Over the years I’ve had a number of discussions with other web designers on grids. I’ve found that a lot of web designers, especially those that are self taught, don’t use them. Often, I find it’s because, like me, they were never really taught how to use them. In the online design community it’s something that is rarely discussed and we are the worse for it. Why is it that many designers have a hard time with the grid?
First, developing grids is all about numbers, proportions, and other equally unsavory things. Most of us creative types are about freedom and expression. The idea of whipping out a calculator during design is not the sexiest of ideas, and thus some us tend to drop the subject. Second, we tend to think of design as an esoteric process, a series of magical ‘aha’ moments. Grids take work and planning and we often think it would put a halt to our creative process.
The grid is the artist’s true brush
However the great irony is that using a grid actually liberates creativity, not stifles it. Have you ever started to design and just end up staring at a blank canvas? That’s because your staring at infinite possibilities. A canvas with unlimited layouts and unlimited directions to pursue. You have little or nothing to go on. I found that staring at the blank canvas usually lead to little or no design exploration. Typically I would go with the first blast of inspiration I got and left it at that because it’s too difficult to come up with an entirely different layout. It was the blank canvas that became stifling.
With a good grid in place, you already have something on the screen giving you direction for your layout. This lets you jump right in and start exploring a variety of options. I’ve always found that the key to honing in on a great layout is by constantly exploring through compare and contrast. Using a grid makes it easy to try new ideas, and it often opens up unusual layouts you otherwise might not think of on your own. Through this process of constant exploration and refinement, you begin to sharpen and focus your design into a final masterpiece. This is how they open the door for creativity, rather than closing it. Think of a grid as your own home-brewed, instant inspiration.
Drop your pants and show us your grid
So let’s have at it! Do you use grids? How do you come up with them? Post a screenshot of a grid you have used and let us know how you developed it. Haven’t used them very much? Let us know your thoughts. There as real lack of good information and examples in this area and I’d like to see more people stepping forward with their experiences.
So to start, here’s a sneak peek at a grid we are using for our upcoming site redesign. When we launch our new design, we’ll post a follow up article outlining how we developed it, and how we followed it throughout the rest of the site.
- Five Simple Steps to designing grid systems
- Why use a grid
- The funniest grid you ever saw
- The Grid: The structure of design