The Golden Ratio is a mathematical ratio. It is commonly found in nature, and when used in design, it fosters organic and natural looking compositions that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
The Golden ratio is a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. It is often symbolized using phi, after the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet. looks like this:
a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.6180339887498948420 …
Around 1200, mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci discovered the unique properties of the Fibonacci sequence. This sequence ties directly into the Golden ratio because if you take any two successive Fibonacci numbers, their ratio is very close to the Golden ratio. As the numbers get higher, the ratio becomes even closer to 1.618. For example, the ratio of 3 to 5 is 1.666. But the ratio of 13 to 21 is 1.625. Getting even higher, the ratio of 144 to 233 is 1.618. These numbers are all successive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.
These numbers can be applied to the proportions of a rectangle, called the Golden rectangle. This is known as one of the most visually satisfying of all geometric forms – hence, the appearance of the Golden ratio in art. The Golden rectangle is also related to the Golden spiral, which is created by making adjacent squares of Fibonacci dimensions.
The Golden ratio also appears in all forms of nature and science. Some unexpected places include:
Shells: Many shells, including snail shells and nautilus shells, are perfect examples of the Golden spiral.
Pinecones: The spiral pattern of the seed pods spiral upward in opposite directions. The number of steps the spirals take tend to match Fibonacci numbers.
Flower petals: The number of petals on some flowers follows the Fibonacci sequence. It is believed that in the Darwinian processes, each petal is placed to allow for the best possible exposure to sunlight and other factors.
Animal bodies: The measurement of the human navel to the floor and the top of the head to the navel is the Golden ratio. But we are not the only examples of the Golden ratio in the animal kingdom; dolphins, starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins, ants and honeybees also exhibit the proportion.
Seed heads: The seeds of a flower are often produced at the center and migrate outward to fill the space. For example, sunflowers follow this pattern.
Fingers: The length of our fingers, each section from the tip of the base to the wrist is larger than the preceding one by roughly the ratio of phi.
You can apply the Golden Ratio to many compositional elements of your design, including layout, spacing, content, images and forms.
The Golden Spiral can be used as a guide to determine the placement of content. Our eye is naturally drawn to the center of the spiral, which is where it will look for details, so focus your design on the center of the spiral and place areas of visual interest within the spiral.
This website by and for graphic designer Tim Roussilhe looks quite content-dense but is very well organized according to the Golden Ratio and Golden Spiral, which focuses on the text in the upper left section of the website. Your eye begins in the top-center with “Bonjour My Name is Tim.” It then travels past the description of what Tim does, on to the menu buttons, hits the logo in the top-left corner, before coming to rest in negative space, having absorbed all the details it needs.
Content most obviously becomes denser as the spiral progresses in this visual identity for Saastamoisen säätiö. The size of each letter is reduced as is the spacing between each letter as the eye gets closer to the spiral. The letters don’t necessarily read in order but there is enough repetition that it will become familiar.