Trends change and design fads come and go, but visual design and its underlying principles haven’t really changed much in the last 50 years. Whether you look at the latest trends in print design, the ratio for margins, web design, grid structures, or any other aspects of design, they are all based on age-old principles like the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. Let’s consider a few examples of rapidly-evolving design technology that still somehow sticks to its roots.
The rule of thirds has been around for nearly two centuries, possibly even longer. It was first recorded in the late 1790s and has been a useful rule for composition that we still use heavily today. The rules of thirds is simple, and it’s an easy way to determine the focal point of an image. You can apply the rule of thirds to any shape or orientation of an image or design.
To implement the rule of thirds, select your image and divide it equally into thirds vertically and horizontally. You should have nine equal sections of your image. Where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect are called the “focal points” of your image.
Then, simply crop the image so that the main subject falls one one of the four focal points.
To sum up Hick’s Law in layman’s terms, the time it takes for you to make a selection from a menu of items is determined by how that information is organized or offered. If there is no rhyme or reason to the way that a menu is structured, it can make it more difficult to make a choice. In the example below, there is a huge amount of information to take in and process. Think about the first time that you came to this site to look for something. Were you overwhelmed by the amount of options?
Consider the eBay site below and the information offered. You can find just about anything on eBay, and they make it very easy to do so with less information and more organization. There is a lot of careful reasoning behind the layout of their site. Notice the large search bar in the middle of the page; you can simply type in what you are looking for. If you prefer browsing through a menu, their items are broken down via category on the left side. This menu is more prominent than the links across the top right portion of the site.
Imagine if eBay tried to offer every kind of available item on their homepage. Hicks law is at work here, because it is easier to process a more simplified refined layout than it is to try to process a lot of little menus clustered together.
Fitt’s law basically states that the choice of where you navigate is based upon the size of the menu. The larger a menu is, the more visually attractive it is… to an extent. You will most likely instinctively navigate to the largest menu on a page, as long as it isn’t too large. After a certain point, a menu can become too large and become less effective. The law also covers the fact that you can’t determine exactly where the user will start their movements from, but their initial move is determined by the size of the menu on the screen.
The Golden Ratio has been around for a very long time. You can find several examples in nature, such as in the structure of a seashell. You can find it in renown artworks like the Mona Lisa. The Golden Ratio determines the most aesthetically pleasing ratio between areas in a composition, and we employ it in modern web design today. Mathematically speaking, the Golden Ratio works out to be roughly 1.6.
Suppose you have a website that is going to have an overall width of 1024px. You take the total width of the website and divide it by 1.6 and you will get 640px. That will be your content area. If you subtract 640px from 1024px, you get 384px, which is the ideal width of the sidebar, according to the Golden Ratio.
U.S. Cellular’s website is also loosely based on the Golden Ratio. Notice the placement of the phone, and how the navigation aligns with it. Notice also how you can break the ratio alignment with some elements (such as the four modules in the footer) and still have a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing design.
The designs of the last 50 years may have changed in style, but the underlying principles that they are based upon still remain the same. The Golden Ratio, Fitt’s and Hick’s Law, and the Rule of Thirds are all still used extensively today. They are based on mathematical proportions and are still the best guidelines to get the best visual results. New styles or designs are often based upon principles from hundreds of years ago.
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