Recently, I started taking interest in logo designs and started replicating some famous logos.

Soon, I came across this article about twitter's new logo, released somewhere in june '12 . On this post, I learned the fact that circles and the mathematical constant golden ratio are being used in logo designs of twitter and apple and icolud.

I want to know, what's the reason behind this? Is it a matter of good practice or is it some standard practice?

  • 5
    Not all everyone entirely use circles to draw logos, but the fact is that it is easier to draw simple design using circles. Golden Ratio naturally looks good, and that's why we are fond of it. It's everywhere in the nature, from the shape of the galaxies to the shell of a snail. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 8:36
  • so it's basically a matter of choice. you either use circles or you don't. although it looks darn good to show circles as construction tool.
    – zhirzh
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 9:43
  • 2
    @DeepakKamat there is no actual evidence that the golden ratio actually 'naturally looks good'. It's more of a myth than fact. The precise ratio isn't actually found in nature much at all.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 3:45
  • 1
    It's a "trend" that some guys named Phidias, Plato, Euclid, Fibonacci, Da Vinci and other mathematicians probably started. Since balance is a fundamental in design, it simply makes sense to use it when appropriate. Some people don't agree with this but I think the mathematics that rule this world are the best references when it comes to say if something is a myth or not. If it can be calculated, it's part of reality. The rule of Thirds in design and photography is also working in the same way as Phi.
    – go-junta
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 1:53
  • 1
    @go-meek anything can be calculated. There's nothing special about the golden ratio in that sense. As for 'balance' in visual arts, that's actually not mathematical as much as it is 'visually balanced'. Lots of design purposefully breaks from mathematical precision because it doesn't look correct (much of type design is this way).
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 17:35

5 Answers 5


There's two questions here.

Let's start with the first:

Why do people use the golden ratio?

Because they are lazy, or just blindly following advice without putting a lot of thought behind it. The reality is that the Golden Ratio is mostly BS. Well, BS may be a bit harsh, maybe a better term is that it's mostly arbitrary. Connections to Roman architecture, renaissance masters, and even nature are extremely weak and often amount to just approximations. ie, something is found to be in the ballpark of the Golden Ratio so a myth forms that it truly is based on the Golden Ratio.

Alas, there is little evidence that there is anything unique about this ratio in terms of aesthetic appeal other than "hey, it's a nice rectangle":


Granted, there's nothing wrong with using it as a basis for a layout or mark, but there's nothing particular special about it, either. You could go with any ratio and consider it just as solid if you so desire.

FYI, there are lots of questions about the Golden Ratio on this Graphic Design SE site as well as several of the other SE sites.

Keith Devlin from Stanford has an interesting video on this topic: http://vimeo.com/88132964

The other question:

Why do people use circles to create logos

The literal answer to that question is that people use circles because it's a valid tool. Just as lines, rectangles, stars, color, patterns, textures, etc. are.

As for the specific case of the Twitter logo you reference, it just happens that that particular logo was designed with arcs. Purely a decision by the designer.

(Side note, it should be pointed out that the original Twitter bird was actually a piece of stock art. It was never actually designed as a logo).

The 'smoking gun' image from the linked article, IMHO, is this one that ties the above two things together nicely:

enter image description here

This, to put it nicely, is complete bullshit. It's a contrived graphic and has no real basis on the realities of the actual logo.

For starters, the original Apple logo was drawn freehand. No actual circle templates were used. The other circles within the Apple are merely arbitrarily put there after the fact. The curves of the apple are not true arcs, but more organic and variable...something in the olden days you'd use a French Curve for. The logo was later tweaked and cleaned up a bit, so the bite and leaf? Sure, I'll give them that one. In the end, though, the only ratio in this logo is the ratio of 'size of typical human mouth to typical apple' ratio.

As for the Golden Ratio, there's absolutely nothing about the Apple logo that fits the golden ratio. As you can hopefully see, they simply plopped the golden rectangle on top without any rhyme or reason. They tried to be clever by picking particular circles and re-assembling them into a rectangle but a) several of those are purely arbitrary and b) If you have to re-arrange it all, then it's not adhering to the Golden Ratio anyways.

This is akin to the films National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code. Fun historical mysteries--but entirely fiction.

In summary

The golden ratio is fine, but nothing special. Use it if whatever you're drawing benefits from it. Ignore it otherwise.

Circles are fine. If your logo will have lots of arcs, you'll want to build it out of circle segments.

(Update, it appears FastCompany agrees. To quote: It's bullshit. The golden ratio's aesthetic bona fides are an urban legend, a myth, a design unicorn.)

  • 3
    I really enjoyed your answer for this. It bugs me when designers try to over-rationalize instinctive design choices.
    – bemdesign
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 11:41

It's not that circles or golden ratios are some kind of required constant in logo design. What are constant in effective design are proportionality and similarity (or, sometimes, contrast).

