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Print Picks: Layout Workbook

by Taylor Slattery | January 25, 2022

Layout Workbook by Kristen Cullen is a practical guide for understanding and creating grids that takes readers from theory to application. The book begins with an outline of the process as a whole before diving deeper into each of the stages involved. Cullen offers a realistic look at how one might go about designing a grid for a project from start to finish by examining all of the variables and stages involved along the way.

Beginning with a brief, Cullen walks through the different variables that must be considered when designing a grid. From bigger picture aspects like the format of the deliverables, audience, and purpose, to brass tacks that narrow the scope of the project, like the budget and schedule, Layout Workbook offers a thorough look at how projects of various sizes might be approached and managed.

I think grids often have the impression of being rigid and technical, partially reinforced by works like Grid Systems by Josef Müller-Brockmann. While the value of such books and the approaches they outline can’t be understated, the lack of more modern examples can leave readers scratching their heads when it comes to transitioning from theory to practice. By placing the process portion at the beginning of the book, Cullen gives more advanced designers what they’re looking for right away, while providing those still green with a primer that frames the rest of the book.

Cullen provides a flexible framework that serves as a starting point and can easily be adapted to one’s own workflow. Before diving into the nitty-gritty, Cullen takes a beat to touch briefly on intuition and its role in the design process. I appreciate this addition as from this point forward, things get technical, so taking the time to bring attention to the importance of subjectivity in design helps to brace the reader for the more theory-heavy sections that follow.

From here, the basic components of the grid are defined, with a wealth of examples showing each element in use. Throughout the book, examples of beautiful grid-based designs not only serve to reinforce the concepts being discussed but also to illuminate the myriad ways in which one can approach a grid creatively. The sheer variety found in these examples along with the brief section about intuition help to dispel the notion that grids are rigid or something to be adhered to religiously. Grids are just a tool and should serve the design, not the other way around.

With the key components defined, Cullen offers some brief advice on managing hierarchy and the effective use of typography before getting to what I believe is the most important section of this book: analysis. Cullen outlines a checklist that can be used to measure the success not only of one’s own design work, but of others as well. Presented as a series of questions, the list covers composition, organization, hierarchy, and typography. Not only is this list alone worth the price of the book, but it also serves as a perfect segway to the final section, case studies.

Layout Workbook concludes with over 100 pages of real-world design examples with insights from their creators. The projects span a variety of mediums and formats, ranging from ad campaigns and magazines to brand identities and web pages. Each study includes analysis from Cullen as well as insights from the designers themselves, explaining aspects of their process and rationale. Cullen relates these insights back to concepts explored elsewhere in the book and the variety of projects explored helps to further cement both the utility and flexibility of grids.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


If you are interested in developing your graphic design skills, Sessions College offers a range of graphic design courses for students at all levels. Contact Admissions for more information.

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