· The debate ·

This lecture had a very clear purpose, discuss about the importance of grids and whether they are essential or not. So, let’s get the ball rolling with the ‘pro-grids’ ones:

The Swiss graphic designer Josef Müller-Brockmann (1914-1996), known for his constructivists designs, described that the work of the designer needs to have “the clearly intelligible, objective, functional and aesthetic quality of mathematical thinking” and continued with a long list of all the virtues he considered of the grids such as its consistency, the rationality of creative and technical production processes, the ease to integrate colour, form and material and the dominion of space and surface. He considered that “work done systematically and in accordance with strict formal principles makes those demands for directness, intelligibly and the integration of all factors” and that “working with the grid system means submitting to laws of universal validity.”


This last point is very interesting as human-beings, like the nature and the entire universe, have this genuine and inherent desire of order and organisation. Indeed we can find clues of this tendency in the way society is organised, our daily life and even on our spare time. Furthermore, the fact of having tools such as the grid to create this order, make it easier for our brain to create links between contents when we look at a page, for instance.

The grid, therefore, was agreed for many designers like German relevant typographer Jan Tschichold (1902-1974), architects like the French modernist Le Corbusier (1887-1965),  and artists like the Dutch suprematist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) to be a funcional and clear way to convey the message as well as international and universal. Moreover, the grid was considered to show the criteria and creativity of the designer as it proves that the decisions aren’t taken randomly but following an order. Müller-Brockmann concluded in his book ‘Grid Systems in Graphic Design’ (1996) that “every visual creative work is a manifestation of the character of the designer. It is a reflection of his knowledge, his ability and his mentality.”

Mondrian (1929) Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue III
Le Corbusier’s grid system applied to people and architecture

On the other hand, the ones against the grid system like William L. Fox argued in his book ‘The Void, The Grid & The Sign’ (2005) that “the grid exercises authority over space by applying a ruler to it in all senses of the word” and also that “as an artificial extension of our egocentric visual triangulation of the world, the grid is always suspect”. In summary, all those ‘anti-grids’ considered it as “spatial signature of modernity” made “to control and discipline”.

According to the Canadian essayist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) stated that the grids were used to create order but that it forgets the relationships between contents. Moreover, he criticised the fact that many urbanists were applying the grid, which was used in printing mediums, to organise cities, and therefore, the way people lived as if they were types. It was a “neutral and rational” according to the Dutch sociologist Saskia Sassen (1947).

The American grid towns

The American critic and theorist Peter Lunenfeld juxtaposed the the advantages and disadvantages of the grid in his book ‘Snap to Grid’ (2001) claiming that “the gains in predictability and accuracy are balanced against the losses of ambiguity and expressiveness”. So he was one of the pioneers who pointed out both the strengths and weaknesses of the grid system.

Furthermore, at the beginning of the 20th century the avant-gardes like the dada movement began to experiment with the collage which is a technique not opposed to the modernist grid but a thoughtful about representation, time and space. It was an absolutely visual media willing to convey how the world spoke, shouted and made sounds. That is to say, a new way to liberate the words -parole in liberta- and let them stand by themselves, which was very clearly represented, for instance, in the dadaist poetry.


Theo van Doesburg’s dada poster. (1923)

Dada poster from Hannah Höch & Parole in liberta  (right)

Reference List

Anon, (2016). [online] Available at: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1050153.files/Grids_Rosalind%20Krauss.pdf [Accessed 8 May 2016].

Baines, J. & Hartnett, JP. (2016) The debate [Lecture to GMD Year 1] T303: Contextual and Theoretical Studies. UAL

Fox, William (2005) The Void, the Grid & the Sign: Traversing the Great BAsin. Reno & Las Vega: University of Nevada Press.

Krauss, R. (1980). Grids. New York: Pace Gallery.

Lunenfeld, P. (2000). Snap to grid. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Müller-Brockmann, J. (1981). Grid systems in graphic design. Niederteufen: Verlag Arthur Niggli.

Sassen, S (2000) New frontiers facing urban sociology at the Millennium. British Journal of Sociology.

Sennett, R. (1990) The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities. New York: Alfred A Knopf. This can be found online by putting the following words into Google: Conscience of the Eye Harvard pdf [don’t forget the pdf]

Thegreatamericangrid.com. (2015). The Great American Grid. [online] Available at: http://www.thegreatamericangrid.com [Accessed 8 May 2016].


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