UI Design

Grids and Layouts in UI Design: A Guide

If grids and layouts in UI design still sometimes grind your gears, you’re at the right place. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the fundamental concepts of grids, their significance in UI design, and how they can empower you to create visually pleasing and user-friendly interfaces. 

Whether you’re a mid-level designer looking to refine your skills or a seasoned professional seeking a refresher, this article will provide valuable insights, tips, and tricks to master the art of grid-based layouts.

So, dive in and uncover the not-so-hidden potential of grids and layouts in UI design!

A young girl drawing a UI wireframe

The importance of grids

Grids are the backbone of UI design, providing a systematic framework that helps organize and align elements within a layout. By understanding the structure of grids, you can achieve harmonious compositions that enhance visual hierarchy, improve readability, and create a cohesive user experience. 

Grids consist of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines that form columns and rows, acting as a guide for placing and aligning elements. The number of columns, gutter sizes, and margins can be customized based on the project’s requirements, offering flexibility and creativity in design.

Showing grid components: margin, column width, screen width, and gutter width

Essential grid components

To fully understand grids and layouts in UI design, you must familiarize yourself with the foundational elements. Essential grid elements are margins, columns, rows, and gutters. 


Margins are the spaces around the outside edges of a grid. They create breathing room between the grid and the edges of the screen or container. Margins ensure your design has space to breathe and prevent elements from becoming cramped or crowded.


Columns are the vertical divisions within a grid. They define the width of content blocks and determine the horizontal arrangements of elements. Columns provide a structured layout where elements can be placed side by side or stacked vertically to create a visually balanced composition.


Rows are the horizontal divisions within a grid. They define the height of content blocks and determine how elements are arranged vertically. Rows allow consistent vertical spacing and alignment, ensuring elements are visually aligned and easily scanned.


Gutters are the spaces between columns or rows. They provide visual separation and help maintain spacing between elements. Gutters act as buffers between content blocks, preventing them from appearing too close together and ensuring enough breathing space for each element.

How to use grids

Grid Structure

Start by determining the number of columns and rows you want in your grid. Consider the content and layout requirements of your design. Commonly used grid structures for desktop web projects include 12-column and 16-column grids.

For mobile and tablet devices, you can use the same number of columns or less, usually 2 or 4, respectively.

Grid Spacing

Experiment with different gutter sizes to find the optimal spacing between columns and rows. Maintain consistency in gutter size throughout your design to create visual harmony. For responsive web projects, it’s completely fine to make gutters different for different devices or screen sizes.

Modular Scale

Utilize a modular scale for determining column widths and heights. A modular scale is a set of consistent ratios that helps maintain harmonious proportions across different screen sizes

Golden Ratio

Apply the golden ratio (approximately 1.618) to determine the ideal column width-to-height ratio for aesthetically pleasing designs.

Example of soft grids and hard grids

Source: Rainbow

Soft grids vs. Hard Grids

There are multiple approaches to how to use grids and layouts in UI Design. Soft grids and hard grids are two distinct approaches used in UI design to establish structure, spacing, and sizing rules within a layout. Soft grids involve establishing spacing and sizing rules for elements within a layout using specific base numbers. 

For example, an 8-point or 4-point grid is a common example of a soft grid system. In this case, the main dimensions of the overall layout, such as the dimensions of a card, adhere to the hard grid (for example, a 12-column grid). 

However, the soft grid is then applied to elements inside the card. This includes setting inner padding, margins, or other spacing rules using specific numbers or increments from the soft grid.

A hard grid may consist of a specific number of columns, such as a 12-column grid. This grid establishes fixed column widths and consistent spacing between columns. Elements within the layout align to the columns of the grid, allowing for precise control over element placement and alignment.

How to use them?

You can make soft and hard grids work for you and your current design project in two ways – using the hybrid approach or breaking the grid.

Hybrid Approach

Consider using a hybrid approach combining soft and hard grid elements. You can establish a hard grid structure for critical elements while allowing flexibility within certain sections or components.

Breaking the Grid

Intentionally break the grid in certain areas to create visual interest or emphasize specific elements. This technique can add energy and draw attention to important content.

The 8-Point Grid System

The 8-Point Grid system is one of the essential topics when discussing grids and layouts in UI Design. The 8-point grid system is a powerful tool for consistency and alignment in UI design. This system uses multiples of 8 (e.g., 8px, 16px, 24px) for spacing, sizes, and alignments.

Adopting the 8-point grid system creates a harmonious and visually pleasing design, especially when working with multiple screen sizes and responsive layouts.

Key aspects of this system include:

  • Establishing a baseline grid for vertical rhythm
  • Utilizing spacing units based on multiples of 8
  • Aligning icon and button sizes with the grid
  • Modifying the grid as per project requirements

Embracing the 8-point grid system helps create cohesive and balanced UI designs.

Screenshot of Figma's Nudge Amount settings

How to use the 8-point Grid System in UI?

In grid-based UI Design, knowing how and when to use clever tricks is the key to delivering precise and aesthetically pleasing design.

Some of these tricks would include:

Baseline Grid

Establishing a baseline grid with an 8-point vertical rhythm forms the foundation for consistent spacing and vertical alignment. You ensure harmonious proportions and a visually pleasing composition by aligning text, icons, and other elements to this grid.

This technique enhances readability and creates a sense of order throughout your design.

Spacing Units

Tricks like spacing units can help you make the most of using grids and layouts in UI Design.

Using multiples of 8 as the standard unit for spacing between elements brings a delightful sense of consistency to your UI. You establish a coherent and balanced layout by employing values like 8px, 16px, or 24px for margins, gutters, and padding. This approach streamlines your design process and simplifies the alignment of elements within the grid.

