updated: August 26th, 2009 / Ross Johnson / 9 Comments

The rule of thirds and the golden ratio are not the same…

Last night I had an interesting conversation with colleague Laura Fisher of Mitten Artworks regarding a presentation she planned on doing regarding different design concepts. There is a lot of information being published on design theory and fundamentals and there are some subjects that come up more than others. If you pay attention to design then I am sure you have read countless articles on typography, grids, the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. What Laura and I ended up discussing was the constant reference to the rule of thirds being a “easy” version of the golden ratio, despite the fact that they are completely different rules and have different uses.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is described as “two quantities are in golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger one equals the ratio of the larger one to the smaller. The golden ratio is an irrational mathematical constant, approximately 1.6180339887.” Simply put, the golden ratio is about proportion and the size and placement of one element compared to another.

With the golden ratio if we look at an element we determin the ratio of one section to the other (in this diagram the left hand section compaired to section 1) we arrive at the size based on both the height and width of the element (of which are equal when removing the left hand section) and it is not determined by a ratio of a third.

This rule specificly deals with astheticly pleasing proportions and ratios between two elements.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds however deals with a whole different design theory. The rule of thirds instead is a way to place elements with in a design as a way to control where a viewers eyes will travel and what they will see. “The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.”

The idea is that by placing and arranging elements with the rule of thirds in mind will create a more interesting design and that a users eyes will flow through the intersections of the grid thus creating a design that has more energy and tension.

You may have noticed that this description of the rule of thirds does not talk about nor focus on proportion. You may also notice that an element taking up two out of three columns does not equate to the mathematics that determine the golden ratio.They are two completely different rules.

Design and Use Design Intentionally

While it may seem like splitting hairs, I believe in designing intentionally. By using design rules incorrectly or unintentionally you will end up with a less effective design. it just takes a little bit more care and understanding but it is well worth the effort to use these rules correctly.

9 thoughts The rule of thirds and the golden ratio are not the same…

  1. Thanks so much for explaining the difference between these two design rules. I notice that there are a lot of people who don’t know the difference. Here’s a question for you: is the golden ratio or the rule of thirds generally more successful in terms of ad conversions and in terms of aesthetic quality. I notice that I prefer the golden ratio: do you think that’s true across the board?

  2. a good thing in understanding this 2 designs so that you can compare the idea on each designs

  3. I think it would be really interesting to use the Golden Ratio in architectural design, house floor plans, or interior design.

  4. Many of the the best designs incorporate both rules of design. The entire picture or design is in the Golden Ratio and then the major elements are laid out with the rule of thirds. And again, the elements within the art will be in the Golden Ratio.

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  8. I am researching information for a tutorial I will be presenting tomorrow. I would have given some wrong information on the topic, if I hadn’t read your post. Thank you!

  9. #photo #tog Make better compositions? The rule of thirds and the Golden ratio are not the same http://t.co/htO8lq9 and http://t.co/sLbLEqU

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