Two websites that have a very different look and feel may, at their cores, be structured in much the same way. Before adding graphics, colors and text, you must decide what type of layout best fits your needs. Layouts can be fluid, fixed (more on that later), grid, one, two or three column. Grid layouts are popular because they can support a lot of information and content without looking unorganized. After you have evaluated the pros and cons, you may find a grid layout is the right fit for your firm.
Most designers are taught to use a grid when creating layouts for print publications. The grid is simply the invisible structure that is used to hold the design together. Grids are comprised of grid units – the smallest element of space that will be used to build the layout. A print grid unit may be 2 inches by 2 inches, whereas a website grid unit may be as small as 50 pixels by 50 pixels. More complicated layouts have smaller grid units and more options for arranging text and images.
The consistency of grid units does not mean that everything on the page will be the same size. One column of a website may occupy 4 grid units, creating a column that is 200 pixels wide, using the above example. An image my use 12 grid units, taking up a space that is 600 pixels wide. Some grid units may be left empty to create white space and visual balance. The overall effect is an orderly spacing of elements that fit together based on the underlying grid.
Why use grids?
Grids create order and are soothing to the eyes. You may not know consciously why a layout is pleasing, but on a subconscious level your mind appreciates structure and consistency. Visitors are more likely to spend time on websites that allow their eyes to rest and are more likely to leave those that bombard their senses. Keeping people on your site is critical to conversion.
Grids help organize information. Grid layouts are widely used for magazine and news sites, like The New York Times and NPR, both of which contain large volumes of content. This may be helpful if you have a lot of material, like articles, newsletters, seminars, videos and glossaries to include on your site.
Grids help complicated sites appear simple and easy to use. Visitors appreciate organized information and tend to look for items in consistent places from page to page. Grids help ensure that consistency, making sites more user-friendly and easy to navigate.
Grids make your pages easily scannable. People do not read websites. They scan from section to section, picking up headlines and the first couple of sentences of a paragraph in order to decide whether they should read on. A grid helps break your content into digestible pieces, making your content easily scannable.
Grid layout may not be right for every law firm website, but it is an option to consider. Evaluate the key functions you need your site to perform to help make that determination.
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