Responsive Web Design 101: A Comprehensive Guide on Grids

By Adam

Responsive Web Design 101: A Comprehensive Guide on Grids

Responsive web design has become essential for today’s digital world, where users are accessing websites from a variety of devices. One of the most effective ways to create a responsive website is through the use of grid designs, vertical spacing and structures.

A grid system organizes content into columns, rows and sometimes even modules, making it easier to create a website with a consistent visual hierarchy across all screen sizes.

In this all-inclusive guide, we will break down all the essentials of layout design in order to help you master grids for responsive web design and page layout From how grid layouts work as building blocks and what kind of elements they use, to outright examples of mobile-friendly sites – you’ll emerge with an enriched understanding of layout design principles Take a look at our article on top 10 qualities of a good website design after reading this blog. So, let’s get into the nitty-griddy! 😉

What is a Grid System in Responsive Web Design?

Envision a harmonious lattice, meticulously crisscrossing like a rhythmic dance of uniform lines – that, my dear inquisitive friend, is the essence of a grid Take a deeper dive into the elements of a grid. . This unifying system consists of a series of intersecting vertical and horizontal lines, judiciously designed to establish harmony and order, while streamlining content placement and accessibility.

The matrix of columns and rows provides a predetermined framework for artists to infuse their elements, such as images, texts, and other graphical components, with unparalleled coherence and ease. The underlying structure of vertical columns and horizontal rows encompasses modular components like gutters to ensure seamless spatial separation and margins to anchor the design in a defined viewport of a digital canvas, in addition to adding negative space for the elements to breathe.

Elements of a grid such columns, modules, margins etc essential for responsive web design
Elements of a grid as shown by Beth Tondreau in Layout Essentials

A Historical Overview of Layout Grids

The use of grids dates back to ancient times when they were used to help with farming and land surveying. One of the earliest documented examples of grids can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where they were used for city planning and land surveys. A well-known example of a grid system being used can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, where they used a grid-like pattern to design their cities.

Use of Grids in the 18th Century

On a different note, it was not until the 18th century that grids were widely used in modern cartography. The French cartographer, Nicolas de Fer, was one of the first to use grid lines on his maps, which proved invaluable in accurately locating features on the map. Grid layout also played a crucial role in the development of the Renaissance, where artists began using grids to construct their paintings with mathematical precision.

Grids & Swiss Design

The idea of using thin intersecting lines on paper and using the space created to organize multiple elements made its way into design in the mid-20th century. Swiss designers, such as Josef Müller-Brockmann and Armin Hofmann, were pioneers in utilizing grids in their work. The grids established visual harmony and coherence, which eventually became a hallmark of the Swiss Style.

Role of Grid Layout in Modern Design

Grid layout plays a significant role in the digital, architecture, and print media industries. In graphic design, a grid creates visual harmony and consistency in compositions and therefore acts as a foundational tool. Designers leverage it to organize information, balance elements, and guide the eye to specific points in a design. When it comes to digital media, grids ensure consistency in responsive web design, making sure the page is optimized for various devices.

In architecture, grid systems help to maintain a consistent pattern of movements throughout the building and help architects design spaces that are functional and aesthetically pleasing. In print media, grids make typesetting easier, texts more readable, and layouts more attractive.

Its purpose is to create a visual hierarchy, improve readability, and enhance the overall user experience. In sum, Grid layout is a versatile tool that plays an essential role in various design disciplines, helping designers to create effective and impactful designs.

Why Should You Use Grids in Your Responsive Website Layout?

Grid design is a powerful tool in the realm of modern web and UI design that allows for an intuitive and visually appealing website layout while ensuring better usability across various devices. By incorporating a grid system, designers can establish a coherent structure and hierarchy in their layouts, enabling users to navigate the website more easily and quickly assimilate the information presented. Utilizing a grid system also streamlines the design process, fostering collaboration and efficiency among web designers and developers.

Consequently, if you’re looking to create a website that is aesthetically pleasing, highly functional, and easily adaptable to various screen sizes, then implementing a grid layout is undoubtedly essential for achieving optimal results.

Components of a Grid

A grid system forms the backbone of any website design, providing a framework for structuring content and ensuring that everything is arranged in an aesthetical way. The different components of a grid system include grid rows, columns, and gutters.

