Grids are good. I’ve said so many times, and I think people are catching on. Not that I’m taking credit for the rising stock of this creative tool among Web designers, mind you; I just wanted to say how happy I am that more and more thought is being put into what it means to use typographic grids as a layout principle in digital media.
What’s even better, a lot of this new thought goes far beyond what I myself would be capable of contributing to the conversation. Take the Blueprint framework, for example (not to be confused with the promising Blueprint content management system from Inventive Labs). It’s a foundation for developing typographic grids using Cascading Style Sheets that was developed by Norwegian tech student Olav Frihagen Bjørkøy and released last Friday after several months of development. It’s an impressive piece of work that’s leagues past what I could have offered in terms of technical insight into how to build grids more efficiently for today’s browsers.
A Framework Is Born
In just a matter of days, Blueprint generated a torrent of interest. Enough so that by Monday morning I was flooded with emails and instant messages from people pointing me to it. I downloaded a copy of the resources, had a quick look around, checked out the examples and was thoroughly impressed. Not currently being in the middle of a project I had no immediate need for Blueprint, but I nevertheless thought to myself, rather shamelessly: “Is there a way I can turn Blueprint into traffic for Subtraction.com?”
Above: Blue in the face. A demonstration of the grid flexibility provided by Blueprint.
So I started a quick email exchange with Olav who, in spite of being just twenty-one and not being a native English speaker, is smart as a whip and can more than hold his own speaking colloquial American. I was curious as to what motivated him to undertake this project and what went into it, and it very quickly turned into this interview, published here for your reading pleasure. Remember: News Channel Subtraction.com is your number one source for in-depth grid coverage.
An Interview with Olav Frihagen Bjørkøy about Blueprint
What gave you the idea to develop your Blueprint framework?
The idea of creating a CSS framework came from an article at A List Apart, where Jeff Croft told of the framework the designers at his company used to create LJWorld.com.
Being a Ruby on Rails developer, the notion of using a framework to circumvent tedious and repetitive tasks was an instant hit in my book.
The first CSS framework I checked out was the Yahoo User Interface Library, but found it to be way too bloated for what I want from a designers framework. I then checked out Jeff’s framework through the LJWorld site, and found it to be amazingly well thought out. They were not going to release it as a framework, so I [humbly] figured it was up to me.
So a lot of Blueprint is based on the works of the designers behind the LJWorld site, a fact I try to mention as often as I can (check out the credits section).
Why should someone use the Blueprint framework? And do you think it will encourage people to be more experimental with grids, or just use the same basic grids you’ve provided?
Well, I think Blueprint gives you a good foundation to build your project on. It isn’t well tested yet, but I hope that after a while, Blueprint will provide a browser-proof way of setting up a grid. That means that you don’t have to worry about problems that you really only should have to solve once (like setting up a grid that works in Internet Explorer 6).
Of course, Blueprint is much more than the grid. I think the default typography, browser CSS reset and print styles it provides more than justify the extra link tags in your HTML files.
We’re also trying to tackle stuff like PNG transparency support for Internet Explorer 5.5+ completely out of the users way, so that if you use Blueprint, PNG transparency will just work. (Soon, at least.) I think that’s the key: taking worries and [previously] solved issues away from the user whenever we can.
I’m not sure if Blueprint will encourage people to be more creative with grids, but I do hope so. We’ve set the default width of a column to be pretty narrow, which gives the user a lot of opportunities right away.
I think that’s a mistake many people make when creating grids: setting the columns to be too wide, so that the grid feels like a constraint. We’re trying to go in the opposite direction, where the grid feels liberating and encourages the user to try out sometimes daunting versions of vertical content flow.
Aside from the writings and works of the influences you mentioned — Jeff Croft, Nathan Borror, Eric Meyer, and myself among others — did you turn to influences from the world of print design? For example, Jan Tschichold, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Massimo Vignelli, others?
While I’d love to say that I’ve studied what print designers have to say about grids, content flow and such (or that I’ve even heard about those guys), all I know about this topic comes from Web design.
I’m sure having perspectives from the print profession (which has so much in common with ours) is a great idea, but I also have to say that the sheer number of high-quality blogs tackling and evolving these techniques today is staggeringly high.
The web design profession evolves constantly, and I think reading blogs are the best way to experience these developments. But yeah, experience from print design is something I really miss having. So please continue writing about that, will you?
Haha. Okay, fair enough, I will. So, why do you think Blueprint was received so enthusiastically? And perhaps by extension, why do you think grid layouts are so popular in Web design?
Blueprint is an unknown, untested and unused framework from an unknown guy launched from a highly irregular blog. This should make it quite clear that the craving for a proper designers framework almost couldn’t be greater.
As Blueprint is just a light breeze of a project, this gap in the market is a vaccuum waiting to be filled.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response I’ve gotten on this project, and I do hope others will experiment with creating their own CSS frameworks.
All we can do now is try to live up to the hype. We’ll certainly do our best.