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Living on the Grid: Design Tips for Non-Designers

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by Todd

Whether due to time, budget—or both—we’ve all found ourselves at one point or another doing things that are far better left to the professionals. You know, stuff like electrical work, or car repair… or design. Sure, it’s a bad idea, but sometimes it feels as if there’s no alternative. When it comes to design, there are a few simple principles you can follow to vastly improve the results. One such guideline is the grid-based layout.

Simply put, a grid is a visual system for placing objects, most commonly copy blocks and imagery. Grids provide valuable guidance for the eye, and come in countless flavors. The Rule of Thirds offers a starting point: divide your layout space into thirds, horizontally and vertically. The resulting rectangular “cells” represent your grid. It’s a good idea to include fixed-size gaps (gutters) between rows and columns to ensure proper white space.

Many programs, like PowerPoint and Word, have built-in grid settings you can modify to taste (if not, try dragging guides into place to set up your own grid). Once established, the grid makes layout simple: all content begins and ends on grid boundaries. Individual copy blocks or images can span multiple grid units as needed, and your grid ensures consistent alignment between elements. In most apps, objects will automatically snap to gridlines/guides, making the process all but foolproof.

Don’t feel trapped by your grid; view it more as a source of visual rhythm. That way, when you choose to place an element off the grid, it feels deliberate and not messy.

Grid-based layout is a painless way to improve the professionalism and usability of most any layperson’s design. Give it a try on your next project, and let us know how it goes.

is a member of the Content Bureau design team.

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