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Bence uses writing to investigate graphic design from unconventional angles, such as economic and cultural production, critical theory and media analysis.

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Grid as process

While modernity’s rigid aesthetic vision faded and new forms arose, its conceptual legacy is a valuable asset to designers. Particularly valuable, not as a visual form, but as a functional process, is the grid.

Divide and organise

While known as a visual organising method for designers across disciplines, its fundamental function and other possible uses can be uncovered upon an examination of its 17th and 18th century origins. The grid, in the European and American design traditions, in essence, is a product of the Enlightenment. This period saw the organisation of various aspects of societies into concrete categories and compartments. On the economic plane, the Enlightenment created the bases of the capitalist mode of production, hugely influenced by the work of Scottish economist Adam Smith, who proposed the production of commodities should be divided into specialised roles. He argued that through a specialised division of labour greater efficiency could be achieved, which, in turn, generates more surplus value. On the cultural plane, an example of this division was the Encyclopédie, a general encyclopaedia that attempted the organisation all of human knowledge in printed matter. It arranged its content based on the Figurative system of human knowledge, a system that separated information into three main branches – memory, reason and imagination – all of which contained further segments, creating specialised categories for knowledge. Here emerged the grid’s fundamental functions: division and organisation.

It was not until the 20th century when this function of the grid manifested at scale and speed both in economic and cultural production. Ford’s assembly line is the logical consequence of Smith’s specialised division of labour, responsible for manufacturing the new automobile in a highly efficient manner. At the Bauhaus and Vkhutemas the grid gained visual expressions in various fields of design and art, where it was utilised for the segmentation and organisation of spaces and materials.

Although the break from visual modernity in fields of design was accompanied by a lesser role for the grid (still much more prominent than in the arts), it continues to reserve itself as a popular method of visual organisation in the generally Postmodern aesthetic terrain of the 21st century.

Systematic process with the grid

Nonetheless, this function of segmentation and organisation holds upmost relevance as a process. Instead of dividing spaces or surfaces of materials, the grid can also divide space and time itself – that of the design process. This extends Karl Gerstner’s method detailed in Designing Programmes under the ‘Programme as Logic’ chapter. To illustrate an application, the example of a printed book is to be examined.

One might systematise their process in the following way for the entire project, in an iterative, cyclical manner:
  1. Research, discovery
  2. Ideation
  3. Production
  4. Feedback, user testing

A design-object oriented “gridification” of the process for the body matter of the book, again in an iterative and cyclical way:
  1. Format
  2. Print media, paper
  3. Margins, grids
  4. Typography
  5. Images, illustrations
  6. Colours

A detail oriented “gridification” of the typography of the body matter:
  1. Typeface
  2. Size
  3. Leading
  4. Tracking
  5. Hyphenation
  6. Paragraph indents or outdents

Breaking the grid and experiments

It must be noted however, just as with visual applications of the grid, its applications for process too, are only guides, not rigid solutions, and deviations are necessary for a multitude of reasons. For instance, visually, breaking the grid can be useful for producing unexpected solutions, enriching the work. The grid as process can include this in the very systematisation of production, in the form of, for example, reserving two hours in the research and ideation phase for discovery through experimental making.

This application of the grid demonstrates that the process, like the material surface, is “infinitely”divisible into various sized segments, inside which information, in this case the process itself, can be organised. This segmentation also organically formulates a concrete plan for production, creating a method of working capable of tackling complex problems in various contexts.

© 2021 Bence Iványi