Grid System in graphic design (J. Muller-Brockmann, 1968 – Niggli Verlag)

Grid Systems in Graphic Design
1968 (reprint in 1981, 1986, 1996, 2011 – 6 reprints actually)
176 pages
Verlag Niggli AG;
German, English
299.72 x 213.36 mm / 11.8 x 8.4 inch
357 b&w examples and illustrations. 

The dustjacket of the cover is, like other swiss books, a demonstration of the designer’s skills.

The cover (without the dust jacket) is the same design, the grid is just turn off.


Excerpts from Josef Muller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design: A Visual Communication Manual for Graphic Designers, Typographers and Three Dimensional Designers first published in 1981:


Modern typography is based primarily on the theories and principles of design evolved in the 20′s and 30′s of our century. It was Mallarmé and Rimbaud in the 19th century and Apollinaire in the early 20th century who paved the way to a new understanding of the possibilities inherent in typography and who, released from conventional prejudices and fetters, created through their experiments the basis for the pioneer achievements of the theoreticians and practitioners that followed. (7)

The principle of the grid system presented in this book was developed and used in Switzerland after World War II. (ibid.)

But there was no publication that showed how the grid was constructed and applied, let alone how the design of the grid system was to be learned. This book is an attempt to close the gap. (8)

The book

The present volume […] is intended to provide the designer operating in two and three dimensions with a practical working instrument which will enable him to handle visual problems and solve them in terms of conception, organization and design with greater speed and confidence. (9)

Grid and design philosophy

Design which is objective, committed to the common weal, well composed and refined constitutes the basis of democratic behaviour. […] Work done systematically and in accordance with strict formal principles makes those demands for directness, intelligibility an dthe integration of all factors which are also vital in sociopolitical life. (10)

The use of the grid system implies:

  • the will to systematize, to clarify
  • the will to penetrate to the essentials , to concentrate
  • the will to cultivate objectivity instead of subjectivity
  • the will to rationalize the creative and technical production processes
  • the will to integrate elements of colour, form and material
  • the will to achieve architectural dominion over surface and space
  • the will to adopt a positive, forward-looking attitude
  • the recognition of the importance of education and teh effect of work devised in a constructive and creative spirit. (10)

The typographic grid

Such a system of arrangement compels the designer to be honest in his use of design resources. It requires him to come to terms with the problem in hand and to analyse it. It fosters analytical thinking and gives the solution of the problem a logical and material basis. (11/12)

A suitable grid in visual design makes it easier a) to construct the argument objectively with the means of visual communication, b) to construct the text and illustrative material systematically and logically, c) to organize the text and illustrations in a compact arrangement with its own rhythm, d) to put together the visual material so that is is readily intelligible and structured with a high degree of tension. (12)

There are various reasons for using the grid as an aid in the organization of text and illustration:

i) economic reasons: a problem can be solved in less time and at a lower cost;

ii) rational reasons: both simple and complex problems can be solved in a uniform and characteristic style;

iii) mental attitude: the systematic presentation of facts, of sequences of events, and of solutions to problems should, for social and educational reasons, be a constructive contribution to the cultural state of society and an expression of our sense of responsibility. (ibid.)

What is the purpose of the grid?

The reduction of the number of visual elements used and their incorporation in a grid system creates a sense of compact planning, intelligibility and clarity, and suggests orderliness of design. This orderliness lends added credibility to the information and induces confidence. (13)

Sizes of paper

The sheet is the basic form of each size. Folding the sheet once produces the folio or half-sheet, i.e. 2 leaves or 4 pages. The sheet folded four times produces the quatro, i.e. 4 leaves or 8 printed pages. (16)

The typographic measuring system

In traditional typogaphy using type of cast lead measurements are made in points not in cm. With the advent of photo-typesetting, typographic measures can be stated in mm and inches as well as points. (17)

Typeface alphabets

Knowledge of the quality of a typeface is of the greatest importance for the functional, aesthetic and psychological effect of printed matter. (19)

The Renaissance created midline typography which held its position until the 20th century. The new typography differs from the old in that it is the first to try to develop the outward appearance from the function of the text. (20)

The new typography uses the background as an element of design which is on a par with the other elements. Earlier typography (midline typography) played an active role against a dead, passive background. (ibid.)

