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The Gridded Section

Source collection The Gridded Section

Grid Systems in Graphic Design

For Josef Müller-Brockmann, and many other designers since, the grid was the natural response to a design problem. It was also a metaphor for the human condition, and was found in all areas of human endeavor. he wrote in his influencial Grid Systems in Graphic Design: “Just as in nature, systems of order govern the growth and structure of animate and inanimate matter, so human activity itself has, since the earliest times, been distinguished by the quest for order… The desire to bring order to the bewildering confusion of appearances reflects a deep human need.”

Karl Nawrot

Karl Nawrot, Drawing Templates (study), 2008 – 2009, cardboard. Karl Nawrot creates type, illustrates, and draws abstract graphic compositions. He uses techniques usually associated with the architectural process. In order to understand what he’s looking for he builds physical narratives. In this way the final product is linked to a story, a fiction, creating the possibility to engage with something that has the potential to become.

The golden section

The golden section is usually cited as the most successful geometrical construction that can produce a beautiful lay-out. As it is a geometrically derived form, it can be drawn with a setsquare and a compass. By adding the lengths of the long and short edges it is possible to arrive at the next measurement in the sequence to give a bigger rectangle of the same proportions (and in reverse). Adding two numbers to find the next in a series is also the basis of the number progression of the Fibonacci sequence, named after the Italian mathematician who first identified it in many natural forms. A combination of the golden section and Fibonacci sequence was often used to determine the overall proportion of the page.

The Romain du Roi

The Romain du Roi was a typeface developed in France beginning in 1692. The name refers to Louis XIV who commissioned the design of the new typeface for use by the Royal Print Office. Whereas previous roman typefaces developed naturally over time, evolving in the hands of punch cutters from the typefaces of the fifteenth century, the Romain du Roi was the result of rational design: the letterforms were mapped on grids before being cut into metal.

The Modulor

The Modulor is an anthropometric scale of proportions devised by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965). It was developed as a visual bridge between two incompatible scales, the imperial and the metric system. It is based on the height of a man with his arm raised. Finally codified in 1945 after several years of research, Le Corbusier’s it is probably the most comprehensive proportional system imagined during the 20th century.

The Normograph

When uniformity in design is key the most basic means of ensuring homogenous letterforms is a lettering guide template, or stencil. The Normograph was invented by vocational school teacher Georg Bahr and was patented in Germany in 1909. It did not contain a full character set, but only a few elementary shapes — stems, arms, curve segments, diagonals — that needed to be combined into letters and numerals. Contemporary guides by most other manufacturers were equally limited.

Plaque Découpée Universelle

In 1876 Joseph A. David acquired the patent for Plaque Découpée Universelle, a system that he had invented for sign-writers. With a universal stencil, all UPPERCASE, lowercase, numbers, punctuation, accents etc could be sourced from the grid of the stencil.

Jurriaan Schrofer

A computer designer before the computer, Jurriaan Schrofer (1926 - 1990) is regarded one of the most defining yet least known figures in European graphic design in the 1950s-70s, author of a realm full geometric multi-dimensional letterforms which were created done painstakingly by hand. “In fact, it is not about ‘yes’ and ‘no’, nor faith or con­sci­en­ce, nor truth or lies, but the ex­per­i­en­ce of the unity of op­pos­ites”, Schrofer wrote in 1988.


The Dutch designer Wim Crouwel pioneered the application of systematic design in the Netherlands during the 1950s and 1960s. His identity for the Vormgevers exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1968 used an exposed grid in the layout of posters and catalogs, which was also the basis of the lettering.

Friedrich Soennecken

Friedrich Soennecken developed a construction kit for uppercase letters for primary school children in 1913. Soennecken had been inspired by the pedagogue Froebel, who worked with building blocks based on the elementary shapes sphere, cube and pyramid. As a logical continuation Soennecken developed a writing system based on lines and circles. With his construction kit the children composed the characters from a set of straight and circular metal elements. An underlying grid helped the children to position the elements.

Mathieu Lauweriks

Mathieu Lauweriks (1864 - 1932) was a Dutch architect. At the time, there were several geometric organizational theories that were used by different schools of thought. Lauweriks worked out an organizational system, where a square set a circle with the radius of its widest point, in which another square held another circle, and so on. From there, you can adapt the design by modulating circles in different squares of the diagram. This contribution to humanity was his interpretation for the origin of divinity: he, along with other theosophists, lived to find the hidden wisdom of the universe.


Artur and Erwin Braun didn’t see running a company as business management but more as a cultural project. In search of new designers they discovered the still young “College of Design” in Ulm, the continuation of the Bauhaus which was banned by the Nazis in 1933. Braun hired graphic designer Wolfgang Schmittel (1930 - 2013) to revamp the company’s graphical voice and marketing. Schmittel created in 1952 the compass-and-ruler typeface Braun and is considered as the pater familias of corporate design, who understood the long-term effect of a uniform company appearance - from stationery to user manuals to advertising.


Metafont, devised in 1978 by Donald Knuth, is a description language used to define raster fonts. It is also the name of the interpreter that executes Metafont code, generating the bitmap fonts that can be embedded into e.g. PostScript.Unlike more common computer outline font formats a MetaFont font is constructed of strokes drawn with set-width pens. Instead of describing the outline of the character directly by drawing each letter shape inside and outside, counter and letterform, a MetaFont file describes only the basic pen path or skeleton letter.

Die neue Typographie

Jan Tschichold became a leading advocate of Modernist design with his most noted work Die neue Typographie (1928), a manifesto of modern design, in which designers are described as akin to engineers. All typefaces are condemned but sans-serif. He also favoured non-centered design, and codified many other Modernist design rules. He advocated the use of standardised paper sizes, and made some of the first clear explanations of the effective use of different sizes and weights of type in order to quickly and easily convey information. Tschichold later condemned ‘Die neue Typographie’ as too extreme and he condemned Modernist design in general as being authoritarian and inherently fascistic.

Plastic Number

Dom Hans van der Laan (1904 – 1991) was a Dutch Benedictine monk and architect. He was a leading figure in the Bossche School. His theories on numerical ratios in architecture, in particular regarding the plastic number, were very influential. Van der Laan was not interested in the dimensions of the spaces themselves, but in what the proportions of dimensions brought about in humans. Design studio Autobahn, together with spatial designer Willem Noyons, developed a digital version of the Alphabet in Stone by Van der Laan, also based on these proportions.

Design­ing Pro­grammes

Grids increased in flexibility and mathematical dexterity, starting with considering format and ending with baseline grids. Karl Gerstner’s grid for the journal Capital, designed in 1962, is still often cited as near-perfect in terms of its mathematical ingenuity. Two years later, Ger­st­ner wrote Design­ing Pro­grammes which out­lined his the­o­ries: a “programme” is a sys­tem­atic approach to solv­ing a prob­lem which comes from an under­stand­ing of a prob­lem.Gerstner doesn’t limit this approach to graphic design, but shows examples from literature, architecture, urbanism, typography, photography, art, literature and music.

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