The Golden Rule of Graphic Design
The Magic Number
If you have ever had any interest in the art of graphic design, chances are you have heard of the golden ratio. Throughout history, artists, mathematicians and musicians alike have studied this peculiar number. Some say that it is the most aesthetically pleasing of all proportions, while others contend that this has merely been ingrained into our collective consciousness through centuries of overuse.
It is said that Leonardo Da Vinci used the golden ratio to construct his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. It can be found in subjects as diverse as seashells, hurricanes, galaxies, and even the path of a hawk circling its prey.
“A golden rectangle is a rectangle whose side lengths are in the golden ratio, (one-to-phi), that is, approximately 1:1.618”—Wikipedia
The construction of a golden rectangle is fairly simple. wikipedia has more information on the subject than you would ever need to know.
I’ve found a few tools across the internet that do a good job of finding the golden ratio, for those of us too busy drawing to be bothered with terrible things like math. The first is Kevin Cannon’s Golden Ratio Calculator. He also has a golden ratio widget, for those of you lucky enough to be on a Mac. Even his site is pleasantly laid out with golden rectangles.
This is a script for photoshop CS2 that you can install. It will create an editable grid of golden sections and the rule of thirds.
Finally, probably the only Photoshop plug-in I will ever buy, the Power Retouche Golden Section plug-in. It costs about $30 but is worth every penny. Just open up the power retouch filter, like any other filter, and you can overlay golden rectangles, spirals, rule of thirds—the works. The only way it could be better is if it created these grids as vector shapes.
Laying Down the law
I used the golden spiral (and the rule of thirds) as a guide for laying out this banner for Ian’s webinar. The intention was to guide the viewer’s eye around the text.
The legacy of the golden ratio is almost as storied as the Da Vinci Code, but whether or not you believe the mysticism surrounding its origins, the fact remains that behind every image lies a mathematical structure. The golden ratio is one that has stood the test of time. You can think of design as a series of decisions. The best decisions are those that are driven by purpose. Whether you use the golden spiral, the rule of thirds, or just your eye, you should always be able to explain the reason behind your composition.