How can I choose the right spacing system?


  • To choose the right spacing system for web apps, consider your design's needs and target platform. 
  • The 4pt system offers fine granularity, ideal for dense interfaces, and aligns with Material Design. 
  • The 8pt system provides more space, suitable for iOS designs and web applications seeking clarity. 
  • Decide based on content density, platform guidelines, and desired user experience. For structuring content, implement a grid system – fixed for simplicity, fluid for responsiveness, or adaptive for precise control.

Detailed answer

The choice between spacing systems often comes down to the specific requirements of your project and platform guidelines. 8-point and 4-point grids are classic, flexible starting points. 

4pt and 8pt grid spacing systems

4pt spacing system: This system uses multiples of 4 (4, 8, 12, 16, etc.) as the foundational units for all spacing decisions, including margins, padding, and layout grids. It's particularly favored for mobile and web applications where fine control over spacing is needed without overcrowding the interface. The 4pt grid works well with Android’s Material Design principles, which recommend it for creating visually consistent interfaces across devices.

A visualization of the 4-point grid system and its multiplesof 4.


8pt spacing system: Similarly, the 8pt system uses multiples of 8 (8, 16, 24, 32, etc.) to dictate the spacing throughout the design. It’s especially popular among iOS designers and for web applications seeking a bit more breathing room between elements. The 8pt grid aligns with Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, providing a balance between density and openness that enhances readability and usability.

A visualization of the 8-point grid system and its multiples of 8.


Determining the right spacing system isn't about arbitrary numbers, but strategic choices. Ask yourself about:

  • Overall goals: Does your app need to feel dense and data-rich, or breezy and spacious? Should it convey calm or energy?
  • Content and structure: Do you have content-heavy cards or sparse layouts with prominent visuals? How complex is your information architecture? High-density interfaces might benefit from the finer granularity of a 4pt grid, whereas the 8pt grid can afford more whitespace, improving content legibility and focus.
  • Brand personality: If your brand is playful, generous spacing may be suitable. If it's conservative and structured, tighter spacing could align better.
  • Accessibility: Does your audience include older adults or users with visual impairments? Sufficient spacing is vital for legibility.
  • Target platform: Android favors the 4pt grid, while iOS leans towards the 8pt grid. For web apps, the decision may hinge on the desired aesthetic and user interface density.

The choice might also be influenced by your team's workflow and the tools you use. Some teams might find it easier to scale and adapt designs with an 8pt grid, especially if it aligns better with existing component libraries.

Pro tip: The more you practice using grid systems, the more comfortable and proficient you will become. Try experimenting with different grid systems on small design projects or exercises.

By studying the principles, experimenting with different tools, practicing, looking at examples, taking a course and getting feedback, you can improve your skills with grid systems and become a more effective and efficient designer.

Grids: fixed, fluid, adaptive

Grid systems play a crucial role in structuring content, providing a framework upon which to build a consistent and coherent layout. They involve columns, gutters (the space between columns), and margins (the space on the edges of the grid), and can be fixed, fluid, or adaptive.

Fixed grids offer a straightforward approach, with a constant column width that doesn’t change with the screen size. This can simplify design and development but may require additional adjustments for different screen sizes.

Pro tip: Design fixed layouts according to the most common screen resolutions among your target audience.

A visualization of the fixed grids on two mockups.

Fluid grids use percentage-based widths for columns, allowing the grid to adapt to the screen width. This fluidity enhances responsiveness but can lead to content variability across devices.A visualization of the fluid grids on two mockups.

Adaptive grids combine the best of both worlds, using fixed column widths up to certain breakpoints, beyond which the layout adjusts to the screen size. This approach provides more control over how content is displayed across devices.

A visualization of the adaptive grids on two mockups.

When choosing a grid system for your web app, consider the nature of your content, the devices your audience uses, and how you want your app to behave across different screen sizes. 

Test and iterate

Design is iterative. Test your spacing choices with real users to see how they navigate and experience your app. Use their feedback to refine your spacing system, ensuring it meets user needs and enhances usability.

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