In graphic design, a grid is a structure (usually two-dimensional) made up of a series of intersecting straight (vertical, horizontal, and angular) or curved guide lines used to structure content. The grid serves as an armature on which a designer can organize graphic elements (images, glyphs, paragraphs) in a rational, easy to absorb manner. A grid can be use to organize graphic elements in relation to a page, in relation to other graphic elements on the page, or relation to other parts of the same graphic element or shape.
The less common printing term “reference grid,” is an unrelated system with roots in the early days of printing.
After World War II, a number of graphic designers, including Max Bill, Emil Ruder, and Josef Müller-Brockmann, influenced by the modernist ideas of Jan Tschichold’s Die neue Typographie (The New Typography), began to question the relevance of the conventional page layout of the time.
A Flexible System
They began to devise a flexible system able to help designers achieve coherency in organizing the page. The result was the modern typographic grid that became associated with the International Typographic Style. The seminal work on the subject, Grid systems in graphic design by Müller-Brockmann, helped propagate the use of the grid, first in Europe, and later in North America.
By the mid-1970s instruction of the typographic grid as a part of graphic design curricula had become standard in Europe, North America and much of Latin America. The graphic style of the grid was adopted as a look for corporate communication. In the early 1980s, a reaction against the entrenchment of the grid, particularly its dogmatic use, and association with corporate culture, resulted in some designers rejecting its use in favor of more organic structure.