A grid is a useful concept for understanding and describing report layouts. Picture pages as a pattern of cells (sometimes called modules in a grid arrangement and you can see how the number of columns defines its vertical structure. The simplest grid has a single column, and we found several examples of that layout among the law-firm research surveys. Here are three.
KL Gates GCDisruption 2017 [pg. 15] relies on a block grid: no columns (or perhaps one could call it single-column). The effect on many readers may be density that demands laborious slogging through a mass of text. Another effect may be that of a word processing document, where columns rarely show up. Wide margins on one or both sides can alleviate the heaviness of the layout, but this report has normal margins.
Perkins Coie VirtualReality 2016 [pg. 15] also has no columns. The snippet shows a plot and part of the text that follows it. Together they fill the single column, although there is a wide margin on the left side, inhabited by the greater-than symbol, that reduces the blockiness.
Even when firms rely on a single-column grid, they may not rigidly adhere to that pattern. Some reports vary the number of columns from page to page. For example, Mayer Brown Privacy 2015 [pg. 2] has a single column on text-only pages, but two columns when there are plots (and the final page about the firm has two columns).
We return to the four reports we chose earlier. The reports came from these firms: Eversheds, “21st Century law firm: Inheriting a new world” (2008); Hogan Lovells, “Risk and Return: Foreign Direct Investment and the Rule of Law” (2014); Norton Rose Fulbright, “Shipping” (2017); and White & Case, “Mining & Metals 2017: A tentative return to form” (2017). The focus of this review was their report’s layout, and specifically how many columns were used.
Interestingly, each of the four reports chose a different columnar layout. One of them, published by Eversheds, has a single column but also makes use of margin boxes with text. That report also colored the borders with a stripe on alternating pages. Here is a sample (the snippet shows the green border on the right).
The report from Norton Rose uses neither columns nor marginalia. Each page is undivided.
The Hogan report breaks each page into two columns while the White \& Case report displays three columns of equal width and a fourth, narrower column. The snippet below comes from that firm’s report.
Assuming reports are laid out in portrait format (not wide landscape), it seems to me that having more than two columns squashes the plots and gives a busier, more crowded look to the page. It may be that with powerful desktop publishing software the designer can array plots across multiple columns, but that arrangement adds to the visual complexity of the page.