Thoughts on Grid Systems in Graphic Design, Josef Muller-Brockmann
What would his job title be if he were alive today?
Typography intertwines with every app, website, and almost every piece of print media that we consume. When designed poorly, the words become hard to read. On the other hand, well-crafted typography can create a beautiful, engaging experience. You have the power to control the readers' emotions through delicate kerning, leading and composition.
Grid Systems, in graphic design, was published in 1981. Josef Muller-Brockmann's book demonstrates how grids promote functional and aesthetic quality. 40 years later, it is still a must-read for designers. Over the years, the principles that he applied to print design have become more relevant in the advent of the web. After all, at the core of all responsive web layout design is a grid.
What is the grid system?
The grid is a controlling system that brings order to a design, where horizontal and vertical lines act as guides. Designers use grids to align elements in a logical order. It is a systematic way of organising text and illustrations.
Why use a grid system?
The purpose of books, newspapers and websites is to communicate, and effective communication design considers how the user will read the content. The grid forces the designer to consider where they are placing elements on a page, and what order they will be read in. Newspapers all use a grid system to divide the page into smaller, easier to read sections. If they didn't break up the page, it would be a challenge to read the articles without getting lost.
What can we learn from Brockmann's work?
Muller-Brockmann's work was defined by an accurate use of the grid system. His combination of line, illustrations and text create a playful rhythm within his work. Yet, it is common for designers to shy away from the grid, in fear of limiting their designs. They shouldn't, Muller-Brockmann's work is far from monotonous. He has demonstrated that using the grid doesn't diminish creativity: it enhances it.
He recognised that a clear hierarchy helped the reader to understand the content. Muller-Brockmann's posters also considered the Gestalt Principles, such as the law of proximity, which made the work more accessible. Overall, the page architecture was carefully considered to make the content easier to interpret.
"Information presented with clear and logically set out titles, subtitles, text, illustrations and captions will not only read more quickly and easily but, the information will also be better understood and retained in the memory. This is a scientifically proven fact, and the designer should constantly bear it in mind"
He saw the grid as a tool to solve problems "in less time and at a lower cost". Yet, Muller-Brockmann's quest for efficiency didn't subtract from the care that was taken in his work, "types which are well lead soothe the reader's eye while stimulating his mind".
The qualities of Muller-Brockmann's work create a well thought out user experience - far greater than similar work at the time. His design career began in the 1950s, over 35 years before Don Norman introduced the term "user-centred design" in the book user-centred System Design: New Perspectives on Human-computer Interaction.