The Golden Ratio

I woke up this morning and found myself gazing out at a tree in our backyard. What makes that tree, and many like it, so pleasing?

I went into the kitchen and grabbed a tape measure. Then I turned back to the tree and measured from my perspective. 13 inches by 8 inches. 13 divided by 8 is 1.62. The golden ratio. The divine proportion. The basis for all elegant design. The number written into the fabric of life.

Φ

It’s the ratio between successive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, converging on Φ as the numbers get bigger. Algebraically it’s (1 + √5)/2. If you stack squares of increasing size to make rectangles, the rectangle’s dimensions will be 1 : 1.618. If you draw a line through these squares from small to large, it makes the spiral shape found over and over throughout nature.

Scientists have never been able to pin down the exact reason the eye is so drawn to this ratio. But we like it, and we like it every time. There’s even research that shows if you have a bad image, and move in in the direction of 1 : 1.618, the brain is pleased by the iteration.

The ratio appears in the pyramids of Egypt, The Parthenon in Greece, and the Eiffel Tower. It’s in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, Dali’s Last Supper, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres, and Mondrian’s Red, Blue, and Yellow. It appears naturally in flowers, plants, shells, trees and pine cones. It’s in beautiful faces, bone structures, and reproductive patterns.

The original Twitter user interface was designed around these proportions. Star Wars is full of golden ratios like Darth Vador’s helmet. Nickelodeon’s Kim Possible was intentionally drawn to this ratio. Swiss architect Le Corbusier made the golden ratio the basis of the United Nations building. National Geographic’s logo is just a 1 : 1.618 golden rectangle next to their name.

Take measure of the things you find pleasing. You might be surprised by the sacred geometry of beauty.

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