Most publications are designed on a grid, prearranged guide that defines margins, the number and width of a columns and also – horizontal positions for placing advertisements.
Why to use a grid today when modern design tools permit great flexibility? Well, again your main focus is your reader (again). The readers take comfort in standardization and familiarity. Structure also aids function – predictability allows the reader to read rather than decode each layout as they comes to it.
The grid serves readers.
Grid Basics: Grid structure can vary throughout the course of a magazine, as long as it does so in a logical way. Generally, when you decide the number of columns on your grid you have to make it wide enough. The ideal column width is the one that does not create unnecessary hyphenations and unwanted word spacing. A good number to look for is around 35 characters per line. (Please see: 10 steps to better legibility for body copy ).
Gutters: In addition to columns, most grids provide space called gutters or alleys – space between the columns. Most publications use one pica (approximately one-sixth of an inch) for this gap.
Modular design: All grids provide a vertical column structure. A number of publications divide their pages into regular horizontal increments too. For newspapers, the resulting modules have the twin production advantages of accommodating standard ad sizes and providing vertical placements for editorial matter. Modules provide the same pleasing regularity and order down the page as columns provide across the page.
The 12 column grid: Most magazine designers use a 12 column grid. A standard size page is never laid out with twelve actual columns . But, at its most basic, a 12 column grid provides twelve units from which the designer can derive most standard magazine layouts. Six units plus six units renders a two-column layout, three unit columns provide a four column layout. These can sometimes be mixed on the same page – it is not uncommon to see a sidebar use a different grid structure than the main story.One of the strengths of the 12 column grid comes from its use to organize space in open layouts. Using this grid it allows you to expand the gutters to one-twelfth of the page, or precise placement of pull quotes or sidebars, or integration of white space in a placing ratio to other elements on the page.
Asymmetrical Grids: Some designers prefer asymmetrical grids because they encourage dynamic page layouts. A common choice is the seven column grid, which permits a three column layout (two units for each column) with an extra unit for a “wing” – a skinny column for marginalia or white space.
The 10 column grid is similar to the 7 column grid, with three, three unit columns and a one column wing. It is usually used on larger than standard sized pages.
Note: Pages that seek to put a lot of different elements on a page need a newspaper style multicolumn grid. For a standard size magazine that often means four or more columns.