Design 3

Visual Organization + Communication Design

Why do compositions “feel” right?

One aspect of a composition “feeling” right, is the sense of visual structure and proportion.  The Golden Ratio offers us one way to address structure and balance.

What is the Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio, Golden Section, or the Divine Proportion, etc. is a visual representation of a number called Phi (pronouned fi). Phi is 1.618033988749895, or by the numerical sequence called the Fibonacci sequence.

Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting properties. In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to (=) the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one.

Many theories on aesthetic measurement have their basis in numerical patterns that occur naturally such as the proportions of the human body, for example the distance between your elbow and the tip of your fingers compared to the distance between your elbow and your wrist. Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci used these ideas when addressing proportion in architecture, painting and sculpture.

The Phi is evident everywhere in universe – Nature, Space, Physics, Mathematics, Physics, Art and Design. Phi creates the Divine Proportion, the Divine Proportion is used by artists and designers. Using the Divine Proportion as a guide to your compositions can improve the communication of your design.

How? By creating a natural language your brain understands. If the unique ration Phi creates is all around us, it stands to reason that designs created this way are more comfortable to us and therefore do their job quicker and more effectively.

The above images illustrate the concept of the golden ratio in that the ratio between two segments such that the smaller (bc) segment is to the larger segment (ab) as the larger is to the sum of the two segments (ac), or bc/ab=ab/ac=1.6180339887… The golden ratio is irrational (never-ending decimal).

Theories, such as the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean, golden number, golden section, golden proportion, divine proportion and section aurea) arise from natural patterns and they are applied in the visual and creative fields to create “beauty” by way of considered composition. The Golden Section is found throughout nature, mathematics, architecture, art and design. It is derived from a naturally occurring number, called Phi (1.6180339887….), which has intrigued humanity for thousands of years.

Ways to use Golden Ratio in your work?

Creating proportion, structure and a focal point…

Let say for example you have to create a poster design. You start by deciding the size and dimensions of your paper. Start by deciding the height and the orientation, for example, a landscape poster. The height is going to be 64 cm. Take that height and create a 64x64cm square from it. Then take 64cm and multiply it by 1.62 (you can use the whole sequence 1.6180339887…. by rounding it up to the second decimal, i.e. 1.62. This will still work.) Which gives you 104cm. This is the full width of your poster. This is shown in the diagram below:

poster size showing Divine Proportion

So, subtracting your initial height (64cm) from your new full width gives you the all important Divine Proportion line.

This is a very important compositional line and feels right. The poster can then be designed around this to create a balanced image. Here’s an example:

Final poster designed using the Divine Proportion

Construction of the Golden Rectangle by hand

A golden rectangle can be constructed with only straightedge and compass by this technique:

  • Construct a simple square
  • Draw a line from the midpoint of one side of the square to an opposite corner
  • Use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the height of the rectangle
  • Complete the golden rectangle

Grids and the rule of thirds

Grids have long been used by designers to aid and measure composition and to create a framework with which to construct the design.

Grids come in many shapes and sizes, and generally they’re not much to look at, just a bunch of lines. But it’s the relationship a designer has with this grid that makes them so much more than just lines. They are the framework of possibility. It’s only when a designer sits down and correctly designs a grid that these possibilities reveal themselves.

One of the most effective principles in grid design is called the Rule of Thirds, also known as the golden grid rule. The Rule of Thirds is a technique which is applied by dividing a space into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, creating a grid of rectangles. It is perhaps most widely used as compositional theory in photography and film.

Related Info

Golden Ratio Calculator



One comment on “Why do compositions “feel” right?

  1. Andrew Cornell Robinson
    January 20, 2013

    Reblogged this on acrstudio.

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2012 by in Grid, Heirarchy, Organization, Proportion, Tools + Techniques.

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