Baseline Junkie

by Joe Brown

I often get teased by the gang at designdough for my rather nerdy, obsessive love of grid systems. I never imagined that choosing to have a career as a graphic designer would make me become a complete pedant when it came to grids.

The grid has played a huge part in graphic design, typography and layout history. Some of the earliest hand-written books were laid out in two columns for easy legibility, which shows that even before the days of printing presses and computers, grids were influencing even the most basic forms of graphic design.

The first thing I do when I start any layout project is to create my grid. To me, a grid is like a skeleton. It’s the framework you need in order to know where every bit of information will fit. It enables you to see the project as a whole before you have text and imagery to contend with, and in turn, will make sure your page layouts remain balanced and structured once you’ve imputed all the information you need to.

I always tend to choose to work with a six-column grid for printed materials. Six is a great number within layout design. It’s divisible by both two and three which gives you the scope to work with one, two and three column layouts.

After setting up my document with six columns, I then move on to my baseline grid. This is my favourite type of grid, as it is subtle to the untrained eye, but is so hugely important to effective layouts.

In simple terms, a baseline grid allows you to set a distance between each line within a document. Everything within the document is then forced to sit within these lines. Although in some respects, this takes away a small part of the designer’s freedom, it ensures legibility and continuity for the reader throughout an entire document.

I personally think grids are key to all types of design. It’s the ‘pre’-work you put into a project. So why am I so obsessed with them? Because it makes my job a whole lot easier. Where grids are used, the solution can then always be found in the preparation.