No book about typography would be complete without a discussion of the golden section, a ratio (relationship between two numbers) that has been used in Western art and architecture for more than two thousand years. The formula for the golden section is a : b = b : (a+b). This means that the smaller of two elements (such as the shorter side of a rectangle) relates to the larger element in the same way that the larger element relates to the two parts combined. In other words, side a is to side b as side b is to the sum of both sides. Expressed numerically, the ratio for the golden section is 1 : 1.618.
Some graphic designers are fascinated with the golden section and use it to create various grids and page formats-indeed, entire books have been written on the subject. Other designers believe that the golden section is no more valid as a basis for deriving sizes and proportions than other methods, such as beginning from standard industrial paper sizes, or dividing surfaces into halves or squares, or simply picking whole-number page formats and making logical divisions within them.
While single-column grids work well for simple documents, multicolumn grids provide flexible formats for publications that have a complex hierarchy or that integrate text and illustrations. The more columns you create, the more flexible your grid becomes. You can use the grid to articulate the hierarchy of the publication by creating zones for different kinds of content. A text or image can occupy a single column or it can span several. Not all the space has to be filled.
In addition to creating vertical zones with the columns of the grid, you can also divide the page horizontally. For example, an area across the top can be reserved for images and captions, and body text can “hang” from a common line. Graphic designers call this a hang line. In architecture, a horizontal reference point like this is known as a datum.
A modular grid has consistent horizontal divisions from top to bottom in addition to vertical divisions from left to right. These modules govern the placement and cropping of pictures as well as text. In the 1950s and 1960s, Swiss graphic designers including Gerstner, Ruder, and Müller-Brockmann devised modular grid systems like the one shown here.
designing programs Grid diagram, 1963
(redrawn). Designer: Karl Gerstner. Publisher: Arthur Niggli, Zurich.
This square grid consists of six vertical columns and six horizontal
modules, overlayed by grids of one, two, three, and four units.
Vertically, the grid is governed by a 10-pt measure, which would
determine the spacing of type from baseline to baseline.
Modular grids are created by positioning horizontal guidelines in relation to a baseline grid that governs the whole document. Baseline grids serve to anchor all (or nearly all) layout elements to a common rhythm. Create a baseline grid by choosing the typesize and leading of your text, such as 10-pt Scala Pro with 12 pts leading (10/12). Avoid auto leading so that you can work with whole numbers that multiply and divide cleanly. Use this line space increment to set the baseline grid in your document preferences.
Adjust the top or bottom page margin to absorb any space left over by the baseline grid. Determine the number of horizontal page units in relation to the numer of lines in your baseline grid. Count how many lines fit in a full column of text and then choose a number that divides evenly into the line count to create horizontal page divisions. A column with forty-two lines of text divides neatly into seven horizontal modules with six lines each. If your line count is not neatly divisible, adjust the top and/or bottom page margins to absorb the leftover lines.
To style headlines, captions, and other elements, choose line spacing that works with the baseline grid, such as 18/24 for headlines, 14/18 for subheads, and 8/12 for captions. Web designers can choose similar increments (line height in CSS) to create style sheets with neatly coordinated baselines. Where possible, position all page elements in relation to the baseline grid. Don’t force it, though. Sometimes a layout works better when you override the grid. View the baseline grid when you want to check the position of elements; turn it off when it’s distracting.
Use a modular grid to arrange a text in as many ways as you can. By employing just one size of type and flush left alignment only, you will construct a typographic hierarchy exclusively by means of spatial arrangement. To make the project more complex, begin adding variables such as weight, size, and alignment.
download hi-res pdf: Grid: Experimental Typography