The Science Behind Good Design

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The Parthenon's facade in Athens, Greece, exemplifies the "golden ratio" principle in architecture. It occurs when a square is subtracted from a golden rectangle to reveal another golden rectangle, continuing ad infinitum.

Image used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Kyri Sarantakos

The Science Behind Good Design

Why are some shapes more pleasing to us than others? And is beautiful design the same as good design? We explore what nature and science have to say.

For centuries, artists, philosophers and mathematicians have noted the special properties of the so-called "golden rectangle," where if you take away a square, another golden rectangle remains, on and on infinitely. The human eye is drawn to those proportions, and they are evident everywhere from the facade of the Parthenon to a modern credit card. Yet an explanation of exactly why this pattern is so pleasing to us has been elusive. We talk with one professor who explains it with physics and explore the science of good design.


Lance Hosey

Chief Sustainability Officer, RTKL; author,"The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology and Design."

Adrian Bejan

J.A. Jones Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Duke University. Author, “Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology and Social Organization.”

Related Links

Golden Rectangle Examples

The golden ratio appears again and again in art, architecture, nature and everyday objects. Modern television sets, index cards, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Taj Mahal and Salvador Dali's "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" are all examples. See some of the most common -- and most beloved -- forms of the so-called "magic proportion."

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The Kojo Nnamdi Show is produced by member-supported WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC.