Lets say I have 1000 px wide 2 column layout with 100 px gutter space (margin) and 50px on the left and right.. How do I apply the golden ratio to this layout?

Method One

=>c1= 495px and c2= 305px

50px, column 1 (495px), 100px, column 2 (305px), 50px

Method two calculate the column widths ignoring the margins.


=>c1= 618px c2=392px

effective column width after adding the margins/paddings

c1=618px -100px = 518px
c2=392px -100px = 292px
50px, column 1 (51), 100px, column 2 (305px), 50px

% difference in two methods 518-495/518= 4%

The 4% difference would not make any any difference, but the % difference will be more when dealing with narrow layouts.

Can someone please suggest which method is better. Please include the links and ref supporting your answer.


2 Answers 2


Use method one.

In providing content to the user, the physical content should be clearly distinguishable from the background - this is the figure and ground rule. The figure is the area of interest.

Therefore where the golden ratio should be applied is in the ratio between the two figures (the two areas of physical content), and not applied to the ratio between the two areas of ground (background).

Lets say for further argument, that the margins and gutters were the same colour (and therefore indistinguishable from) the surrounding background with no borders. Any attempt to include margin and gutter in calculating the layout sizes would result in the golden ratio effect being lost.

In addition this leaves you free to change the margins and/or the gutters without affecting the ratio between the two columns of content themselves.


The 4 % makes no difference because the golden ratio is about 1:1.6 interesting:BS. While I think grids and ratios of any sort create a constraint which is useful when devising a layout, the golden ratio itself seems to have acquired a mysterious power over people's minds.



  • Great links....
    – e100
    Jun 21, 2011 at 16:15

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