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The Golden Section: Mother Nature's Design Principle

November 23, 2014 Graphic Design, General 0 Comments

Believe it or not, Mother Nature has her own design principle. It's known as the golden section, and it creates perfect proportions and designs. An incredible number of natural objects, from seashells to pine cones, are ordered in this special proportion or numerical sequence, which people invariably perceive as visually pleasing. You can use it to design beautiful layouts, shapes and figures — all you need is the formula.

The golden section, also known as the golden ratio and the divine proportion, is a ratio of 1 to 1.618. For example, if you select a rectangle with a short side of 600 pixels, simply multiply 600 by 1.618 to get the length of the long side — 970 pixels. Instantly, you'll have proportions that register as pleasing, which is why artists and architects have been using the ratio for thousands of years.

The Golden Section: Mother Nature's Design PrincipleLaying Out Text and Images

Math aside, the golden ratio is a shortcut to beautiful design. This guideline can even be used to design the placement of text and images. Simply choose the size of your image, using the golden ratio to calculate the image's proportions, then use the same process as above to determine the size of the text block: Use the length of the image as 1, and multiply it by 1.618.

Determining Headers

You can use the golden ratio to determine the size of a header, as well. For instance, if you have decided to use a font size of 14 for the body text, multiply 14 by 1.618 to determine a proportional size for the header. In this case, 22 or 23 would be an appropriate header font size that corresponds with the ratio.

Creating Grids

For more complicated layouts, you can use the golden section formula, which is expressed as an algebraic equation. When a is larger than b, then (a + b) divided by a is equal to a divided by b, which equals 1.618. This formula is perfect for constructing a grid. For instance, if your rectangle is 400 pixels by 647 pixels and you want to determine the size of the sidebar, plug your known numbers into the formula. The long side is 647, which represents (a + b). To determine b — the length of the sidebar — all you need to do is subtract a from (a + b) to get 247.

A Simpler Method

If algebra is not your forte, consider the rule of thirds as a shortcut. If you divide a page into thirds horizontally and vertically, you will create nine blocks. According to the rule of thirds, the best placement for images or anything else of interest will be on the vertices where the horizontal and vertical lines cross. These intersections are where the eye will go when people scan the page. If you place the content on or near the vertices, you'll be following a golden ratio guideline.

Although the golden section may seem a bit constricting because of the math involved — or a bit too much of a shortcut because it eliminates trial and error — it's just a tool, and several designers and companies still use it. The latest Twitter grid, for example, follows the golden section rule. Now that you have this secret weapon in your design arsenal, use it well.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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