Lesson One

Publication Design (PUB386) – Fall 2011

Using a Grid to Create
Typographic Hierarchy


Lesson One was a project which was created directly out of observed need. Publication Design was an upper level design course. There were several senior design students in this class. It was in my first semester teaching at Stout, and I was shocked that students had not been taught, nor new of the design possibilities in using a grid. I was witnessing a shockingly poor level of knowledge/usage of typographic hierarchy, and any visible signs of a comprehensive understanding of grid composition. As this was a publication design class, I needed to create a project/lesson which immediately forced students to examine typographic hierarchy and the purpose & usage of a layout/document grid to handle multiple sets of content in a single layout. As a design student, many years prior, I returned to a similar set of project(s) in a typography class taught at MCA+D by Jan Jancourt. I am also heavily influenced by my work with, and contributions to, the seminal book Graphic Design: The New Basics, by educator, designer and writer Ellen Lupton.

The purpose of these lessons is not to create the most outrageous composition — but to create dynamic + informed decisions, exploring hierarchical compositions of typography and creative control, inherent to the underlying supportive grid structure.

I created Lesson One: Typographic Hierarchy Studies as a series of typographic grid experiments, which forced students to control typographic elements in a single square format, purely from the theory of gestalt. Lesson One: Part One, uses compositional squares, identified though a document grid, divided into a series of proportional (h/w) units; 7:7, 9:9, 11:11, 12:12, etc. Concepts of horizontal rows and vertical columns were explained as carriers of separate but equally important ‘containers/carriers’ of information. Part One encourages asymmetric layouts with square compositional elements and place-holder text. The ‘filler’ text allows the abstract examination of typographic hierarchy through implied subtle typographic difference.

Part Two carries former concepts, with additional elements of text rich content and identifiable like/similar content types: headline (title), sub-head, call outs, article body & captions. Two articles of text are set side-by-side; each must look unique from each other – shared typographic elements must carry the same hierarchy. Both articles had significant amounts of text, forcing students to examine a dense composition. The amount of text in both articles subsequently forced students away from 12pt. body text, disrupting  common perceptions of readability and legibility.

Part Three, takes all the concepts to an advanced level of page layout and composition. Three articles of significant length are arranged on a double-page spread, where each can be seen to be simultaneously unique, yet in direct contrast to one another. Similar to magazine layouts and designs, multiple articles sit next to each other, carrying unique sets (types) of information. The subtle typographic differences are to be explored and identified through controlled typographic experimentation and examination.


As we begin to look at newspaper and newsletter design the single most elementary and essential design tool is the grid.


  • Examine the diversity and versatility of a series of grid structures
  • Consider the totality of the composition when text and image are aligned to a grid
  • Examine subtle hierarchy possibilities in relation to two congruent bodies of text
  • Look at the possible compositions of text and image
  • Study the double page spread and how the grid can unify and organize a series of related texts

This entire set of typographic studies was created and designed initially in this Publication Design seminar. It was further tested, adjusted, and reconfigured for all subsequent Graphic Design One coursework. It is, by far, my favorite project to teach and present to students. It can be presented for both print and digital interactive media students and has lasting repercussions to the overall advancement and understanding of typographic hierarchy across multiple cross-discipline design subjects.

Previous article: Abstract Grid Composition

The following student submission(s) are neither complete, nor fully comprehensive in documenting the full lesson plan. The creative reactions to these lessons were inspired. Subsequent lessons were presented to multiple sections of Graphic Design One with alterations and standardized texts — also with inspired results. I thank this class for their willingness, exploration & creativity.

Lesson One: Part One

Lesson One: Part Two

Lesson One: Part Three

| Daniel Thiede – alternate concepts with organizational graphic elements

| Caitlin Teague — First to use an additional forth article and accent colour.

 | Susan Lepro and H. Mierow double-page spreads. Samples which follow the design brief more closely.