To explain grid-based design and its relevance to desktop publishing, it is necessary to start right at the beginning with a few simple explanations of both. Desktop publishing is the design and production of publications, via specialised software, enabling a PC to generate typeset quality content. Examples of some popular software used for this process include FrameMaker, PageMaker and InDesign. An essential part of desktop publishing is `typography` which in this scenario can be defined in two ways. Firstly, the work of setting and arranging `types` (text and images) ready for printing and secondly, the general character and appearance of the finished piece.
A typographic grid consists of a series of intersecting horizontal and vertical
lines which can be used as a framework to structure page layout. The lines of the
grid only need to be visible during the design phase, although they can remain in
place if appropriate to the content. The grid enables the designer to organise and
align content so that there is design consistency from page to page and thus
continuity throughout the publication.
A single page layout may incorporate several separate `elements` which could include titles, subtitles, headlines, body text, a logo, artwork, captions and photos or other graphic images. A large publication could easily include up to 100 different elements. Although the initial planning phase may take a little longer, using a grid ultimately makes placement and consistency of elements a much easier task.
Grid based design enables specific structure and will make a layout look far more organized. Titles, images, headings and sub-headings, as well as the bulk of the text itself, will be confined to the same vertical and/or horizontal lines on every page. The benefit of this, especially in larger publications, is that the reader will experience consistency, however subliminal, and will therefore absorb the content much more easily.
Non-grid documents or publications can appear to have a lack of organisation. The text and images may appear to `float` randomly, an effect caused when elements repeated over a series of pages are roughly, rather than exactly, in the same position. Also, the designer has little control over margins, default page size and the behaviour of text flow within columns when a grid is not employed.
When desktop computers first began to be used for desktop publishing this was mainly done using a word processing function, which is limiting to the designer due to the limitations of the program itself. However, with the evolvement of some excellent desktop publishing software and the use of a grid, a very professional publication can be produced by almost anyone who takes time with initial planning and design.
One, two, and three column grids are common. Each can accommodate lots of text, especially long articles. Don't make the columns too wide however; reading becomes more difficult. Four or more columns offer greater flexibility for publications with text, photos, and other graphic elements and a mix of long and short articles. Grids based on an even number of grid columns can suffer from too much symmetry if text and graphics are confined to individual or double grid columns throughout. Think of interior decorating. Don't you usually create odd number groupings? The same can be said for grid based page layout.
A balanced and consistently implemented design scheme will increase readers’ confidence in your document. Your first step is to establish a basic layout grid. With this graphic 'backbone' you can determine how the major blocks of type and illustrations will regularly occur in your pages. To start, gather representative examples of your text, along with some graphics, scans, or other illustrative material, and experiment with various arrangements of the elements on the page. Your goal is to establish a consistent, logical document layout, one that allows you to 'plug in' text and graphics without having to stop and rethink your basic design approach on each new page. See the Web Style Guide for useful examples of grid based layout.