Life on the Grid:
At first glance grid system design may seem simplistic. It is in fact meant to be easily digested. Josef Muller-Brockmann is classified as part of the Swiss international Style of graphic designers. He was influenced by many different art and design movements including Bauhaus, Constructivism, and De Stijl. Brockmann was born in Switzerland in 1914 and began his career as an illustrator (CITATION NEEDED). His design approach is minimalist and simplistic. When browsing through his work I noticed that he only includes the most important information that pertains to either the design or the essential communication any fluff is cut out. You can tell by his work that he enjoyed this minimalistic approach to his work. He created many posters as advertisements for the Zurich Town Hall theater productions.
Brockmann published several books including The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems and Grid Systems in Graphic Design. Both books are known to be some of the best resources on graphic design and grid design.
The grid system is a great tool for designers to use. It is versatile and offers the designer a universal tool for layout design. I am not sure that it is something that should be used in every design all the time. Brockmann used the grid in almost all of his designs. He was very dependent upon his grid system. Although his work has inspired designers looking for that clean Brockmann style I think that by depending too much on one single tool you can stagnate your design.
Life off the Grid:
You must train to be a good outlaw. I like to think of designers who break the grid are type outlaws. It is interesting to me when someone creates something like the grid system they also create the opposite of their creation and in this case it is breaking the grid. Brockmann has inspired a whole new wave of grid breakers. Lee Morton of High5Design created this composition that embodies the grid breaking mentality.
After learning about grid structures and how to effectively use them most designers naturally start wanting to learn more about breaking the grid and how they can use typography in a new and interesting way. Breaking the grid is one of the ways to communicate with other typography enthusiasts that you are comfortable with many different areas of typography and design. It is one of the main pieces of evidence that a designer is intentionally breaking the rules and developing a personal style.
Personally I am continuing to work towards interesting ways to break the grid. When it comes to typography I really enjoy the grid structure, it is visually appealing to have the information organized. One of the main reasons I choose to break the grid is when I am using typography as more of a graphic design element or a visual element. I feel like the most successful uses of grid breaking is when the type is used as a visual element instead of a piece of communication used to communicate something by being read.
I found a great article on breaking the grid over at .net Magazine called Five Killer Ways to Break the Grid
Making the choice to break the grid is something that needs to have meaning and be intentional. Every detail of a design is meant to communicate something and breaking the grid is no different. You need to be using it as a communication tool not just breaking the grid to break the grid.
One example I love is at TheStyleSpy.com the typography they have chosen for their logo is very expressive and fun. It is designed to look like it was written quickly with a marker or brush. It breaks the grid to express that it is not able to be contained it is almost jumping off the page. This is a very effective use of this particular tool.
As with most things you must understand both positions before you can start making intelligent decisions about what fits best with your current situation. I am always on the lookout for successful use of the grid and I am also thrilled to see when designers successfully break the grid. Either way it is fun to understand why the designers made their decisions.