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Grids have been used for centuries, starting with the hand-drawn monastic manuscripts, as a way of organizing information in a readable and pleasing format. With the advent of movable type, the typographic grid became an inherent part of the printing process. Following World War II, Josef Müller-Brockmann championed the use of the modern typographic grid. As the printing process has changed from hands-on to digital, grids have evolved to give even greater flexibility to designers.
According to Alan Swann, “a grid is a geometric division of a space into precisely measured columns, spaces, and margins.” Using a grid allows a designer to quickly and easily create a cohesive layout for books, magazines, and websites. The grid also offers a designer a balanced structure on which to hang the design. Rather than confining design, grids allow infinite variety. They offer a tangible rationale for placement of graphical elements, while giving the designer the opportunity to break the grid to add an element of surprise.
Designers who Modern designers who use grids are in all aspects of the graphic design industry include Khoi Vinh, Mark Boulton, and Tobias Frere-Jones.
How to Understand and Use Grids, Alan Swann, pub. 1989
For project 4, we were tasked with choosing an excerpt of an inaugural address and creating a poster using only typography. The successful result would “amplify or subvert” the meaning in the excerpt through the design and layout of the type.
I chose to use FDR’s first inaugural address because today’s economic climate is somewhat similar to that of 1933, though not nearly as bad. What I hadn’t realized when I picked the speech was that FDR’s famous quote, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…,” was from that first address. The sentiment is more relevant today than it was 77 years ago, especially with fear mongers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh hyping terror on TV and radio every day.
The main focus of my design is on “fear itself.” I’ve arranged the words to form an arrow of sorts that point down to a jagged looking substrate made up of the rest of the sentence which describes the perils of buying into the fear. The words “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified” remain separate to emphasize the reality of the fear we’re confronted with on a daily basis.
Of the three fonts available, I chose to use Gotham because the idea I wanted to convey required a no nonsense, firm vehicle. The other two choices were Knockout, which seemed too playful, and Caslon, which seemed too formal.
I worked with several color combinations, finally settling on a black field with “fear itself” in red. This seemed to convey the direness broadcast by the talking heads. I considered having “fear itself” in yellow because yellow is associated with cowards and fearfulness, but I didn’t think it would get the message across very well.
My daughter, who is 9, was looking at my finished poster this morning and I was pleased that she was able to read the jagged substrate. That showed me that I had the balance between density and readability right. I was also pleased that she understood what FDR was meaning when he made his address. Perhaps there’s hope for the future, even with TV’s influence. Then again, we may have cause for concern according to this story from ABC News, “French ‘Game of Death’ Shocks Audience, Contestants.” Sadly, Glenn Beck and the like may be more influential than the sound reasoning voices in counterpoint.