The boss has asked you to create a report.

Fantastic! Now it’s your time to shine. You will create a document that blows her socks off with all its gloriousness.

Not only will it look great, but it will make sense, be easy to follow, and communicate your message effectively fulfilling its designed function.

IF you can figure out how to start, that is.

You have all the information in a variety of places and formats but you’re not sure how to structure or design it. The last thing you want is it to end up looking like a dog’s dinner…again.

When this happens to me, I fall back on a trusty technique that designers have been using since graphic design began.

The answer is – grids.

Wait! Don’t leave – it’s not as dull as it sounds. In fact, I guarantee that by the end of this article, you’ll love grids as much as I do. (Well, ok, maybe not that much)

Whether it’s a landing page, a printed document or a presentation – use a grid and this happens:

  • Your document becomes neater
  • Your reader feels the desired impact
  • Your message is delivered exactly how you intend

Because a grid allows you to shift and align information into the best places on the page in a logical and user-friendly way.

But What Exactly is a Grid?

A grid, in design terms, is a series of horizontal and vertical lines that subdivide a page.

Designers use grids to decide where to put things and how much space to allow for each item on a page.

It gives you a kind of pattern to follow that, unless you are a fellow design geek, you won’t consciously notice in the final product.

In fact, in the 20th Century, a group of German Psychologists developed the Gestalt Theory which proposes that the human brain has built-in organising tendencies, which “structure individual elements, shapes or forms into a coherent, organized whole.” 

Essentially, we just like looking at things that are structured for our brain to quickly figure out what’s going on, or what we need to do. And if that pattern doesn’t exist, it tries to fill in the gaps itself. So, why make it harder for your boss (or worse, your customers)?

Using grids helps you to prioritise the pieces of information that need the most attention from your audience. 

Most of your colleagues or competitors won’t use grids. They’re like those handles you have above each car door – useful, make life much easier when getting out the car … but most people forget to grab them.

If you’re still with me, you’re already ahead of the game by considering grids in the first place.

Here is an example of a grid used for an A4 page layout.

Example Grid Gif

The grid I used for this had 12mm margins around all the edges of the page.

Then it had six columns, each with a gutter of 3mm. I chose this particular layout because all the numbers divided nicely into each other – giving a pattern to the document that will make it neat and logical.

grid set up gif

Getting Griddy With It: The Easy Way

“That’s all well and good,” you say. “But I don’t have the same fancy schmancy design programs as you for a start”.

Don’t worry – you don’t have to set up your own grids with magical mathematical formulas to make small improvements to your current design work.

Sketch it out – Before you start your next document, sketch out a basic grid in a notebook. Then with another coloured pen, draw over the grid where you think the elements of your design would work best.

For example, you can divide the information into logical parts such as heading, image, body copy etc. and use the grid to decide where you could place them.

grids sketch

I often start my work like this as it helps you to quickly visualise how things could work.

This way, even if you aren’t using software that allows the creation of grids or guides, you still have an idea of where to put things.

And if you click the button below you can download some of my pre-made printable A4 grids.

Use them to cheat by tracing over the lines to create a sketch for how your document will look.

If you find the printouts useful, or if you have any questions about using grids in your designs, talk to me in the comments below.