Everything you need to know about grid layouts in web design

Grid layouts have been around for a long time, way before the Internet. Newspapers as early as the 19th century used grid layouts for their prints. Nowadays, web designers use grid layouts in web design to create stylish and visually appealing website designs, so this method has really stood the test of time!

With how impactful these underlying structures are on the end user, it’s no wonder grid layouts are so popular. If you are unfamiliar with grid layouts or need a refresher, here’s everything you need to know about their use in web design.

What are grid layouts?

A web design plan using grid layouts

Grid layouts are an important component of layout design, a facet of web design primarily concerned with the positioning and organisation of visual elements. This helps ensure that a web page is aesthetically appealing and consistent.

Web designers or user interface designers will use grids to place and align design elements. This includes images, forms, call-to-actions, and written copy. Grids can be used for whole-page designs or more minor user-interface elements.

Grid layout design is a component of the web design process that focuses on the placement of page elements within a grid structure. Each grid in a grid layout will consist of horizontal and vertical lines. These set out the columns and rows in each grid for placing content. Other elements of grids include:

  • Grid container defines the rows and columns of a grid layout.
  • Grid tracks are the space between any two adjacent grid lines.
  • Grid lines are the number of column lines for each grid row.
  • Grid cell is a grid area, similar to table cells.
  • Grid area is a rectangular area covering multiple cells by column or row.
  • Grid gutters are gaps set between the columns and rows of a grid.

Whatever the grid size or type, there are three core elements. These are columns, gutters, and margins. Different CSS properties set grid column and row width, height, and spacing. This allows web designers to adjust grids to accommodate different visual elements.

Grid layouts key terms

It’s important to understand some key terms before incorporating grid layouts into your web design:

  • Units are the smallest element of a website grid and the building blocks for every grid. They are either rectangular or square reference figures for element dimensions.
  • Gutter – the space between adjoining grid layouts. This empty space provides some visual separation for navigation and readability.
  • Column – the vertical column grids that act as containers for element placement. Columns arrange content into a vertical stack that goes from top to bottom.
  • Field – the grid section containing multiple horizontal page division units. These can often be combined to create larger content areas.
  • Margin – the blank whitespace areas on the left and right sides of pages. Implementing margins gives content some breathing space.
  • Breakpoints – where a website layout or elements change according to screen size or device. Breakpoints are a pivotal aspect of responsive web design to ensure the content fits on the screen appropriately.

Why should you use grid layouts?

Designing a website using grid layouts

Grid layouts are essential in helping you create an appealing web design that strikes a positive first impression. And creating the right first impression is essential to keeping users on your site.

Another reason for implementing grid layouts is that they provide a visual hierarchy for content. Creating a visual hierarchy that captures the user’s eye and guides them through elements on a page in order of importance can improve the user experience.

You’re not limited to where you can implement grid layouts, either. Every page on your site can benefit from them, whether a landing page, blog, or contact page. Using grid layouts also helps speed up the design process, providing a pre-defined structure to organise content.

But that’s not all. There are more reasons why you should use grid layouts to benefit the user:

The different types of grid layouts

When implementing grid layouts into a design, there are different types you can choose from. Your design needs will determine the choice of grid layout. Each grid layout type has distinct characteristics that suit specific needs. The different types of grid layouts are:


The column grid layout

The first type of grid layout is column grid layout, which is the most widely used in web design. This layout uses multiple columns to align and place different design elements, such as text. The column layout of this grid is ideally suited for developing responsive websites.

Generally, column grids with greater columns increase design flexibility. This is especially helpful for creating sections or areas of different content. This type of grid layout is best suited for discontinuous information.

A column grid typically has up to 16 columns, although this is usually between 2 and 12. Content can be placed within individual columns or across multiple columns. The gutter space between each column, however, should remain constant.


The modular grid layout

Another type of grid layout is modular. It builds upon the column grid layout by adding rows. This intersection of columns and rows creates the modular grid layout. Design elements are then aligned with the modules.

The modular grid layout is the most widely used e-commerce website design. Its repeating modular design makes it ideal for listing pages, where each product is placed inside a modular block. Blocks in a modular grid layout can either be square or rectangular.

Design elements in a modular grid can be arranged according to certain criteria, such as size, to ensure maximum visual impact. Image galleries and card layouts will also use the modular grid layout. Occasionally, this grid layout may also work for a blog archive.


The hierarchical grid layout

Another type of grid layout you can incorporate into web design is hierarchical. As the name suggests, design elements are structured so that the most important elements take up the most design space in the grid. This means column widths and row heights can differ throughout.

For that reason, hierarchical grid layouts are much more flexible than column and modular layouts. Pages are still split into columns and rows, as seen with modular grid layouts. However, blocks will differ in size to emphasise certain design elements.

Websites predominantly text-heavy, such as blogs and news sites, are better suited to the hierarchical grid layout. Larger blocks can emphasise the latest content, catching the user’s eye more.


The manuscript grid layout

Manuscript is another type of grid layout to utilise in web design. This is the simplest grid layout and follows a book’s design layout, with all the content in a single column. Manuscript grid layouts are ideal for text-heavy sites or blogs.

Manuscript layouts will only feature a single column with no rows. This allows for large volumes of text. Such layouts will also feature large amounts of whitespace surrounding the single column. This is to ensure the user focuses on the content without becoming overwhelmed.

The whitespace surrounding manuscript grid layouts also allows users to scan the content without distractions. This grid layout is also ideally suited to digital documents like e-books, PDFs, and documents.


The baseline grid layout

The last type of grid layout widely used in web design is baseline. Unlike the other grid layouts outlined above, baseline grids use horizontal lines instead of columns and boxes. They are similar to lined writing paper. The font and font size may also be noted for consistency.

The lines in baseline grid layouts are ideal for ensuring consistent and accurate spacing between different text elements. They should be considered in web design to ensure text legibility. Text lines that are too close or too far apart doesn’t make for a good reading experience.

Just as it’s important to ensure sufficient whitespace around the design elements of a page, baseline grid layouts ensure sufficient whitespace between text. Combining this grid layout with another provides maximum effect.

Grid layouts play a crucial role in ensuring your web design is user-friendly. By implementing an appropriate grid layout, you can create a web design that provides a positive user experience, ensuring a consistent and rewarding site experience for your users.