What makes good design stand out? While not obvious to the naked eye, visually pleasing and balanced designs are created with the golden ratio in mind. From the symmetry of ancient Greek buildings to the proportions of Mona Lisa’s face to the precise size and shape of the technological device in your hand, the golden ratio — also referred to as the golden mean, the golden spiral, or the Fibonacci sequence — is the clearest evidence of how math can be used in the real world!

What Is the Golden Ratio?

Simply put, the golden ratio, often denoted by the Greek letter phi, is the hidden math that calculates perfection and beauty in nature, art, architecture, and even finance. Two objects are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.

If you have ever marveled at how rose petals spiral in perfect sequence around the stem or wondered why you can stare at the Taj Mahal for hours and not tire of its symmetry, the formula for that perfection can be found in the intricacies of the golden ratio!

The Greeks developed the golden ratio based on a pattern of numbers known as the Fibonacci sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and continues into infinity. The Fibonacci sequence, which was developed by Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci, is the sum of the two preceding numbers in the sequence of numbers.

Graphically, the Fibonacci sequence is often visualized in what is commonly referred to as the Fibonacci spiral, which is a logarithmic spiral drawn inside an arrangement of squares, each of which illustrates the area of the next number in the sequence. The ratio between the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence is equal approximately to the golden ratio 1.618034.

Who Discovered the Golden Ratio?

The golden ratio was first described in Euclid’s “Elements” more than 2,000 years ago. Euclid of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician known as the “father of geometry,” referred to the golden mean as the following: “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the lesser.” In simpler terms, if you take a straight line from point A to point B and divide the line with point C, it will divide the line in a way where the ratio of AC to CB is equal to the ratio of AB to AC.

The discovery of the golden ratio can be attributed to many different thinkers throughout history, but it is known that the Greek sculptor and mathematician Phidias applied phi to the design of the Parthenon, built in 440 BC, which features structural columns that form golden rectangles. These golden rectangles are built with a length to width ratio of approximately 1.618.

How Is the Golden Ratio Calculated?

The formula for the golden ratio can easily be illustrated using the golden rectangle formula. If you measure the shortest side of a rectangle and cut a square out of the rectangle, the smaller rectangle that is left should have the same proportions as the original rectangle. If the proportion is in the golden ratio, it will equal approximately 1.618.

How Do You Use the Golden Ratio in Design?

Golden ratio on a shellSource

One of the first lessons new photographers and designers learn is mastering the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds divides an image evenly into three distinct parts, horizontally and vertically, and places the subject of the image at the intersection of the dividing lines or along one of the lines. Like the golden ratio, the rule of thirds is one of the primary methods of creating a visually harmonious experience for the viewer, which is one of the most important goals for any content creator or designer. 

While the history and mathematics behind the golden ratio may seem complex, its graphic design applications are quite simple and can be easily used in your design layout, spacing, content, and images. The golden ratio can also guide designers as they consider typographic hierarchy, image composition, logo design, and more. When the golden ratio is used in any kind of artwork, from architecture to graphic design, it creates a visual harmony that is difficult to explain but easy to calculate. So, what does the golden ratio mean for you?

How Do You Use the Golden Ratio in Your Design Layout, Content, and Images?

When designers receive an assignment to create compelling content, they are often given various assets, including copy and images, and tasked with arranging each component in a way that not only communicates the intended message but also compels the viewer to engage with the call to action. The most visually appealing and captivating advertisements, invitations, and web landing pages are often created with a reference to the golden ratio. As with the rule of thirds, the golden ratio also encourages designers to divide images into three distinct sections, each one serving a unique purpose in presenting a visually harmonious experience for viewers.

As designers consider both design layout and content placement, the golden ratio can come in handy for even the simplest design projects. Many designers often visualize how the golden spiral design lays out on their image. With the golden spiral as a guide, the eye is naturally drawn to its center, where the most important details of your design or content should be placed. Areas of visual interest are typically placed within the spiral, secondary content falls within the areas farther away from the spiral, and negative space is typically placed farthest away from the center of the spiral. 

For example, the two-column layout of some of the most successful websites is not by accident. It is, in fact, a very intentional and direct application of the golden mean. Web designers typically create a grid for the design, which has a standard fixed width of 960px. If you divide 960px by 1.618, the result is 593px, which becomes the width of the main content column. Subtracting 960 by 593 results in 367px, the width of the secondary content column.

How Do You Use the Golden Ratio in Your Spacing?

As far as visual design goes, a composed image is made up of two types of space. It is every designer’s goal to strike the right balance of positive space (the areas that contain the subject of the image) and negative space (the areas around the objects of interest). The use of negative and positive space in design is often assumed to be a result of a designer’s eye for placement and instincts about visual appeal. But did you know the golden ratio is also responsible for the relationship between positive and negative space and how your design is perceived? Using the golden ratio diagram, designers can determine the placement of each element as guided by the squares. 

Is the Golden Ratio Still Relevant?

Many people believe the golden ratio is purely a myth and that designers today consider it irrelevant. While it may be one of the many tools in a designer’s repository or one of the methods that creatives and scientists alike use to determine visual hierarchy, the golden ratio, according to many critics and contrarians, is a dying art. Critics claim that the golden ratio will always be a little off and result in minor discrepancies in calculations. Because it is an irrational number, it’s impossible for objects in the real world to achieve the golden ratio. Claims that the ratio is a universal law have been supported by psychologists and artists alike. While famous architects like Le Corbusier and artists like Salvador Dalí composed their masterpieces based on the golden rectangle, and as historians took a retroactive view of great works of art and world wonders, many still believe the golden ratio is arbitrary and not an accurate frame of reference for creating visual harmony. In modern times, it may come down to the fact that most people are uncomfortable with or uneasy about using math in daily life.

Even though claims that designers don’t find the golden ratio useful at all in today’s world can be validated by anecdotal evidence, it’s easy to see how the golden spiral can be used to find patterns and seek meaning in the universe. Try it out during your next design assignment to see if it works for you!

Create Your Own Design Using PicsArt

Now it’s time for you to experiment with the golden ratio! Get started by playing around with the quick and easy editing tools at your fingertips on the PicsArt app. Explore the #goldenratio hashtag to discover how artists and designers from around the world are incorporating the golden spiral in their creations. 

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