Icon and Button Sizes

To maintain a visually cohesive and harmonious layout, aligning the sizes of icons, buttons, and other UI elements with the 8-point grid system is crucial. Ensuring their dimensions correspond to the multiples of 8 fosters visual harmony and balance. This technique creates a unified visual language and provides an intuitive and polished user experience.

Modifying the Grid

Every design project has unique requirements, and you can customize the 8-point grid system to suit your specific needs. Feel free to adjust the base unit (8px) and its multiples to achieve the desired visual effect if necessary. Modifying the grid allows you to strike the perfect balance between precision and adaptability, ensuring your design aligns flawlessly with your project objectives.

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How to achieve responsiveness with Grids and Layouts in UI Design

Nowadays, creating responsive designs that adapt seamlessly to different screen sizes and orientations isn’t “good to have”; it’s a must. Grids and layouts in UI design play a pivotal role in achieving responsiveness. Leveraging flexibility and structure grids ensures your designs are visually appealing and user-friendly across various devices. 

By considering supercharged tactics such as breakpoints, using flexible grids, implementing media queries, and adapting the layout for smaller screens, you can create compelling user experiences that seamlessly adapt to different devices.

1. Stacking Elements

Consider stacking elements vertically instead of relying on a complex grid structure for smaller screens. This approach ensures that content remains readable and accessible, even on devices with limited screen real estate. Prioritize important content and adjust the layout accordingly to maintain a clear and concise user interface.

2. Flexible Grids

Design your grid system to be flexible and adaptable. Use percentage-based widths or relative units like “fr” (fractional units) in CSS Grid to allow elements to resize proportionally. This approach enables your grid to adjust and accommodate varying screen sizes, ensuring a consistent and optimized layout.


Define breakpoints based on common device widths (e.g., mobile, tablet, desktop) to adapt your layout as the screen size changes. You can optimize the user experience for each device category by strategically adjusting the grid structure at different breakpoints.

4.Media Queries

 Implement media queries to apply specific styles and adjust the grid structure at different breakpoints. Modify column counts and gutter sizes, or switch to another grid system. By tailoring the grid to the specific requirements of each device, you can create a seamless and engaging experience for users.

Screenshot of Figma's Grid styles dropdown menu, showing reusable grids saved as styles

Reusable Grids in Figma

Figma, one of our favorite design tools, offers powerful features for setting up reusable grids, enhancing your efficiency and consistency when using grids and layouts in UI design.

Layout Grids

The “Layout Grid” feature lets you define your grid structure, including the number of columns, gutter sizes, and margins. 

For example, you can enter the desired value in the “Columns” field to specify the number of columns you want for your grid. The same goes for the Gutter field, which defines the spacing between columns, and margin fields.

Additionally, you can create grid styles to ensure consistency across designs, saving grid settings as reusable styles that you can easily apply to multiple frames or artboards. You can also adjust other options based on your preferences, such as grid visibility, color, and opacity.

Figma also enables you to apply grids to specific frames or artboards, allowing different grid structures for different sections or components. Leveraging Figma’s “Smart Layout” feature, you can automatically adjust the grid structure based on content changes, facilitating seamless iterations and maintaining the integrity of your grid.

Grid Styles

You can create Grid styles in Figma to ensure consistency across your designs. Save your grid settings as a style, and apply it to multiple frames or artboards.

All you have to do is follow these simple steps:

  • In the right sidebar, go to the “Styles” tab
  • Under the “Grid” section, you will find your saved grid styles
  • Click on the desired grid style to apply to the selected frame or artboard

The grid will be instantly applied, providing a consistent layout structure.

Frame Grids

Figma will easily become your best friend for using grids and layouts in UI design. It allows you to apply grids to specific frames or artboards within your design, enabling different grid structures for different sections or components.

Select the frame or artboard where you want to apply a specific grid. Then, go to the right sidebar and click the “Layout Grid” tab. Enable the layout grid for the selected frame or artboard. Finally, specify the grid settings, such as columns, gutters, and margins, according to your requirements. With this simple tactic, your frame or artboard will have its unique grid structure while maintaining consistency with the overall design.

Smart Layout

Figma’s “Smart Layout” feature allows your grid to automatically adjust based on content changes, making it easier to maintain the integrity of the grid during the design iteration process. You can enable Smart Layout by selecting the frame or artboard with the grid applied. In the right sidebar, under the “Layout Grid” tab, toggle on the “Smart Layout” option.

When you resize or modify elements within the grid, the grid structure will automatically adjust to accommodate the changes while maintaining the desired layout. As mentioned, Figma easily lets you make the most out of grids and layouts in UI design.


Auto Layout is another helpful feature in Figma that helps maintain consistency in the inner spacing and sizing of elements and components when resizing the main frame.

Auto Layout ensures that your reusable grid’s spacing and sizing rules remain unchanged, resulting in a cohesive and consistent design.


Congratulations – you’ve made it to the very end of our comprehensive Grids and Layouts in UI Design Guide and gained valuable insight into how to turn these components into your biggest companions while creating seamless UI designs.

By understanding the importance of grids, the distinction between soft and hard grids, embracing the 8-point grid system, understanding how to achieve perfect responsiveness, and utilizing Figma’s features for setting up reusable grids, you’re now well-equipped to create visually stunning and user-centric interfaces.

If you want to deepen your existing knowledge and make Figma the biggest ally in your UI career path, check out our Advanced Figma Video Course. This extensive but comprehensible video course will teach you everything you need to know to be a confident Figma user and a better designer.

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