Understanding Grids

Let’s call today’s Using Type the first real discussion in the series on the theory and practice of typography. While I could start anywhere, I’ve decided to begin somewhere in the middle of practical use (grids) rather than structure the series like an introductory typography class. Like most disciplines, in typography there’s a lot of theory and terminology that requires its own understanding and practice before discussion on the subject does any good. I could go the route of starting from the beginning, but prefer to assume some design-specific foreknowledge, and let any who need a hand ask for it.

In addition to hoping I’ve neither chosen to speak over the heads of, nor down to my audience, I might clarify also that while the principles discussed are true both in print and on screen, I favor and will give more examples related to print. When web comes up, it will mostly fit into the practice portion.

Using Type, set in Miller Banner

So let’s get started. When typographers refer to document grids, they’re generally talking about the kind of grid they most often interact with, baseline grids. Enabling a baseline grid forces a block of text’s vertical spacing into alignment with the document’s fixed vertical increment. This keeps text from being nudged just a little above or below where it should be. While baseline grids can be seen as an abstract concept replicable in any number of media, I’ll talk about them mainly in the scope of print, and use terms compatible with Adobe InDesign, a print-focused layout app that supports adherence to a baseline grid.

First, a little theory, next week, some practice and tips. Like the document you’re creating, grids exist to serve the reader, and the designer. How one spaces the lines of type affects the color and unification of the body text, as well as the pacing of the document, and the perceived quality of the production. Grids should therefore be prepared to assert some authority regarding what goes where. Well-designed grids work as part of the greater structure of the document, allow flexibility of composition, and remain in the typographer’s service.

Everything lines up.

What some typographers do, out of preference or convention, or because they’re after a specific aesthetic, is work within a coarse grid where each line lines up with any adjacent line of text. Ten point text on a twelve point grid. Hierarchy is mostly determined by scale (type size). In certain cases this works great. In others, all the inflexibility shows. Example set in Akira Kobayashi’s FF Clifford,  Tim Ahrens’s JAF Bernina Sans.

Things sort of line up.

This is the one I tend more toward when setting long documents. Rather than a consistent single drumbeat as the reader’s eye works down the page, the line spacing differs between body and other text elements, but carries an overall harmony about its composition. Here the grid increment is set to a third of the body’s line spacing (or leading). Body below set in Nicole Dotin’s Elena.

There are lots of different kinds of effects one can achieve with baseline grids, but these two are the most common. We’ll pick this discussion back up on Thursday.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:48 PM | Permalink

    Great start to this series. Looking forward to the next post. Thanks.

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