Alphabets within Grids

Influenced by Wim Crouwel’s approach to design, we began to look at grids and how we can use them to influence our alphabets, or rather how we can design an alphabet around a grid. I used squared, triangular and circular grids, but in the end I much preferred the circular grid as I had a guide for the curvature of letterforms. Here are a few examples of my squared and triangular grids, which were all a part of the trials and tribulations and helped me develop upon my final alphabet:


Final Alphabet

Now, I know it’s not perfect, but for a first attempt I’m rather happy. Using the curvature of the circles I made a continuously flowing letterform. My only downfall and something I plan to revisit in my sketchbook is the letters H and X look exactly the same, one I wouldn’t use the black forms on either side. Another downfall is the N and its extra long width, I could have cut down the size by using one less semi-circle, but all of these minor details should be easily fixed if I was to revisit the alphabet within my sketchbook.


Grid Placement

To start us thinking about our placement, Neil introduced us to the grid system. Innovated by Josef Muller-Brockmann whom used grids within all of his work to introduce structure and order, we tried to resemble this using a few sentences Neil had already prepared.

Thinking about placement and the hierarchy of the page, we were given a set grid to which we had to place our sentences on. This was a useful task as you really begin to think about how you want the page to look and how it will affect the reader; what will they read first? Is that the most important piece of information? Where do they look next? It was all about putting yourself in both the designer and the viewers shoes.

  • As a designer you have to think about what looks good, whilst still being practical and innovative. You have to attract the reader’s eye as well as still having a precise format that works practically and aesthethically.
  • As the viewer you have to think about where on the page you are drawn to first, what are you going to read first? If you saw this in a magazine or newspaper, would you read it?

Grid placements are all about balance. You have to think about what looks good to you as a designer, and you have to decide whether it will affect your target audience. As a whole, this workshop really helped me acknowledge the subtle undertones of graphic design. Grids are something I have never noticed before, but I am certain that I will begin to now that they have been introduced to me. That rusty spoon menu is never going to be the same again.

These were my grid placements and, although I wouldn’t use these particular layouts in any of my design work, it was a starting point where I can begin to develop further and I will use for future reference. I will certainly use these within my books later on in the moduele.

Grids, Guides and Baseline

The grid makes it possible to bring all the elements of design- type characters, photography, drawing and color – into a formal relationship to each other; that is to say, the grid system is a means to introducing order to a design. A deliberately composed design has a clearer, more neatly arranged and more successful effect than an advertisement put together at random” – Josef Muller Brockmann

Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of InDesign but since beginning university I have to say I’m impartial, especially when it comes to clean layouts, and that’s because of the 3 musketeers that are grids, guides and the infamous baseline.

Let’s start with the baseline grid. This is practically lined paper in a digital format. Personally, I like the baseline as I’m a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to order, I’m very particular when it comes to alignment and spacing within text. Using leading you can easily manipulate this, but using the baseline grid is much more efficient and practical as it knows where the text should be, rather than blind guessing by eye.

I am forever grateful for guides. Being the perfectionist I am, when it comes to symmetrical design, guides are second-to-none. They aid in the placement of text, images and everything in-between. They can be placed anywhere on the document and can be used in parallel with grids to reassure that inner perfectionist.

Everything should fit to a grid; vertically, horizontally or both. Grids are used to create a structure within your document, they’re popular for magazine and newspaper layouts as there is a clear structure to design within. Grids are useful as you can personalise them to structure whatever document you are creating. Whether it be a magazine layout, a poster design or a website; grids come in handy within all aspects of design when it comes to creating order.

Josef Müller-Brockmann

‘I would advise young people to look at everything they encounter in a critical light … Then I would urge them at all times to be self-critical.’ – Josef in an interview with Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin for Eye Magazine, 1995.

Josef is one of, if not the, most famous name in 20th century graphic design. Ironically, he became a graphic designer by accident. Growing up in pre-war Switzerland he focused on his talents and studied art, design and architect at the University of Zürich. At school he had a tendency to not write notes but instead he would create little illustrations. His teacher took a liking to this and encouraged him to pursue an artistic career. He took his teachers advice and found an apprenticeship a retoucher at a printing works but he only lasted one day as he said it wasn’t art, he then found another apprenticeship where he lasted a month and that was with two architects. Overall, he wasn’t happy. He finally found something that interested him; graphic design. So he took to the telephone directory because he wanted to see what they did and wanted to know if this was something he would see himself doing in six months time. Afterward he enrolled to study graphic design at the Zurich Gewerbeschule.

Josef is mostly recognised for his grid technique. One would assume he learnt this technique from architect; working in a systematic order which he then developed into his graphic style and this idea is still used today. In his 1981 book, Grid Systems in Graphic Design, he wrote that the grid system creates a ‘sense of compact planning, intelligibility and clarity, and suggests orderliness of design’. This idea was important to Josef as he most frequently used a clean design and just looking at his work  you can tell he has used a grid system because his designs, also sometimes complex, they look simplistic and your eyes can easily flow. This influenced designers on a global scale and we are still learning about it today. He loved teaching young designers the basics of graphic design and seeing how they would take that and make it their own, adapt and use their own style. So much so that at the age of 43 he became a teacher at Zurich School of Arts and Crafts.

His influences fluctuated from art movements to psychiatrists to handwriting. His big influences were art movements by the likes of Constructivism, De Stijl, and Suprematism. Interestingly, the Bauhaus was also one of his influences. Whether it was the art process they taught, the young individuals and their artistic outcomes or the building itself, I’m not sure why this particular place influenced Josef but I can understand why (I will write a separate blog post on this matter and link it here). He would judge a person and their characteristics on their handwriting, this really interested Josef and he claimed that he wasn’t often wrong on his judgement. However, this wasn’t the case with Carl Jung, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. In an interview with Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin for Eye Magazine he said the following regarding Carl Jung; ‘As a young man I was intrigued not only by psychology but also by graphology. When I met people who interested me I would read their handwriting and was rarely wrong in my judgements. But this gift began to disturb me, especially in my dealings with clients, where it would unnecessarily prejudice discussion. So I abandoned it overnight. Later I paid the price for giving up these analyses when I took on partners and employees whose handwriting would have given me an early warning of trouble ahead.’

Josef Muller-Brockmann is somewhat of a graphic design pro. He had the ability to make text and image flow simultaneously. You knew what you were getting when you hired Josef for a design job; professionalism, expertise and an innovative design. No matter wat he was designing, he would always make something new, and that is what I admire about him. Each design is different but it still has his corporate identity. Starting with the grid layout and developing on from there, he was a genius of the 20th century. What you have to remember about Josef is that he lived through two wars and when everything around you is crumbling, the last thing most individuals would be is inspired. But that is something Josef never lost.

Unfortunately Josef passed in 1996, but his legacies haven’t.