a different approach. Factors that might influence the decision are: the information type, precedence and length; titles and quotes; images or feelings to convey. One of the functions of guides is to lead the human eye from top to bottom and from left to right. Guides are not just an alignment, but a mean to help scanning the document for important cues. The eye follows simple two-dimensional primitives—like an invisible line—much easier than a chaotic figure.

Make the grid

The grid hasn't survived by accident so many years since the existence of ink and paper. Many books, newspapers and magazines rely heavily on its simplicity. In the past, designers filled the expensive paper in a way that they could achieve maximal content density and increase the perceived value by the reader. They couldn't fit the same amount of content on a page if text and images were randomly scattered, without overlap. If the paper had a circle form, we would have probably needed a more circular "grid" if we wanted higher content density or a square grid if we wanted to be more legible. This shows that the media we use often determines the most effective grid type for layout organization.

Break the grid?

Some designers find grids boring and break them in every possible way to experiment and expand their imagination. This seems to become a standard of how "original" or "creative" someone is, which I think is unfortunate. I doubt that providing a diagonally written text or sloped images make us more creative, even if they don't look regularly. Viewers might get a headache while trying to unscramble their meaning. Or if they have a highly adjustable monitor, they might tilt it to compensate for their angles. The introduction of new stylistic properties to scale, rotate and skew page elements can further lead to misuse. These techniques could only enhance the user experience if used sparingly and thoughtfully.

Why bother?

Breaking grids can slow down readers or scare them to go elsewhere. Before we spend on advertising, we must ensure that our content can be perceived by the reader in a convenient way. Breaking the grid, although creative and trendy, makes this harder. We could think about whether a solution is going to survive in the next five years and if we think so, we could stick to our vision, no matter what other people think.

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