Is the golden ratio really the magical formula for designers?


Senior Graphic Designer

18 September 2018

What makes a photo or image pleasing to the eye? According to the golden ratio principle, beauty is related to the composition of your image. But what exactly does the golden ratio entail? And should we really consider it the holy grail of graphic design?

Our senior graphic designer Bernd explains the principle of the golden ratio in layman’s terms and demonstrates how it can up the ante on your images.

The golden ratio is a mathematical theory in which the larger of two parts relates to the smaller, as the whole relates to the largest part. This formula results in the number 1,618 and is identified by the Greek letter Phi.

So much for the purely mathematical explanation. In this article we prefer to focus on the aesthetic application of the principle. The golden ratio can be observed in many disciplines, such as architecture, art, painting and photography, but also in graphic design. It can even be found in nature.

When the golden ratio and design meet

When applied to graphic design, the golden ratio boils down to aesthetics, creating a ‘beautiful’ image through harmony and proportions. It fosters well-balanced compositions that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Getting started with the golden ratio

Only a well-considered positioning of the components will help you to create aesthetically pleasing design work that draws the viewer’s attention. The position of the different elements is important. You can create an aesthetic appeal by means of a grid layout based on the golden rule.

The golden rule divides an image into nine areas using four lines, based on the golden section. Unlike the rule of thirds, where all nine squares are equal, all lines are slightly more inwards, making the middle area the smallest. But, similar to the rule of thirds, the idea is to place the elements of your composition as much as possible along these lines and at the intersections.

Is the golden ratio always the best option?

A mathematical calculation driving a design is, of course, no guarantee that you will create the best composition. You should trust your intuition on which framing and composition works best for your project. So, don't let your gut feeling be dominated by a rule; let your intuition be the deciding factor. Creativity and spontaneity are two key concepts here. The principle of 'eye over ratio' still applies to graphic design.
Mathematics might help you to theoretically determine the perfect position of objects, but as a graphic designer the art is to create a unique image. In other words, you want to add a little imperfection to the perfect image.

Dior’s golden ratio

At first sight, Dior's campaign image may seem haphazardly chosen. The image feels nicely balanced, without us being able to put our finger on what it is that creates this harmony. If we look at the image and the copy with the golden ratio in mind, we see that there is indeed a conscious construction at the basis of the campaign. The eyes and mouth of the model are placed on the intersections, and the copy is also aligned with the grid.

With this in mind, we can clearly tell that the golden ratio has been applied, but without losing sight of the bigger picture and slightly deviating where necessary. The golden ratio is used as the golden mean, rather than as a legality.