Five Design Fears to Vanquish With CSS Grid

CSS grid, along with a handful of other new CSS properties, are revolutionizing web design. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t embraced that revolution yet and a lot of it is centered around fear that we can trace back to problems with the current state of CSS grid tutorials.

The majority of them fall into one of two categories:

  1. Re-creating classic web design patterns. Grid is great at replicating classic web design patterns like card grids and “holy grail” pages.
  2. Playing around. Grid is also great for creating fun things like Monopoly boards or video game interfaces.

These types of tutorials are important for new technology. They’re a starting point. Now is the time, as Jen Simmons says, to get out of our ruts. To do that, we must cast off our design fears.

Fear 1: Asymmetry

We’ve been trained in the era of frameworks that symmetric and orderly designs are better. It’s true that for many applications a symmetric design or an orderly grid of items is preferred. Yet, asymmetry has the ability to capture the eye and mind in a way that symmetry never will. Asymmetry is interesting in its disorder. If you’re nervous, you can always start small.

See the Pen Asymmetric Promo Grid by Bryan Robinson (@brob) on CodePen.

In this example, we have a simple promotional space. By using an asymmetric vertical and horizontal layout, we can make a stronger visual match between our icon and our button. This isn’t a large space, but it’s not afraid of using whitespace to draw the user’s eye where we want it to go.

Speaking of whitespace…

Fear 2: Negative Space

As we left the early 2000s, we decided it was OK if users had to scroll. We began introducing whitespace into our designs and most of this fell between rows of content. This made our designs much cleaner, but is vertical whitespace the only valid option?

In this example, the design incorporates negative space to create a sense of exploration through the page. By not using traditional content rows, the user’s eye is given a chance to scan and take things in at a slower pace.

See the Pen Experimental Homepage by Bryan Robinson (@brob) on CodePen.

Fear 3: Punk Rock?

There’s no shortage of design talks focused on the print layouts of the 1970s. It was a time of great stability in design tooling, which allowed creativity to bloom. With that came inspired and avant-garde design work that centered around the punk-rock scene.

So my question is this: Can we be punk rockers in web design?

In this example, the design doesn’t care about your preconceptions. Text overlap is a bug? Nope, it’s a feature. Images shouldn’t compete with each other? Survival of the fittest!

See the Pen Grid Overlap and Punk Rock Meditation by Bryan Robinson (@brob) on CodePen.

As this example asks, is this a good idea? It’s completely up for debate. What I know is this: our tools have matured and become more stable; now is the time for experimentation. Do we want the web to look the same year after year, or do we want to dream up new and exciting patterns?

Fear 4: New Sources of Inspiration

Sources of inspiration shouldn’t cause fear, but they do often cause headaches. Remember, inspiration doesn’t mean a 1:1 translation of a concept.

Punk rock graphic design

I mentioned earlier the amazing designs that came out of the ’70s and ’80s. Here are some links to continue researching punk-rock design:

  • The Art of Punk Posters by Sean O’Hagan
  • The Art of Chaos: Punk Rock’s Timeless Influence on Graphic Design by Simon Martin

Vintage movie graphic design

Studying film in college gave me a great appreciation for vintage movie graphic design. One of my professors once told me: “You should be able to tell the tone and subject of a film by its title cards.”

This is especially true of post-World War II films. Their title sequences and posters are a treasure trove of design ideas for setting a scene.

  • The Graphic Art of Film Title Design Throughout Cinema History by Rebecca Gross
  • Saul Bass on His Approach to Designing Movie Title Sequences by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Learn how to create graphic design grids

Graphic designers have been using grids for layout for centuries, and there’s a lot of great literature on the creation of these grids:

  • Video: Mark Boulton | Designing Grids | CSS Day 2017
  • Guity Novin’s A History of Graphic Design: Chapter 58, History of Layout Design and Modern Newspapers and Magazines
  • Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids by Beth Tondreau

Fear 5: Fallbacks

It’s true that Grid has only 74% support in the U.S. (at the time of this writing).

That should not stop you from pushing your designs forward. There are plenty of strategies for starting with support for all browsers and then pushing forward into new patterns.

  • Using CSS Grid: Supporting Browsers Without Grid by Rachel Andrew
  • Video: Progressing Our Layouts by Jen Simmons
  • Falling Forward — Rethinking Progressive Enhancement, Graceful Degradation and Developer Morality by Bryan Robinson

What’s next?

It falls to each of us to push our industry forward. The technology is in place to challenge ourselves to create new and interesting designs. This doesn’t have to be as pointed and intense as some of these examples. It starts by realizing we can do amazing things … or we can stagnate.

How will you push the industry forward?


Five Design Fears to Vanquish With CSS Grid is a post from CSS-Tricks