A row is a horizontal space that divides the screen into sections, while a grid column is the vertical spacing that fills these sections with content. Column width can have a significant impact on the reader’s experience. A column that is too narrow may feel cramped and difficult to read, while one that is too wide can make the text feel scattered and overwhelming. Finding the right balance is key to creating an aesthetically appealing layout that is also easy to read. Similarly, gutters allow for proper negative space between content and provide a clean, organized layout. Providing the right gutter width aids in making designs that seem cohesive and holistic.

It’s essential to get the grid system right, as it can have a significant impact on the overall user experience. With a well-structured grid system in place, content is easier to read, and the design appears more cohesive and polished.

Different Types of Grids to Consider for Your Responsive Web Design

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, it’s essential to choose the right type of grid for multiple elements of your website design to ensure a seamless user experience and maintain the consistency of your brand. Symmetry and asymmetry serve as guiding principles for creative genius. While polar opposites, these design approaches create striking and visually appealing layouts that captivate users and guide their journey through your digital creation.

Symmetric & Asymmetric Grids

A symmetric grid, also known as a symmetric column grid, with its harmonious balance of columns and rows as well as predictable patterns, bestows a sense of stability and order in the layout. This can evoke feelings of reliability and familiarity in users—a valuable emotion when exploring the intricacies of a website. On the flip side, the asymmetric grid takes a walk on the wild side, daring to break free from conformity and offering an unexpected twist to the layout. This non-uniform approach captures the viewer’s attention, keeps them intrigued, and invites them to dynamically explore your content.

Ultimately, designers must bravely navigate these sometimes-choppy waters to determine the right grid that would suit their website’s purpose and audience, while creating an engaging and immersive experience.

Manuscript Grids

A manuscript grid, also known as a grid column a block grid or a single-column grid, often heralded as the backbone of traditional print design, refers to the systematic arrangement of visual elements, such as text and images, on a page. It places content into columns, with multiple elements arranged vertically, that are divided by gutters and margins, creating a visual structure for the page. The grid also helps with alignment and consistency across different screen sizes, helping to ensure that the website looks good on any device.

Screenshot of Mrs. Space Cadet's blog
Mrs. Space Cadet's blog entries express her ingenious wit through carefully chosen words and brilliantly showcase her use of a block grid layout- the white space on the outer edge of the page draws attention and lets her captivating content take centre stage.

Advantages of Using Manuscript Grids

Single-column grids not only simplify the design process but allows graphic designers and typographers to create a visually pleasing and professional page layout with ample white space around the page. By skillfully utilizing the manuscript grid’s columns, rows, and margins, designers can establish a hierarchal structure, maintain consistency, and construct harmonious relationships among the manuscript grid’s individual components. As an indispensable element in various fields such as book, magazine, and web design, a well-executed manuscript layout effectively engages readers and enhances the communication of ideas, ultimately elevating the overall impact of the material.

Column Grids

A column grid, commonly found in the world of graphic design and architecture, serves as a critical organizing framework that enhances visual harmony and efficiency of communication within any creative layout. This powerful tool utilizes multiple columns, strategically arranged within a predetermined structure, to effectively organize content and establish visual hierarchy while allowing for utmost flexibility and adaptability. By using column grids, designers not only create improved legibility and aesthetics but also maintain a consistent approach throughout diverse layouts, fostering an elegant flow and robust coherence across various interaction design projects.

Screenshot of Square's Pricing that shows column grid system

Baseline Grids

A baseline grid is a structure that helps ensure all elements on the page line up with each other in a consistent manner. It is essentially an invisible matrix that acts as a guide to ensure a systematic arrangement of objects and typography, improving readability and overall aesthetics. A baseline grid involves aligning the base of text elements such as headlines, body copy, and captions with consistent, regularly spaced horizontal lines, thus facilitating a pleasing vertical rhythm across the design.

Screenshot of Lorem Ipsum's homepage which shows the baseline grid system
Lorem Ipsum's baseline grid system helps to ensure clean lines and consistent vertical rhythm across different devices and screen sizes.

By using CSS styling and HTML markup, the designer can control how content is displayed across different devices while also keeping everything visually balanced. The use of this grid ensures that all elements remain aligned within the same framework so users have a cohesive experience regardless of their screen size or resolution.

Modular Grids

The modular grid is grounded in the concept of evenly dividing multiple number of columns and spaces into smaller, customizable modules that can be easily rearranged and adjusted to fit the content and design requirements. A modular grid also helps with the organization of content by allowing for different types of grid columns and layouts that can be used in various combinations. This makes it easier for developers to quickly create different pages without having to start from scratch each time.

