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Good questions. For years, newspapers have been using the same dull grids:
6-column grids for broadsheets, 5-column grids for tabs. That’s usually because the standard 1-column ad is about 2 inches wide, and news columns are sized to accommodate ads. Which is fine for pages with ads.
But what about when ads aren’t a factor — on open pages, or inside pages above the ad stacks? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more flexibility? More options for column widths?
Here’s a typical story on a 6-column grid. But notice how gray the layout is,
and how small that 1-column photo seems. What if you want more
flexibility, more design options?
So — want to explore new grid options? Take a typical page from a recent issue of your paper and rebuild it on an upgraded grid. If you’re a tab, try 7, 8 or 9 columns. If you’re a broadsheet, try 9, 10, 11 or 12. Resize the art, reflow the text, rewrite the cutlines and headlines, and see if you discover an advantage — visually, typographically, journalistically — to fitting your stories onto a different grid.
Two warnings, however:
• An oft-quoted typographic adage suggests that the optimum width for standard text is a column that’s an alphabet and a half wide. You can certainly put narrower legs to use for cutlines, liftout quotes, decks, etc. But legs skinnier than 5 picas wide are tough to pour type into. And remember, the narrower the leg, the more necessary smaller, condensed type becomes.
• If you’re designing a tab, you may want to avoid a 6-column grid; if you’re designing a broadsheet, beware the 7-column grid. Both force columns of text to be uncomfortably narrow, resulting in pages that look messy and stripey.
And yes, you can mix grids within a newspaper. For example, you could design all your open pages on a 9-column grid — but on most inside pages, when that grid won’t accommodate standard ad sizes, you could revert to a simpler grid using wider columns. No one but you will know (or care).
If you run the photo 2 columns wide, it takes up a lot more space and
always crop into that shape. What if we could run that photo
one-and-a-half columns wide instead?
On a 12-column grid — instead of 6 — we have twice as many options:
for the photo size, the deck, the cutline. (Notice the position of the
liftout quote. That’s common in British newspapers. Like it?)