Have you ever wondered how designers decide where to place things, and just what proportions to use? It can be done by instinct, and it is something most designers begin to see intuitively over the years, however, there is a handy shortcut that can give a blueprint to start off with, and also a great way of checking if a design is on the right path.

There is a ratio in design, and in nature, that usually gives an aesthetically pleasing result. It is 1 : 1.618. If the measurement of one object is 1.618 times larger than the another then the two objects will likely look harmonious when placed together. It is often known as the ‘Golden Ratio’.

The diagram below illustrates how squares placed around one another, each increasing in size 1.618 times larger than the previous square, will actually make a spiral pattern if an arc is drawn through each one. Many examples of design, art, and photography will feature this pattern in some way. It’s not always obvious, but look for it carefully in a logo or a good photograph, and you will probably find these proportions somewhere.

Note the numbers in each of the squares. The Golden Ratio is very close to a series of numbers know as the Fibonacci Sequence, in which each figure is the sum of the two previous numbers, eg:  1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc (1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 2 = 5, 5 + 3 = 8, etc). This is another quick and handy way to get good proportions in design. For example, a circle with an 80mm diameter should look good next a 130mm diameter circle. There’s far more to it than just this of course, but it gives a designer great reference point when piecing a design together, especially a logo.

It works brilliantly with text, too. A header with 55 point text can be complemented by a 34 point sub-header (21 + 34 = 55 in the Fibonacci Sequence). Though there are many occasions when various restraints, such as tight space, makes it impossible to use these exact numbers, being able to take them as a starting point helps to get a close approximation, and saves a lot of time that could be wasted doing it by eye alone.

It’s not just about squares, circles, numbers and text. Theoretically it works with diagonal lines, too. If a line is drawn through the corners of each of the three progressively larger rectangles in the diagram below, it splits the whole neatly into two halves. This probably explains why diagonals and perspective are such a powerful features of photography and design.

The Golden Ratio is not a design panacea. Sometimes halves, thirds (the Golden Ratio is near two thirds, but not quite) or quarters will work very well, and on some occasions only what looks right will be right – the Golden Ratio might form no part of a design and there is no obvious mathematical explanation as to why it looks good – it just does! It also gives a designer no help whatsoever in choosing colour, concepts, fonts and so on! Some might even argue that it is a complete myth; that any part of it seen in a good design is just complete coincidence, and that people just look too much into patterns and meaning where there is none to be found. However, I have used it, and seen it used successfully too many times to believe that it does not form at least some part of many designs. Designers around the world use it every day, and it is often taught as part of design courses.

Here’s an example of the Golden Ratio used in a design we did for LG Joinery. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the ratio helped (either by planning or by instinct!), at least in part, to make the logo’s proportions fit together the way they do…