Screenshot of Spotify's homepage that presents tracks, albums, and playlists within modules.
Spotify's modular grid presents tracks, albums, and playlists within an easily accessible frame and ensures that each user's musical exploration remains uncluttered and enjoyable.

With its adaptability and functionality, the modular grid has become an essential component in various fields such as web design, print media, and architecture. By utilizing this grid structure and CSS, designers can create websites that will look great on any device, from a desktop browser window to mobile phone home screens.

Hierarchical Grids

A hierarchical grid consists of a structure which divides the page into columns and rows, with each row containing one or more elements. This layout structure allows for better organization of content on smaller screens, as well as providing a consistent look to all pages across different devices. Hierarchical grids also reduce the complexity of coding by allowing developers to work within predefined sections instead of having to create custom layouts for every web page. By using this system, web designers can easily adjust their design based on device size without needing to rewrite code or make major changes in layout.

Image depicting the use of the hierarchical grid in Yanko Designs' which helps in responsive web design
Through the use of the hierarchical grid, Yanko Designs' featured creations effortlessly draw viewers' attention to the highlighted segments and guide them through a visual journey that entices and engages in equal measure.

How to Use a Combination of Grid Systems for Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design involves a variety of grid systems, and accordingly, one can take a combination approach. Manuscript grids provide a framework for webpages with content that goes left to right, top to bottom. Baseline grids are useful for establishing a typographical font sizes hierarchy that is easy to read on different screens. Column grids make it easier to align elements in the same row, while hierarchical grids allow one to determine the importance of different components on the page. Finally, modular grids are great for arranging content deeper within sub-pages or creating more modular continuous elements.

In short, whether it’s a manuscript grid for laying out text, a baseline grid to keep lines of a type consistent, a column grid for structuring main sections, a hierarchical grid to understand the order of content, or a modular grid that simplifies development — when used carefully and consciously together, these grid systems offer great versatility and flexibility when designing responsive webpages.

Utilizing Fixed or Fluid Layouts

When it comes to designing a website, there are two main approaches that can be taken when creating the grid layout: fixed or fluid. Fixed grids have set dimensions for each column and row, whereas fluid grids use percentages instead of pixels so that columns can expand or contract based on the user’s viewport size. Both approaches offer advantages and disadvantages, but with careful planning, they can be used together in an effective manner to create a beautiful, responsive design.

Fixed Layouts

Fixed Layouts, a type of responsive web design, are built using CSS grid styling to display grid systems for any device. CSS grid allows developers to create grids with precise elements that are designed differently per device size using display grid properties and other CSS grid layout features. Many devs find this approach useful when dealing with complicated designs or designs that need precise control over elements displayed on an array of devices. With fixed layouts, once you set the structure, the content takes its form accordingly.

Fluid Layouts

Responsive web design is all about ensuring a comfortable user experience regardless of the device used to view it. Part of that requires adapting content and layout according to any given screen. Fluid layouts make this possible, by providing better design flexibility due to their use of CSS grid styling. When display grids are used, developers can give each element in the grid its own size, location and order per different browser sizes. Not only does this help provide a uniform and effective user experience across devices, but it also eliminates the need for more complex coding strategies such as media queries. In a way, it’s like easily stretching fabric across a frame – so much easier than one-by-one resizing!

Fluid vs Fixed Layouts

Fluid layouts offer designers and developers a great amount of versatility so they can make sure their site looks amazing regardless of the device it’s being viewed on. It uses a proportionally-based grid system so that objects like images, text and sidebars stretch and resize with the page, but this can lead to some elements not displaying properly and overcrowding as the page shrinks.

On the other hand, fixed layouts provide more precision when it comes to designing pixel-perfect pages. It utilizes pixel-based measurements for widths, resulting in guaranteed accurate alignment successes but can decrease user experience if there isn’t proper attention to detail needed for various screens.

Either option can be appropriate depending on what kind of design look you want to achieve, as well as how your users will access your site. Whether you’re deciding on a single style or combining the two – pick your battles carefully!

