John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Why You Should Avoid the Golden Ratio

In the last two days, I have been blown away by Twitter’s new design. It is a delightful improvement. Media is impressed because it is bright, shiny, new and vastly improved. Why is it so much better? Twitter’s new design is great because it is both functionally and aesthetically improved. Bravo Twitter!Golden Ratio on

Remarkable attention (even Mashable remarkable attention) has been paid to the way that Twitter made use of the “golden ratio” in the new improved design, but you should avoid the Golden Ratio and here’s why:

There is a long history of paying attention to the golden ratio in design, in natural designs and in web design – ( had a great tutorial that remains relevant and informative.) But you should still avoid it.  So – if the Golden Ratio is good, and if Twitter’s new design is a sensational improvement why should you avoid it?  There are four things are wrong about highlighting the use of the Golden Ratio.

  1. There is nothing unique in using the Golden Ratio in web design.
  2. There is nothing unique to Twitter as a current website using the Golden Ratio
  3. Most importantly: Using the Golden Ratio is NOT good web design, it is detrimental. 
  4. When web design matters, the important gold is the Golden Triangle.

There is nothing unique in using the Golden Ratio in web design. It has been an element of all sorts of designs, and it has been an element of web design forGolden Triangle and Golden Ratio years.  It provides a nicely balanced web page, aesthetically pleasing and it is a design that pays homage to a traditional approach to design.  You should avoid it because it is the wrong kind of gold. The Golden Ratio is NOT the best thing about web design and usability.  The Golden Triangle is!  (and this overlay shows both the Golden Ratio and the Golden Triangle

Here is an example of the Golden Triangle, overlaying the Golden Ratio.

Golden Ratio on ChrisBrogan.comBefore going any further, it is VERY important to mention that Twitter is not unique in using the Golden Ratio. Look at a dozen current websites, and it is a safe bet that eight out of ten of those websites use the Golden Ratio. Chris Brogan uses the Golden ratio with his blog. I use it with mine. Amazon uses the Golden Ratio, Facebook uses it, Brightfuse uses it. Almost everyone uses it.  Don’t believe me? Look at these overlays of various websites.Golden Ratio on

The Golden Triangle is way more important. If you’ve never heard of the Golden Triangle – it refers to Google’s Eye-tracking studies that show a sort of golden triangle on the top left side of a web page. It is where people focus on search results. The “Golden Triangle” is important because it shows where people focus on EVERY web page. The Golden Ratio puts important elements of a web page in places where people aren’t looking. It puts unimportant elements of web pages in places where people look first.

Golden Ratio doesn’t equal Golden Triangle! For most websites, the Golden Triangle is essential, but the Golden Ratio should probably be avoided.  

A final thought: There are some designers  who do NOT use either the Golden Ratio or the Golden Triangle.  FourSquare (4sq) doesn’t use the Golden Ratio or the Golden triangle. They probably do not really care about either golden design reference because 4sq’s websiteisn’t really relevant to their business. Why not? Well, for FourSquare, their website is NOT their primary user interface, and website usability isn’t nearly as important to them as the other interfaces and applications that they provide. 

FourSquare screenshot with Golden overlays.Let me say that again. For FourSquare, their web design isn’t critically important because of the other apps that people and businesses use access their service. Their website design is just not that important.

That is very significant for FourSquare, and also for Twitter. For Twitter, their website is NOT their primary interface either because Twitter’s customers use Tweetdeck, Social Oomph, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter App for BlackBerry, Hootsuite, Twittergrader and another half million apps. That is really significant for Twitter because for them, the Golden Ratio might be irrelevant to the Golden Triangle, and equally irrelevant to the quality of their redesign.  Regardless of Golden Triangle, or Golden Ratio, Twitter’s redesign is still a serious winner! 

Design is just not essential for people and companies who have websites where they know that the website is not the primary interface that your customers use. Those websites can design with considerations for the Golden Ratio. If your website design IS a primary interface for your customers – take heed of the Golden Triangle instead.

September 30th, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing | one comment