Tweaking a Triad and Breaking the Grid

Two books I reference often in my personal library are: Color: Messages and Meaning by Leatrice Eiseman and Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop by Timothy Samara. 

Color: Messages and Meaning is a great color resource when you are stuck on figuring out color schemes or want to dig deeper into the meaning of color. Although I have never used any of the given color schemes straight out of the book, they still give me a great starting point when I explore color options for any project. 

There’s a section in the book that discusses the different color combinations from the color wheel. Most of us are familiar with common schemes (monochromatic, analogous, complementary, etc.). But I stumbled upon what the author calls a “tweaked triad.” While a triad is a color scheme that employs three equidistant colors on the color wheel, a tweaked triad simply offsets one of the colors in the triad. 

The image below is an example from the book. Red, blue and yellow make up a primary triad. So a true green wouldn’t really fit in. But by tweaking the green into a blue green, it becomes somewhat compliant to being part of the triad while giving the triad some interest.

In Making and Breaking the Grid, the book is divided into two sections. The first section handles traditional grids for layout, and the second section tackles non-traditional grids that seem almost non-existent. Neither is really better than the other. While traditional grids work better for corporate, traditional and solemn brands; “broken” grids work better to show a carefree, youthful and dynamic voice.

Here are examples from the book. On the left is a slightly “broken” grid, on the right is a more traditional grid.

Both the tweaked triad and idea of “breaking” the grid both convey the idea that rules are not always set in stone when it comes to design. These rules of mathematical grids and color wheel schemes exist because these are scientifically proven to be aesthetically pleasing. It makes decisions on placement of elements and color schemes easier. However, designers don’t always follow the rules. And this is when design skills kick in.

True skills are shown when a designer breaks the rules and still makes aesthetically pleasing pieces. I believe the art form of layout is the intelligent decision of when to obey or when to break the grid, when to follow or when to tweak a color scheme. To make this call takes both rational thinking and an artistic eye. 

I guess it’s safe to say that rules are not really rules, but guidelines. And for this reason, design professionals are still around to play the decision-making role, whether guidelines merit being followed or not in any design project.

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clark creative group, ccg, design, layout, color, grid,
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