There are many natural ratios on which to base proportionality. The golden ratio is one, but there are also 4:3, 3:2, 2:1, 1:1, 1:3.14159 and many others. Simple ratios work (and the golden ratio is simple, as is pi, even though in decimal notation they look complex). Two objects with a 5:4 size ratio look right; in a 127:98 ratio they don't produce the same pleasing effect. (Try it.)

Items which are sized or spaced in a natural ratio tend to harmonize. The impact of the Acropolis, Parthenon and other ancient structures comes about in large part because every major dimension is in ratio to the base of the structure, smaller dimensions are in ratio among each other or to one of the major dimensions.

The golden ratio (1:1.618) works particularly well for organic forms, where it looks natural because we encounter it everywhere in nature. The ratio of the lengths of the bones in a hand, the spacing of branches in a plant, the chambers of a nautilus shell are all examples of the golden ratio in nature.

It makes good visual sense, then, that a fluffy little bird would be represented using circles in golden ratio. The ratio "looks right" to us, because it's familiar. (And we're hard-wired to love little creatures with soft outlines and cute noses, but that's another topic.)

Draw out three circles in Illustrator, each exactly 1/3 larger than the one before. Arrange them in proximity on a page and print it. Now alter the sizes of two of the circles slightly, arbitrarily, so there's no simple size relationship (mathematically simple ratio) among them. Print that page. Look from one to the other and compare the visual effect. Do this a few times, with different shapes. You'll quickly see why proportions matter.

Similarity of shape also tends to be harmonious. Having started with a circle, you wouldn't introduce a rectangle arbitrarily. But you can put a square intersecting or inside a circle (like the gd.se logo) so it fits exactly, or has a diagonal exactly 2/3 or 3/4 of the diameter, without breaking the harmony.

  • 1
    Those aren't actually all examples of the Golden Ratio in nature. While it does exist in nature, it's not nearly as common as the myth of the golden ratio has made it out to be. (The Greeks didn't really use it either) Fun video: vimeo.com/88132964
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 3:54
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    And specifically pertaining to the Nautilus shell (which seems to be the most mentioned correlation to nature): goldennumber.net/nautilus-spiral-golden-ratio
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 19:10
  • 1
    If you're interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend Mario Livio's book "The Golden Ratio," which 'splodes myths (he covers many of the bogus phi examples), gives fascinating history, and shows the ubiquity of phi in nature. And he does it with restraint, never getting too mathematical for a prototypical "intelligent reader." Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 19:32

It's pretty easy to find a correlation between the golden ratio and the proportions of natural forms, e.g., plants and animals. Of course, the growth of natural forms is subject to variability caused by, for example, environmental factors, so you will never find a perfect correlation. Likewise if a designer consciously uses the golden section to design a product, there will still be constraints that will affect the degree of correlation.

If you perceive a natural form to be beautiful by the nature of the arrangement of its parts being harmonious (in a geometrical sense), you may find its proportions correlate with the golden ratio (and/or related root-ratios).

So for designers who understand this, the golden ratio is used as a tool to introduce a sense of natural proportion to their work.

I use it for designing icons: http://www.designbygeometry.com/icon-design/

You may also be interested in this analysis of Apple's iOS icon grid: http://www.designbygeometry.com/ios-icon-grid-a-simple-geometrical-analysis/

In the above analysis, you will see that the radi'i of the circles are related by the golden ratio and the square root of two.

I guess that many designers use circles because the curves are easy to create. While the curves in Roman architectural details are largely circle arcs, Greek architectural curves are derived using conic sections and are considered to be the more elegant.

It's like the difference between the radius of the pre-iOS7 icon radius, and the newer iO7 icon corner curve, which correlates better with a conic section. IMHO, I think the latter is the more elegant curve. There is also an analysis of this curve on my blog.

Chris Heath www.designbygeometry.com

  • I think this is the key phrase: "you may find its proportions correlate". The key part is that it may correlate to any proportion. That we've chosen one particular proportion out of many--at least for design decisions--is arbitrary, at best. Again, that doesn't make it bad, but we should all keep in mind that it's purely arbitrary and there's no inherent benefit to the golden ratio over any other ratio. There's nothing more or less useful about the golden ratio than any other ratio.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 19:07
  • And if one doesn't dogmatically adhere to a mathematical ratio, then hopefully they realize that the ratio probably isn't helping much in the first place. Constraints are good in design, but sometimes we put up constraints that don't need to be there. :)
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 19:08

I've always found the golden ratio shape 1:1.6 ugly and hard to produce pleasing composition in. The long side is too big relative to the short side. On its side it's too wide, compositions lose impact. Vertically it's too tall and too narrow.

I prefer squarer compositions like 4:3 or 5:4.

  • 1
    Well using 1:sqrt(2) which is close to 3:4 is somewhat motivated in countries that use a4 sized paper since the paper has that shape
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 10:03

The golden ratio in nature is not similar to what is used in logo design, it is a good choice for some designs, but its use in logo design is arbitrary

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