Launch issue: grid design

It has been little over two months now since I announced the theme of the launch issue I’m currently working on, namely Belonging. Ever since, times have been crazy. Contacting contributors, reading tons of submissions, fine tuning and re-briefing storytellers and above all: holding on while this amazing adventure is taking place. But actually it all began two years ago, when letsexploremagazine.com went live. A platform where I collect stories about people, projects, ideas and brands that inspire me and by sharing those stories hopefully inspire others as well. The intention from the start was to venture into print at some point and that time has come. So far it’s been amazing and I can’t wait to share with you what’s next.

Besides brainstorming with 20+ storytellers from across the globe, I’ve kept myself busy with the initial designs for the magazine, which usually this happens behind the scenes. Inspired by Kai Brach – founder, editor, designer, marketeer (basically a one man dream-team) of the amazing magazine Offscreen – who shares tons of what goes on behind his scenes, I’ve decided to share the process in which the inaugural issue is becoming reality. Starting with defining its grid.

The following images and captions show you how I got from initial idea to the grid that I’ll be using throughout the magazine. I’m a total geek when it comes to stuff like this and there aren’t a lot of people I usually share this with. The initial feedback regarding work-in-progress posts and the teaser image with part of the grid where extremely positive, which ultimately led me to follow through with this idea.

I hope you’ll enjoy this first post. Let me know what you think, ask me questions if you have any and please share this post as you please. Here goes:

We start off with a blank double page. No surprise right. While choosing the dimensions I kept my eye closely on how the magazine would feel while holding it (by actually taking pieces of paper and folding them until the size was just right) and by looking closely at available envelope sizes. Seems a bit weird maybe, but it allows for keeping shipping costs to a minimum. The final dimensions are: 185 mm wide and 245 mm high, with the spread (double page) ending up being: 370 mm wide and 245 mm high


The first step after choosing our dimensions is determining the Van de Graaf Canon. This is one of many ways of constructing pages into proportions that are visually pleasing. This geometrical solution works for any page width:height ratio, whereas other concepts rely on a golden ration proportion.


In this case, the proportions of the text blocks end up being the same as the proportions of the page.


The Van de Graaf Canon (and other concepts for that matter) is mainly used for books, dating back to medieval bibles amongst others. When we look at the large text blocks, we notice large margins, especially at the bottom and on the outside where we would hold the big heavy books. As I’m working on a magazine and this particular canon being useful with any page dimensions, I decided to also apply the canon to both the top and bottom margins. By doing so, creating two more text blocks, useful for the extension of body text, footnotes, pagination and so on. Basically bending the rules a bit.


The previous guidelines focus on text blocks on the page. So what about photography. Photographers often apply the Rule of Thirds when shooting. By drawing 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines, an image is divided in 9 equal blocks. Important elements of the photo should be placed along these lines, preferably near the intersections of these lines. I figured, why not use these guidelines for my pages as well.


Funny thing is, when researching all these methods of “beautiful” composition, they are like the many roads to Rome. In the end they all – more or less – end up with the same divided pages. Take Rosarivo’s discovery of the “golden ratio” in Gutenberg’s work. He discovered the construction of its pages, by dividing each page in ninths visit their website. When applying this to the pages we just created before and we leave the resulted text blocks, we see that the guidelines fit seamlessly. At least with the main text block. Overlaying the Van de Graaf Canon we find more overlapping intersections, which can be used during the design process later on. Needless to say, the Rule of Thirds overlaps the Rule of Ninths as well.


Next up, we use Rosarivo’s division to create the columns within the text block. Like I said before, I’m bending the rules a bit by extending the text block by using another Van de Graaf Canon in the bottom margin. It’s not a set rule to use this space for body text, but I simply don’t like such a big bottom margin in magazine design. Because the page is divided in ninths, the inner margin is one-ninths and the outer margin is two-ninths of the grid thus ending up with six-ninths for the text block. This is a direct result of using both the Van de Graaf Canon and Rosaviro’s concept. I decided to create a six column grid within the text block, positioning the middle gutter in the middel of the text block. There is a slight misalignment the further you go to the outside, which is te result of the outer columns only having a gutter on one side. The width of the gutter is set in correspondence with the baseline of the text. This is still a work in progress, so I will elaborate more on that in the post that talks about the typographic choices that I’m making.


This is how the six column grid looks like within the extended text blocks. As you can tell, the ‘weight’ of this lay out tends to be on the bottom of the page/spread. This will be counter balanced by meta information at the top. More about this later on as well. You can basically think of the meta information as a coat rack from which the rest of the lay out is hanging.


Last but not least is drawing in the, so far, unused elements of both the Van de Graaf Canon and Rosarivo’s interpretation (drawn in red). When you look at the vertical lines, you see an extension of the column grid, on the outside the leftover line of Rosarivo’s structure and on the inside an extra guideline marking the halfway point between the text block and the spine. This provides me with a marker on the page which can be used to create a visual link between the two pages by letting images run through the spine to the other side for example. But also a way of creating tension on a singular page by letting imagery or color plains pass the text block.
When you look at the horizontal lines, you’ll notice that these coincide with the tops and bottoms of the three text blocks created by drawing three Van de Graaf Canon’s. All in all, it looks like quite a tight regiment of lines but at the same time offering a well balanced base to start bending some rules.


Time to play!


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