4 Principles That Can Make or Break Your Grid Designs

From a single column book to a complex modular lattice, design grids organize space and convey ideas in an orderly fashion.

Creating a table in a word processing document is one thing, but efficiently designing volumes of material is like a puzzle waiting to be solved. As design educator Timothy Samara said:

“A grid is truly successful only if, after all of the literal problems have been solved, the designer rises above the uniformity implied by its structure and uses it to create a dynamic visual narrative of parts that will sustain interest page after page.” 

When you are perplexed about where to start, here are four lines of attack: 

1. Assess the Material

Content, margins, amount of imagery, and the number of panels all factor into your grid selection.


  • Single-column grids appear less intimidating and are best when working with continuous text (like an essay or a book).
  • Multi-column grids work well for making large amounts of information easier to digest (like magazines or websites).
  • Modular grids are best for arranging units of information into manageable chunks or zones (like newspapers, calendars, infographics, or complex reports).

2. Construct a Foundation

To determine the best layout for your grid, consider the main text first and note any project restrictions (like size, number of pages, or colors). 

Once you are familiar with these basics, sketch a basic layout of how elements might fit on a page. If you plan to include images, boxes, or charts, first determine the space needed for written content, and build outward from here.

3. Add Hierarchy and Order

To simplify large quantities of material, break your design into “easy reading” segments with headings, subheadings, lists, bullets, and pull quotes. 

Vary the size of images based on the importance of each event or subject. You may find it helpful to rank images in size order before building your layout. 

4. Mix Quirks with Consistency

To keep readers engaged, use a robust and consistent structure – then break the rules and shake things up!

For example:

  • Use three columns of text on one page and then replace them with a large (one-panel) image on the next.


  • Build a two-column grid but vary columns at different widths to add visual tension and movement.
  • Disrupt bold, dynamic images by layering text boxes on top (unifying these elements by matching your text box headers with brilliant photo colors)

Remember, the primary role of grids is to clarify communication. No matter what approach you take, your designs should always simplify the reader’s journey!


Layout Essentials Revised and Updated: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids

by Beth Tondreau

Grids are the basis for all design projects, and learning how to work with them is fundamental for all graphic designers. From working with multi-column formats to using type, color, images, and more, Layout Essentials not only demonstrates, using real world examples, how to use grids effectively, but shows you how to break the rules to use them effectively, too.

This revised and updated version of Layout Essentials is your one-stop reference and resource for all layout design projects.