The Benefits of Utilizing Responsive Grids in Web Design Projects

  • It provides an effortless framework for positioning and structuring content and design elements on any web page.
  • Grid-based design unlocks new opportunities for dynamic page layouts, offering improved usability and user experience that can guarantee success for any project.
  • This technology has revolutionized page layouts and formats, promoting organizational clarity and consistency of appearance that users love.
  • With real-time editing capabilities, page & graphic elements can be effortlessly changed from device to device in the same window.
  • A responsive grid Makes large-scale operations much easier to tackle, making otherwise complicated inclusions like multi-column content or modular layouts feel almost effortless.
  • Helps UX/UI designers create visually pleasing and user-friendly websites by providing them with a practical framework.

Examples of Websites Using Visual Grids Effectively

Many websites benefit from the use of visual grids to keep their design clean and organized. A well-crafted and consistent grid is more than just aesthetically pleasing; it can draw attention to strategically-placed elements on the page while helping visitors digest content quickly and accurately.

Example 1: How Pinterest Embraces the Grid Concept

One of the most popular examples of a website embracing this concept is Pinterest, which uses modular grids for all pins on its homepage. The modular grid system allows for each pin to have an equal presence on the page, no matter which position it takes in the overall design.

An image showing how Pinterest achieves a responsive web design using a modular grid system

Example 2: How Penny Appeal Canada Uses Grids to Increase Donations

Penny Appeal Canada Take a look at Penny Appeal Canada's grid layout has made impressive use of hierarchical grids with a modular grid layout in their UI design. Their layouts are intuitive and navigable, making it easy for the user to access information quickly. They use an attractive balance of soft colour tones, which are complemented nicely by their clean font usage. They also employ whimsical imagery in order to give their data hierarchy; helping to draw attention to certain pieces of information. This cohesive and pleasant flow helps users to retain more information – especially when paired with useful copywriting that gives context to each section.

An image showing the grid layout used by Penny Appeal Canada for responsive web design.

Tips on How to Effectively Utilize Grids in Website Development Projects

Tip 1: Establish Structure with Layout Grids

In the realm of website development, harnessing the power of grids can significantly enhance your project’s visual appeal, functionality, and overall user experience. To effectively utilize grids, it’s crucial to start by defining a clear set of columns and gutters, which will serve as the foundation of your design’s structure. Proportionality and symmetry are key; employing a flexible or fixed layout grid will allow you to easily tailor your design to suit different devices, promoting a seamless and responsive browsing experience.

Tip 2: Consider Employing Design Principles

When creating grids, it’s important to adhere to established principles, such as the rule of thirds and the golden ratio, in order to achieve aesthetically pleasing compositions. Thirds grid design principle involves dividing the layout into thirds both vertically and horizontally, resulting in nine equal sections that can be used to place important elements. Additionally, incorporating a pixel grid into your workflow makes it easier to achieve an overall more polished and unified look.

Tip 3: Don’t Shy Away from Embracing White Space

By using white space effectively, designers can create a more organized and easy-to-navigate layout. White space helps in improving the visual hierarchy, highlighting important elements, and creating breathing room for the eye. It plays a vital role in balancing the visual elements in the design and helps to establish harmony and coherence. If used properly, white space can make a design appear more elegant and polished.

Tip 4: Make & Break Grids for a Distinct & Responsive Web Design

By focusing on the content hierarchy, you can leverage the horizontal and vertical spacing to create natural visual cues that lead users through the flow of information, enabling an intuitive user experience. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to break the grid when necessary to add emphasis to specific elements, thereby drawing attention to key content without compromising the overall layout. Try overlapping and nesting elements to achieve unique and dynamic layout grids, while ensuring that these deviations don’t detract from the overall usability of the site.


Grids are an important part of responsive website and graphic design, as they provide a framework for positioning and structuring content. Not only do grids make large-scale operations easier to tackle, but these building blocks also help create visually pleasing websites that offer users improved usability and user experience. As demonstrated by the examples above, grid designs can be used in various ways depending on the desired look you want to achieve for your site. If done correctly, using visual grid systems effectively will draw attention to strategically placed elements on a page while helping visitors digest content quickly and accurately. With all these benefits combined, it’s no wonder why so many businesses have embraced this concept!

At Ankit Designs, our expert designers & developers use grid systems to create stunning visuals that are tailored to your project’s needs, ensuring a superior user experience across all devices. Get in touch today to begin your journey.

About the author

I'm nobody's taxi service but I take pride in driving the bus! Upbeat, energetic serial entrepreneur on the quest to serve and help people. I enjoy long walks on short beaches and adventurous, adrenaline-pumping activities. I'm a normal bloke doing abnormal bloke things!
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