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There is a lot of mystical talk about the Golden Ratio:

The Golden Ratio is also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, or Divine Proportion, this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that appears often throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye. Hence, the “divine proportion” nickname.

source: digital-photography-school.com

But we are not really concerned with all the mysticism and math here: We are simply concerned with how to make a good cover design. So how does it concern us? Well if you divide the imagery up on your cover using this method you end up with a very pleasing and well balanced image.

The Grid looks like this:

And If you want some evidence of just how well it works:
The cover for “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett looks like it was designed using this principle and according to USA today it was the number one selling book of 2011. Of course, that may have a little to do with the writing as well, but that cover really did grab the attention of potential readers.

A golden rectangle can be drawn out using a straightedge and a compass like this (see below):

  1. Draw a square
  2. Draw a line from the midpoint of one side of the square to an opposite corner
  3. Use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the height of the rectangle
  4. now you can draw the golden rectangle with the correct proportions.

You can use the grid anyway round you like, horizontally, vertically, flipped and even in multiples at angles as it is seen in the sunflower. Of course, I recommend keeping things simple, it’s less risky.

The next thing to consider is the proportions of your cover. A paperback book cover, though close, is not quite of the same proportions as the Golden Rectangle. But this doesn’t mean you can’t use it. In the diagram below the green area represents a standard Kindle book cover, and I’ve shown two possible alternative uses of the format. One is scaled down proportionally (as on the cover of “The Help”) and another is scaled vertically in order to use all the books space, this I will call a “Butchered” Golden Rectangle. It still leads to good quality composition, but it’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing.

The same thing applies to CD covers, though the square format is very different making things slightly more problematic as can be seen in the diagrams below.

If you are wondering why this particular compositional model is so appealing, well there are many theories, but nothing is confirmed. Personally, I think its got a lot to do with the subconscious human skill of detecting patterns, and the more perfect the pattern the more we like it.

That said, imperfect patterns such as a “Butchered” Golden Ratio still appeal because they do have internal consistency and a detectable pattern.

Here you can see how I’ve used the Golden Ratio on a recent book cover. I kept it in proportion matching the width of the book but allowing it to bleed just a little above and below the page. Look at the key elements of the cover. The typography; and how the focus is drawn into the word “Rebirth” The way the eye is bisected between the first square and second golden rectangle, the way the beard, nose, and brow follow the curve of the spiral. The way the front edge of the base of the ear bisects the central square, and so on. I’m sure you can spot much more.

Its also possible to use the Golden ratio in your Typography (i.e. with your fonts and text layout) not only on the cover but actually in your book and there is a great blog piece by Chris Pearson about just that right here:  http://www.pearsonified.com/2011/12/golden-ratio-typography.php

I’m going to continue to explore all the other compositional grids, methods and techniques in future posts and with a bit of luck by the end of it all we will all be better cover designers.

If you enjoyed this article and perhaps found some help in here I’d appreciate a Facebook “share” and or “like” and one in as many other social networks as you can bring yourself to click on.

And finally back to the mysticism.