sketchOne thing which nobody ever taught me about as a graphic design student was grids, how crazy is that? Grids must be one of the most fundamental elements of design and can help make sense from chaos. Immediately by using a grid it helps you find a sense of balance within a layout, that’s not to say you shouldn’t break out of the grid, but it is definitely a good starting point.

At the start of a design job instead of jumping straight on the computer take a short time to scribble some ideas on a paper – ideally a layout pad. A layout pad is ideal as you can process your ideas, if something doesn’t look quite right, then trace over the bits that do work and adapt the bits that don’t. By spending a short time sketching you can save yourself hours on the computer.

To illustrate my point I have created an example. I quite often have to produce promotional leaflets (single side A4) selling exhibition systems and equipment, so this fictitious example is based on that. The leaflet will require the following – sale flash (or the word Sale pulled out in some way), heading, intro text, logo, 5 products – consisting each of heading, photo, bullets and price point, call to action (phone number etc).


The first thing to consider is your 5 products, what sort of grid would be needed to show 5 products?

You could have:

  • a 4 column grid with one large product pulled out across all the columns and the other 4 across a column each below (sketch 1 and 4).
  • a 2 column grid with a flash balancing off one of the products at the top (sketch 2)
  • a 6 column grid with 2 larger products using 3 columns each and 3 products below using 2 columns each (sketch 3)

There are lots of other possibilities too.

I can then decide that maybe I would like one product to break out of the grid, maybe bleed off the page (sketch 1), where I would like to place my sale mark, logo and other elements so they balance with the products and other elements. Beyond this I sometimes ad notes on the type of heading – distressed, very bold and perhaps sketch in a rough idea of a graphic (stars sketch 4) (though I sometimes leave this until after I have input all the elements on the computer).

I spent about 30 minutes scribbling these sketches but in that time I can see the designs that work best and those that don’t, saving me time experimenting on the computer. I don’t like the balance of sketch 2 or the heading in the middle on sketch 4, Both 3 and 1 look ok but, but sketch 1 looks a bit more interesting so I would probably begin working it up to a rough layout in quark xpress. That doesn’t mean that what I sketched is fixed in stone, but it acts as a good starting point. The budget, for me for a leaflet like this is quite tight, so by spending a little time sketching at first, I save myself a lot of time in the long run.

The more experienced you get the easier it is to “SEE” a layout. I get an idea what will work and what won’t with a layout far quicker now that when I first started out in design. I think the sketch and grid are a the key to speeding up the process.

What processes do you use the create layout based designs?