Classic alphabets: Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni, Clarendon, Berthold, Times, Helvetica, Univers

Width of column

Every difficulty standing in the reader’s way means loss of quality in communication and memorability. (30)

There is a rule which states that a column is easy to read if it is wide enough to accommodate an average of 10 words per line. (31)


Proper leading is one of the most important factors in obtaining a harmonious and functional type are which is aesthetically pleasing and will stand the test of time (34)

The great typographers knew and complied with the laws of typography which have remained unchanged for centuries. (37)

Margin proportions

A sensitive designer will always do his best to create the maximum tension in the proportions he chooses for his margins. (39)

Margins of the same size can never result in interesting page design; they always create an impression of indecision and dullness. (41)

Page numbers

From the psychological point of view a page number placed on the central axis has a static effect whereas one placed in the outer margins is dynamic (42)

Body and display faces

Under no circumstances must characters of the smae style of face be mixed with others. For example, no Helvetica with a Univers or a Garamond with a Bodoni. (45)

Construction of the type area

Before the type are can be determined, the designer must know how much text and illustrative matter must be accommodated in the printed work he has to design and of what nature it is. (49)

The format of the page and the size of the margins determin the size of the type are. The general aesthetic impression created depends on the quality of the proportions of the page format, the size of the type area, and the typography. (50)

Construction of the grid

[…] the upper and lower edges of the picture always align with the ascenders and descenders of the lines of text. (59)

In a sophisticated grid system not only the lines of text align with the pictures but also the caption and the display letters, titles and subtitles. (ibid.)

Type and picture area with 8 grid fields

The grid system place in the hands of the designer no more and no less than a serviceable instrument which makes it possible to create interesting, contrasting and dynamic arrangements of pictures and text but which is in itself fo guarantee of success. (75)

Type and picture area with 20 grid fields

The reader should be able to see at a glance the priorities allotted to the various items of information, i.e. his eye should be automatically guided by the special placing and accentuation of the text and picture elements. (76)

Many outstanding achievements in visual communication are due to simplicity, to the reduction of graphic resources to their bare essentials. (83)

Type and picture area with 32 grid fields

A design can be powerful and striking only if the designer limits himself intelligently to the minimum. (93)

Just in the allied fields of visual art –whether it be architecture, painting, sculpture, or product design– reduction to th ebasic necessities and the concentration of espression on essentials is the key to genuine and lasting achievements. (ibid.)

It is the aim of this book to show clearly how helpful, and indeed necessary, it is for the designer to investigate the virtues of standardization through th euse fo the grid system. (93)

The photograph in the grid system…

The illustration in the grid system…

Solid tint in the grid system…

Practical examples…

The grid system in corporate identity

The conception of a corporate identity must be planned for all the information media which a firm uses for transacting its internal and external business. A basic idea must be sought which enable consistent, logical and functional answers to be found to the problems arising but it must do more than this: the conception, once found, must be capable of growing into a programme which retains its distincion in practice as the years go by and characterizes the philosophy of the firm. (133)

The grid in three-dimensional design…

Examples of exhibitions

[…]outstanding achievements which outlive a particular moment of time never fail to make an impression because they reflect the determination to find a solution which is carefully orchestrated throughout to bing all the visual media within one design. (149/50)

System of order in ancient and modern times

The desire to bring order to the bewildering confusion of appearances reflects a deep human need. (158)

The ‘modulor’ of Le Corbusier is a measure which he developed from mathematics and the proportions of the human figure. (160)

Emblems are the expressions of the will to attain a law-based formal quality wich is independent of time and transcends it. (162)

The demand for ordered structure and aesthetic quality is one which modern typography should also seek to satisfy but it is exposed to the risk of abuse in the interests of merely fashionable trends. (164)


