Thursday, July 02, 2015


One of the questions that always comes up when I teach box making or furniture design concerns using the golden mean, based on a system of proportion derived from the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. The golden mean, also called golden ratio, or golden rectangle is assumed by some to have near mystical beauty of proportion and so some designers tout it as being supreme. So some years back, I made golden mean detector wands to allow my students to observe aspect ratio in common everyday things. Naturally they discovered that very few objects, whether we are talking about furniture or things of larger and smaller scale were made with the golden mean in mind.

The Golden Ratio: Design's Biggest Myth: The golden ratio is total nonsense in design. Here's why. This article tends to agree with my own findings that the golden rectangle is rarely used despite the hype, and that all kinds of wonderful things are designed without the least consideration of the most storied principle of design. 

So there are other aspects of proportion to consider that have greater impact on design than the fibonacci sequence. For instance, how does a box fit the objects it is intended to hold? How does the box fit the hand? How does it fit on the desk or on the shelf? Getting into the making and materials of the box, how does the thickness of the sides feel in relation to the size of the box? In making a lid, how is it proportioned to the rest of the box? Questions of design are innumerable, and the usefulness of the box is short changed when it is forced to conform to a flawed theory right off the bat.

Folks just love to come up with one size fits all theories of perfect design. Educational policy makers have been fiddling with education in the same way, trying to tweak it to be more efficient, based on simple formulas. The latest is that standardized testing can force compliance to educational standards. But education deals with real people who are damaged when their individuality and the individuality of their circumstances are not considered in what is planned for them. They learn too quickly that their own needs and interests are of little proportion in comparison to the demands of the system.

In box making, I came up with a simple proportion system, designed to get students making successful boxes, ASAP. I call it x +/- 2. In education, a simple set of ideals was described years ago in Educational Sloyd. Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. To that, I add one more precept. Engage the hands in all learning. To engage the hands brings the child's full set of sense in play. To leave the hands idle makes schooling senseless and inefficient.

Make, fix, create and pass it on...


  1. Hi Doug,

    Can you explain your system further - x +/- 2?


  2. Matt, if one side is 6, the other would be 4 or 8. If one side is 7, the other would be 5 or 9, hence x +/-2. If you try this system of proportion with a variety of sizes, you will find some common proportions that are applied to photo frames, rug sizes, etc. The idea leads to a pleasingly proportional rectangular box, that lends itself to effective production techniques as illustrated in my most recent book, Beautiful Boxes, Design and Technique. X +/-2 is not just a design formula, but also a production technique.