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From foliage to architecture, this ancient mathematical ratio is evident across all forms of natural and human-made design. Discover how the golden ratio supports satisfying aesthetics and ways you can apply it to your work.
Also known as the golden mean, golden number, golden section, divine proportion or the Greek letter ‘Phi’, the golden ratio is a mathematical visual aid that enables designers to create balanced works that are aesthetically pleasing for the viewer.
The ratio is 1:0.62. It is used to divide lines and rectangles, which can result in visually satisfying creative compositions. Some artists use the ratio 3:5, which isn’t the exact golden ratio, but is near enough and often applied in paintings. Some artists don’t intentionally use the ratio, yet find their work meets it naturally.
Why is it important? When applied or experienced in any design, whether it be architecture, painting, sculpture, nature or music – the golden ratio results in an enjoyable experience for those who engage with it. This is important if we want a design to appeal to a viewer and evoke a reaction.
Stunning examples of the golden ratio in art are ‘Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gough and ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ by Katsushika Hokusai. With Hokusai’s waves, each grows in size, following the ratio. Van Gough’s masterpiece embraces the spiral within the night sky in the background of the work.
The golden ratio enables the golden spiral and golden rectangle – two of the most frequently used approaches.
The design of the Notre Dame in Paris notably has several golden rectangles within its key proportions, as do many paintings from the Renaissance. As with the golden spiral, this ratio or layout approach creates harmony with design elements and is also commonly used with website and app interface design.
✔️Typography and defining hierarchy
Selecting typography styles, sizes and formats for online or print design can be supported by applying a touch of science, by way of the ratio.
First up, let’s look at the typography hierarchy.
Establish the font size for your body or paragraphs. In this example we will say 16pt size. We then multiply 16 by 1.618 (the golden ratio) to find the appropriate header font size, which comes to 25.888 (so round it to 26pt).
If you’re using a 30pt font for your headings, then divide this by 1.618 to select your body text, so 18.54, or 19pt to round it up to a whole number.
✔️ Cropping and resizing images
If you’re using Photoshop, you will have the option to select ‘crop’ and before doing so, apply overlay options, which include the golden ratio, or golden spiral. You can then align the image with these guidelines and crop or resize with confidence.
✔️ In logo design
Either the golden rectangle or golden spiral can be helpfully applied to your logo design to support balanced proportions for each element. As long as the length to width ratio hits 1:1:618, you’ll be onto a winner.
By overlaying the golden spiral onto your design canvas (either digital or hardcopy) you can ensure the focal point of your work is in balance. Alongside the spiral, the golden rectangle can be applied to position any other elements. The rectangles can be sized according to what would best suit each element within the overall layout – for example individual text boxes or buttons on a website interface.
If you want visitors to your website (or those you are designing for) to hang around longer and pay attention, it pays to get the ratios right with your designs. Bookmark these tools for your kit.
This handy tool is particularly useful if you’re a website designer and really need to get your typography sizing right. Begin by entering your font size and width, then get optimising font sizes, line heights and widths and nail your characters per line for assured typography choices.
Free, open source resources exist for designers to ensure that their layouts are ticking the ratio boxes, whether designing for online or print. The ratio templates can be overlaid onto anything from your wireframes for website and app interfaces, to icon or logo designs, through to illustrations or device mockups.
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