Ornaments are most convincing when they are made of the same material as the building, figure in the building as structural elements or units, and appear on the surface of the building as projections or recesses, i.e. as positive or negative forms, matching in their formal conception the proportions of the building by assimilating them and interpreting and varying them in conformity with the logic of its architecture. (166)

Post by Oliver Tomas, pictures by Sebastien Hayez

Find out more: (layout analysis)

niggli (buy a copy)

Free (but illegal) scanned edition

Moderne Werbe- und Gebrauschs- Grafik (Hans Neuburg, 1960)


Hans Neuburg (1904-1983) is a pioneer of modern swiss graphic design. In the 1950s he was part of the editing team of the “Neue grafik – New Graphic Design – Graphisme actuel” magazine, together with Richard Paul Lohse, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Carlo Vivarelli.

This book is a tutorial for good (=”swiss”) graphic design and advertising. Neuburg shows many examples of his own work, but also graphic designs by his (mostly swiss) colleagues: Nelly Rudin, Joseph Müller-brockmann, Carlo Vivarelli, Richard Paul Lohse, Anton Stankowski, Carl. B. Graf, Siegfried Odermatt, Max Schmid, Herbert Leupin, Max Huber, Karl Gerstner, Kurt Wirth, Otto Glaser, Fridolin Müller… and some foreign designers like Cassandre or Saul Bass.

Graphic design is concidered into the wide range of application: from advertising to types, commercial architecture and exposition or industrial documentation. He later wrote 3 books about these fields: Graphic design in the swiss industry, Publicity and graphic design in the chemical industry and Conception of international exhibition.

The book is quite small and every people who have a copy are agree to say that the printing quality, even fine show a lack of contrast. However the works shown are a great ressource for designers.

Click on the thumbnails to view full size.
Also avaible via my Flickr.

2 copies could be found today. Get in touch for more informations.

UTOPIA Dokumente der Wirklichkeit I. und II. (1921, Bauhaus)

UTOPIA Dokumente der Wirklichkeit I. und II.
Documents the reality
Utopia Verlag, Weimar
Bruno Adler (editor)
Designed by Margit Tery
85 pages
In quarto
With a double-leaflarge, loosely attached plaque lithographic with Itten’s so-called “color sphere” and 10 typographic composition printed in in red and black lithographs by Johannes Itten (Bauhaus teacher).
The Bauhaus was still young when, in 1921 Utopia have been published. Since 1919, the school was influenced by many other art movement, like expresionism as Walter Gropius himslef defined the Bauhaus philosophy, De Stijl (Theo van Doesburg entered the shool in 1920 as a conference visiting professor, but also the Blaue Reiter.
From 1919 to 1922 the school was shaped by the pedagogical and aesthetic ideas of Johannes Itten, who taught the Vorkurs or ‘preliminary course’ that was the introduction to the ideas of the Bauhaus.[9] Itten was heavily influenced in his teaching by the ideas of Franz Cižek and Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel. He was also influenced in respect to aesthetics by the work of the Blaue Reiter group in Munich as well as the work of Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. The influence ofGerman Expressionism favoured by Itten was analogous in some ways to the fine arts side of the ongoing debate. This influence culminated with the addition of Der Blaue Reiter founding member Wassily Kandinsky to the faculty and ended when Itten resigned in late 1922. Itten was replaced by the Hungarian designer László Moholy-Nagy, who rewrote the Vorkurs with a leaning towards the New Objectivity favored by Gropius, which was analogous in some ways to the applied arts side of the debate. Although this shift was an important one, it did not represent a radical break from the past so much as a small step in a broader, more gradual socio-economic movement that had been going on at least since 1907 when van de Velde had argued for a craft basis for design while Hermann Muthesius had begun implementing industrial prototypes.[11]
This piece of museum is available via ebay for 2500 euros.

