The Golden Ratio & Signage – Like Peas &  Carrots?

Dillon Cobb
APCO Signs
November, 2 2021

The Golden Ratio & Signs

Like red wine and steak, summer and baseball or Forest Gump and Jenny, good design and the Golden Ratio belong together. But what is the Golden Ratio and how does it have anything to do with architectural signage?

For those of you with design or photography backgrounds, the Golden Ratio, or its not-so-distant cousin the Rule of Thirds, is well-known, but for the majority of us, this may be new territory.

Represented by the Greek letter phi, φ, the Golden Ratio (also referred to as the Golden Section and numerous other aliases), in the simplest terms, is a tool to help create perfectly balanced and proportioned, aesthetically pleasing designs. While art and design are inherently subjective, the Golden Ratio injects an element of mathematics into the mix.

Mathematically, the Golden Ratio proportioning is “A+B is to A as A is to B” with an approximate value of 1.618. This is the key number to remember. With design, multiply any element’s size x 1.618 to determine the size of another, proportionally balanced element.

This number can also be explained by using the Fibonacci Sequence, a number sequence that progresses by adding two sequential numbers to determine the third. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. Some may recall the Fibonacci Sequence from Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.

The Parthenon and the Golden Section
The Golden Ratio in nature.  

The Golden Ratio can be seen throughout nature and in famous works of art and architecture dating back to ancient Greece. From the Greek Parthenon and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the seeds within a sunflower and the shell of a Nautilus, there have been countless examples of the Golden Ratio and perfectly balanced creations in the world around us throughout history.

The Golden Ratio remains prevalent in today’s world, with designers using a range of Golden shapes, including Golden Rectangles, Golden Triangles and Golden Circles, in numerous creations, from artwork and logo design to web page layouts and photography. Used as a visual tool in either creating or testing the proportions and balance of a design, Golden Shapes and Spirals help determine the perfect balance of a focal point combined with blank or white space.

The Golden Ratio can be seen throughout nature and in famous works of art and architecture dating back to ancient Greece.

Closer to home in our world of signage, the Golden Ratio can be applied to graphics layouts, symbol sizes and design and typography. While not always feasible with signage design due to the many variables involved, including compliance with ADA design requirements, the Golden Ratio can be helpful in laying out focal points and a hierarchy of text sizes on a sign. For example, a heading text size of 5/8” will be most compatible with a sub-heading text size of 3/8”.

Heading and Sub-Heading text sizes using the Golden Ratio 
The Golden Ratio as seen in a cutaway of a Nautilus shell 

As mentioned earlier, for those in the design community, you’re already very familiar with the Golden Ratio and how it can play into our world of signage. But for the rest of you, hopefully this has at least opened your eyes to one of the most key aspects of design and the natural world around us.

While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, learning more about the Golden Ratio helps explain in a more mathematical way why one thing may be more beautiful, or visually pleasing, than another…including signs.

For those interested in learning more, there are countless articles and Golden Ratio resources online.