The golden ratio and the rule of thirds are not the same thing

I won’t waste words telling you what the golden ratio or the rule of thirds is. That’s what Wikipedia is for.

Instead, I want to discuss a specific issue regarding these two distinct concepts, which is that many people think they are not two distinct concepts but they are actually the same thing. I will let Google prove my point.

Here’s just a sample from the first page of search results:

To be fair, most people probably don’t care that there is a distinction, but some people really, really do.

I care because it confused me to no end when I was researching grid-based layouts. In particular, I thought the Golden Grid System and The Golden Grid had something to do with either the golden ratio or the rule of thirds, which they don’t. That’s not to say that they aren’t both incredibly useful, just that they have confusing names.

In addition, many people will admit that they are not the same thing, but that the rule of thirds approximates the golden ratio. However, the rule of thirds originally referred to using proportions of colors and not to dimensions or positions of elements in art. At best, the rule of thirds provides a lazy approximation of the golden ratio. Even that statement is a stretch though:

A comparison of the golden ratio vs the rule of thirds. The yellow lines were derived using the golden ratio, which is approximately 1:1.618. The black lines were derived using the rule of thirds, a ratio of 1:2.

I’ve even read somewhere that a golden spiral will eventually approach the point of intersection or “power point” of the rule of thirds, which is obviously false:

The golden spiral does not approach the point of intersection of the rule of thirds.

I know I’m not the first person to write about this, or the last, but hopefully I’ve helped to clear up some confusion.

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