Typography (Emil Ruder, 1967)

IMG_1881 Verlag Arthur Niggli AG 5th edition published in 1988. Other editions are squared but this one is rectangular, the only difference in the layout is a bigger space between the header and pictures. Previous editions are : 1967, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1988, 1995, 2002 (others edition avaible throug Hasting House, USA) typographie 1Bottlerocket send us some pictures of the first edition, 1967. While technically this is the only book published by Ruder, he includes a lot of previously published material from TM articles and student studies. The first edition is printed using lead plates with offset printing methods. The images have a softer feel and the color is more organic looking. typographie_s1typographie_s2typographie_s3typographie_s4typographie_s5 Guest post by Oliver Tomas. Pictures by Sébastien Hayez.


There are two essential aspects to the work of the typographer: he must take into account knowledge already acquired and keep his mind receptive to novelty. (5)

There must be no letting up in the determination to produce vital work reflecting the spirit of the times; doubt and perturbation are good antidotes against the tendency to follow the line of least resistance. (ibid.)

It is the intention of this book to bring home to the typographer that perhaps it is precisely the restrictions of the means at his disposal and the practical aims he has to fulfill that make the charm of his craft. (ibid.)

Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose. (6)

He [i.e., the typographer] is not free to make his own independent decisions; he must depend on what went beforehand and take into account what is to come. (8)

But the typographer does possess this ability to stand back from the work, and it is very useful to him in his craft since critical distance is a virtue in a typographer. The typographer must be able to take the impersonal view; wilful individuality and emotion have little place in this work. (ibid.)

The many active contacts between people from every country today leave no scope for type faces with a pronounced national character. (10)

The craft of the typographer, like any other, necessarily reflects the times. The age gives him the means with which to satisfy the needs the age creates. (12)

The creative worker, on the other hand, spares little thought for contemporary style, for he realizes that style is not somethign that can be deliberately created; it comes all unawares! (ibid.)

More than graphic design, typography is an expression of technology, precision and good order. (14)

Writing and printing

A good designer must refrain from mixing writing and printing. The spontaneity of handwriting can only be distantly approached and never attained by printing, and the alternative forms and ligatures which are intended to bring printing closer to writing are merely evidence of an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. (22)

Function and form

The typographer clothes the word with visible form and preserves it for the future. (34)

Masterpieces of typography […] They show the typographer that form must be developed as befits purpose. But they show at the same time that pure functionalism is not itself enough for good form. (ibid.)

Form and counter-form

The various effects obtained by the compination of letters are determind by the interplay of the white of the counter and the white of the set width. (52)

In contemporary typography white is not merely a passive background for typographical symbols; there must be parity between the white space and the typographical symbols as regards the effects they produce on a given surface. (ibid.)

The techniques of typography

It is in this unchanging appearance of all the letters that the beauty of typography resides; its essential nature lies in the repetition of the type characters and the repetition inherent in the printing process. (64)

The typographer must take into account technical developments of the present and future for such advances might bring about changes of form. And a printed work which is to be a valid document of its times must combine both technical and formal qualities.(ibid.)


Today we are inundated with such an immense flood of printed matter that the value of the individual printed work has depreciated., for our harrassed contemporaries simply cannot take in everything that is printed today. It is the typographer’s task to divide up and organize and interpret this mas of printed matter in such a way that the reader will have a good chance of finding what is of interest to him. (82)

The aim of all good typography is form subordinated to legibility. (ibid.)

In following the laws of form we must make use of every possible means of division and arrangement (ibid.)

Geometrical, optical and organic aspects

Our sensibility –that is our visual perception and our aesthetic sense– is superior to geometric construction, and it is to this sensibility that we must appeal when striking a balance between opposed black and white. (94)

The typeface which looks right to the eye, a human organ, cannot be constructed. The eye tends to magnify all horizontal values and to diminish vertical ones. Optical illusions cannot simply be dismissed as fancies, and every creative artist must reckon with the problems they pose. (ibid.)


