Behold: 1.618031! The Most Compelling Headline Ever Written
As a writer, I am forever curious about what goes on in the noggins of those wearing the artist chapeaus on the other side of the shop. So today, I thought I’d delve into the magic behind the “golden ratio”— the Rosetta Stone of good design.
It’s the go-to design technique of mother nature, Plato, Leonardo Da Vinci, and whole lot of other artists, musicians, mathematicians, and architects who probably didn’t even realize they were deploying it.
Like gravity and nature’s other, more compelling forces, humankind didn’t so much create the golden ratio as discover it.
After all, it’s the driving force behind the visual harmony we find in everything from spiral galaxies and sunflowers to chameleon tails and nautilus shells. Look closely into a sunflower, and the near-perfect spiral of the golden ratio practically jumps out at you. Coincidentally, this arrangement just so happens to be the most efficient distribution of sunflowers seeds as is physically possible. Mother nature makes perfection look so effortless.
Not only is it present in the shape in the honeycombs of bee colonies, but it’s also behind the population of colonies themselves. Amazingly, honeybees naturally maintain a ratio of 1 male bee to every 1.618 females (the golden ratio).
It all adds up to voilà!
The golden ratio represents the relationship between two quantities or objects that share a complementary ratio. Two objects are said to be within the golden ratio if the ratio between a length a and a length b is nearly identical to the ratio of a + b and a. Represented as: a+b/a = a/b = Φ. The resulting irrational number, 1.680314, proved so ubiquitous it was given its own symbol, “Φ,” the Greek letter “Phi.”
So perfect is the harmony created by the golden ratio, many have come to call it the “divine ratio.” It’s believed to be the most pleasing shape known to the human eye.
Much of the Western world learned of the golden ratio following the Dark Ages through the works of Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, who devised the recursive number sequence that has become widely known as a “Fibonacci Sequence,” where each number in a sequence is the sum of the 2 numbers that preceded it: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21, etc…
Interestingly, the ratio between any two adjoining numbers on the Fibonacci sequence fall within the golden ratio (1.618031), the larger the paired numbers, the more closely aligned to the ratio they become. More amazingly, while it’s obvious that the golden ratio and Fibonacci sequences are somehow linked, scientist and mathematicians have yet to determine exactly how or why.
But even Fibonacci was late to the game. His work was merely relaying the lessons learned while traveling extensively across Asia and North Africa, where he studied numerical systems under some of the greatest mathematical minds in India and the Arab world.
In one way or another, some of the greatest minds in astronomy, architecture, art, and even philosophy had been employing the golden ratio for centuries prior.
The Greek sculptor Phidias, for example, utilized the golden ratio in the carving of his marble gods and goddesses adorning the Parthenon in the 5th Century BC. The façade of the Parthenon itself is said to be a near perfect reflection of the ratio’s heavenly harmony.
Euclid, the Egyptian mathematician and father of Geometry, was among the first to clearly define the golden ratio, stating, “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line to the greater segment, so is the greater to the lesser.”
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher included the “golden mean” in his writing, referring to it as “the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.”
The Golden Ratio is also present in the music our ear finds most appealing. Mozart, for instance, used to jot down mathematical equations (Fibonacci Sequences) in the margins of his music, ensuring that the three parts of his sonatas followed the sequence precisely.
The question is why? Why do we find the Golden Ratio so appealing?
Generally, when we see anything in these proportions, it just “feels right.” Unsurprisingly, psychologists have discovered that people whose facial features are perfectly proportional (the golden ratio) are perceived to be more attractive.
Scientists studied the brain activity of test subjects that were exposed to classical and renaissance sculptures that reflected the golden ratio as well as other sculptures that had been altered ever so slightly to deviate from the ratio—and they found that our brains naturally react favorably to the presence of the ratio, even when exposed to it in the briefest of instances.
Turns out, eons of evolutionary development have trained our eyes to scan the environment around us in the nautilus shell-shaped pattern of the golden ratio to enhance our chance of survival and of not being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger or a ravenous cave bear. So naturally, when artists, architects, art directors, and designers position design elements within the sequence, our brains feel more at ease. And conversely, when they place design elements outside of the constraints of the golden ratio, it causes no small amount of tension.
When a grid is made from this nautilus shell-shaped ratio, the points where the lines on the grid intersect have been found to create “sweet spots,” or areas that are particularly appealing to the eye. So naturally, graphic designers, art directors, artists, and architects have discovered that design elements placed at these intersections make their work that much more appealing.
Which got me thinking, if the golden ratio can make the Mona Lisa smile, spiral galaxies even more stellar, and Mozart’s sonatas sing—just imagine what it might do for your event space. Which, after all, is your canvas.