Mental Attitude of the Grid

The typographic grid is a graphic designer’s tool for structuring the page. You split the page into a grid and use that as a guide for laying out the design elements. Wikipedia writes:

The grid serves as an armature on which a designer can organize graphic elements (images, glyphs, paragraphs) in a rational, easy to absorb manner.

The word rational is telling. The grid was born during the 20th century inspired by the modernist ideals. It’s not just a practical tool, but a principled one. The definitive book on the grid is Josef Müller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design. He lists the reasons to use a grid:

  • economic reasons: a problem can be solved in less time and at lower cost.
  • rational reasons: both simple and complex problems can be solved in a uniform and characteristic style.
  • mental attitude: the systematic presentation of facts, of sequences of events, and of solutions to problems should, for social and educational reasons, be a constructive contribution to the cultural state of society and an expression of our sense of responsibility.

A graphic designer is someone who solves problems. The problem they’re solving is how to best communicate visually something. I’ve never seen it put this way on the Internet, but it seems like a very valid way of viewing the profession.

How do they solve the problems? Efficiently, of course, both visually and economically. But they also solve them responsibly and for the betterment of the society.

I was surprised to encounter a call for responsible design in a book on grid systems, but it makes sense. There’s a great talk by Mike Monteiro along similar lines, titled How Designers Destroyed the World. To summarize it:

You are directly responsible for what you put into the world.

The talk is not just for designers, but for everyone who works on products. You could do worse than watch it.


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