No system of ratios, however ingenious, can relieve the typographer of deciding how one value should be related to another. he must first recognize the individual value before he can work with it. He must spare no effort to tutor his feeling for proportion so that he can judge how much a given ratio can bear. He must know intuitively when the tension between several things is so great that harmony is endangered. But he must also know how to avoid relationships lacking in tension since these lead to monotony. Whether the tension should be strong or weak is decision which the typographer must make for himself in the light of the problem he is seeking to solve. (108)

  1. What is the relationship between one value and another?
  2. How is a given type size related to a second or third?
  3. What are the relations between the printed and unprinted areas?
  4. What is the relationship between the colour value and quality and the grey of the type matter?
  5. How do the various tones of grey compare?

Point, line, surface

Everything is movement: the dot moves and gives rise to the line, the line moves and produces a plane surface, and plane surfaces come together and create a body. (118)


Combining two values in accordance with the laws of contrast changes and enhances the effect of both values. (132)

The relationship between the printed and teh unprinted area must be one of tension, and this tension comes about through contrasts. Values combined with equal values result in unrelieved monotony. (ibid.)

  1. light-dark
  2. thin-thick
  3. line-surface
  4. active-passive
  5. vertical-horizontal
  6. straight-oblique
  7. static-dynamic
  8. geometric-organic
  9. symmetry-asymmetry
  10. large-small
  11. stable-unstable
  12. precise-diffuse
  13. concentric-eccentric
  14. etc.

Shades of grey

Before the grey effect is decided upon, the typographer must be certain that the lay-out of his compostion is functionally right. (144)

The smallest quantity of black consumes white; it takes white away and lies at a lower level than the white surface. (ibid.)


Black is the paramount colour in typography, and there is an almost infinite scale of grey tones derived from the different sizes and thicknesses of the type and from the different spaces and gaps. This black goes very well with bright brilliant colors, red in particular. (158)

There should be tension between a bright colour and black, and this tension should be clearly apparent in the first draft of a printed work. (ibid.)

Unity of text and form

It is not so much the quantity of type faces as the quality of certain cuttings which enables the typographer to satisfy the great variety of demands made upon his craft today.

The large number of typefaces available to the typographer today is not so much a sign of a hight level of culutrual activity as rather evidence of a lack of international coordination and the resultant frittering away of effort.

In advertising, […as opposed to book design], it is left almost completely open to the typographer to interpret the copy in his own personal way. (168)


Handwriting can be seen to underlie any good typeface. (186)

A typeface in which something of the original written form cannot be discerned may be rightly called degenerate. (ibid.)

A mass of type can be rhythmized by unequal leading, by variety in the length of the lines, by the white of blank spaces in break lines, and by grading the size of the type. (ibid.)

Spontaneity and fortuity

Spontaneous and fortuitous results are foreign to the nature of typography, for the typographical system is based on clarity and precise proportions. (200)

Time and again, however,we find printed works which make no claim to formal beauty and yet have a distinctive charm for all their technical shortcomings. There are printed works which are beautiful solely because they set aside all ambition as regards technique and design and simply fulfill their function. Their usually nameless authors have unwittingly created true documents of their age whose charm lies precisely in their being a reflection of the times that produced them. (ibid.)

[…] discipline, coolness and objectivity will continue to be the cardinal features of typography in the future since its nature is largely decided by its dependence on technique and function. (ibid.)

Integral design

A book must be consistently designed throughout, including the title-page and, if possible, the cover title. The title-page is taken as a model for all the others so that tye face, type size, leading, indents, type area, blank spaces, etc. fit into the overall pattern. (214)

Consistency of design in business printing is another modern requirement. […] To maintain this uniformity of appearance the following typographical elements should be used with as few changes as possible: symbol, logotype, colour, composition. (ibid.)


Variation involves singling out a mean value and calls for the ability to put this mean value through as many transformations as possible. (232)

There are three possibilities of variation at the typographer’s disposal: Variation of the composition, typeface or colour in an unchanged text. Variation of the text while composition, typeface and colour remain unchanged. Variation of all elements, i.e. text, composition, typeface and colour, care being taken that the basic theme remains recognizable. (ibid.)


