Friday, March 5, 2010

Design Friday: Proportion

Proportion is the size relationship (ratio) of the parts of an object to its whole. This is something that is hard to define, but you've probably noticed it in your surroundings without being able to put your finger on it. Gardner's "Art Through the Ages II" explains, "The experience of proportion is common to us all. We seem to recognize at once when the features of the human face or body are 'out of proportion'." Proportion is relevant to everything, but two examples in design could be exemplified in furniture: like if the arms or legs of a chair are too small compared to the whole chair, or if a lampshade is too big or too small for the lamp base. It just looks wonky.

What's interesting is that pleasing proportion is not just a subjective term, but has actually been defined by the ancient Greeks into a mathematical equation. This is called the Golden Mean or Golden Rule. This Golden Mean has been utilized by artists and architects (especially during the Renaissance) to compose their works- mainly in the form of the Golden Rectangle. This proportion has even been found in nature, such as in the nautilus shell, and the arrangement of branches along a stem.

A golden rectangle is made using a compass by: 1. drawing a square (red), 2. drawing a line from the midpoint of one side to an opposite corner, 3. using that line as a radius to draw an arc , which then defines the length of the rectangle, and 4. completing the rectangle (blue).

You might be familiar with the "Rule of Thirds". This is a rule of thumb that states that something is most pleasing, when divided into or arranged in thirds. For example, if you want to install a chair rail, wainescoting, or divide a wall with two different paint colors, it would look most pleasing at 1/3 the height of the wall, or at 2/3 the height of the wall.

It must be noted that while the Golden Mean is universally accepted as the most pleasing proportion, it is not a hard and fast rule. While it is something you can definitely depend on if you are not confident in "eye balling" things, artists, architects, and designers may purposefully use disproportion to achieve their goals.

Whew! That's about as much math as I can take in a day, so we'll leave it at that!!

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