Runs of movement can embody the following themes: increase and decrease of value or increase and decrease of size; loosening up of compact elements and gathering together of scattered values into a compact form; eccentric and concentric movements; movements running from top to bottom and from bottom to top; movements from left to right and from right to left; movements from inside out and vice versa; movements along a diagonal or through an angle, etc. (250)

Lettering and illustration

There are two different approaches to the problem of achieving harmony between printing type and picture. One way is to seek the closest possible formal combination between test and picture, and the other is to seek a contrast between them. (262)

Hi-resolution pictures are avaible here via Sébastien Hayez’s flickr photostream.

The easiest way to find this book is to order the lastest edition via Arthur Niggli Verlag site. It’s quite expensive but some older editions are avaible for less than 60 euros, specially for the first paperback edition published in the US by Hasting House. 8 copies of the first edition is avaible with a very wuick search, for 55 $ to 163 €. Send a message if you want more information about this book.

Publicity & graphic design in the chemical industry (Hans Neuburg, 1967)


With the contribution by René Rudin, Victor N. Cohen & Josef Müller-Brockmann, ABC verlag, Zurich

Text in German, French, and English.
10.25 x 10 hardcover book with dustjacket (front, back).
240 pages with over 250 examples.

Holy grail for designers. Hans Neuburg’s books published by ABC Verlag are very hard to find, mainly because of the specificity of the subject. Probably the best way to introduce this book is to let the editor speak, here’s the foreword opening the book.

In planning our series of books on problems and achievements in graphic design, we had a quite definite programme in mind. Vol. 1 dealt with graphic art in a swiss town. Vol. 2 was dedicated to official official Swiss graphic art. Vol. 3 then went more deeply into the specific problems and showed Swiss industrial graphic design. The present volume, No. 4, is conceived as an inductional book. The problems of publicity and graphic design in the chemical industry and colour chemistry are submitted and presented for discussion by means of examplary pieces of work.

After the first three volumes have not only been recieved with approval by specialists both at home and abroad but have also had the distinction of being included among the best books by the Swiss chemical industry will have a similar success.

We were aware from the beginning that the material of the publicity and graphic design in the chemical industry deals with very special means and must be elaborated like a book. Graphic design in the pharmaceutical branch is more or less concerned with imparting information. There is no actual object to be depicted in the advertisements and brochures. The abstract character of the offers demands an accurate study of publicity ressources and a presentation that is easily grasped visually. We believe that we have kept this object in view. In conclusion we also allude to the divergence of this sphere into three parts which again demand concentration on the whole range of problems in the chemical industry.


  1. Preface
  2. the publicity of the Swiss chemical industry (Hans Neuburg)
  3. Dynamic chemistry (René Rudin)
  4. Some aspects regarding publicity in the chemical industry (Victor N. Cohen)
  5. Problems of composition in graphic design in the chemical industry (Joseph Müller-brockmann)
  6. Graphic conception in the service of pharmaceutics
  7. Juggling with type
  8. Publicity pamphlets, cards, brochures, etc.
  9. Announcements for pharmaceutical products
  10. Publicity campaigns
  11. Publicity for prestige
  12. The special fied of packaging for pharmaceutical preparations
  13. Publicity and design problems in colour chemistry
  14. Two examples for marginal field of publicity and graphic design in the chemical industry
  15. Various possibilities of application
  16. The World of chemistry
  17. The graphic preparations for this book
  18. Index firms
  19. Index designers, photographers and agencies

Click on the pictures to view the full size.
Pics taken from my flickr photostream (with a very high resolution).

No copy can be found at the moment, prices are around 150 euros to 500 euros. Sometimes less if your are very lucky. Send a message if you want more information about this book.

P.S. : If you want to find something cheaper, I hardly recommand Corporate Diversity published last year by swiss publisher Lars Muller. This book is probably a better partner for designers who want to find more information about swiss design, chemical industry and this perfect wedding.