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Business and design in Asia.

The Golden Ratio Otherwise Known as Feng Shui

Earlier this week, one of our visual designers in Shanghai shared a jpg file depicting the Apple Inc. icon, and its construction using circles and seemingly complicated math.  A native Chinese, he wondered if the Western icon had to be designed so pre-calculated in order to be considered as “good design.”  During our talks, I related this design principle to the established Chinese practice of Feng Shui.

Despite its perception in the West, Feng Shui does not involve mythology.  Perhaps because of the manner it is talked about and presented, Feng Shui often gets brushed aside as superstitious hoo-ha.  However, at the core, Feng Shui is an approach to energy, not an expression of religion.  Feng Shui, referred as “qi,” can be described as the energy that surrounds everything in the world.  For the West, this is recognized as electromagnetic energy or gravitational magnetic energy.  While many Westerners believe that Feng Shui is only based on Asian mystical philosophy, it is in fact rooted much more in science.

The true application of Feng Shui is a scholarly study, unimpeded by any superstition.  Despite its portrayal, Feng Shui has nothing to do with red front doors or water features.  Feng Shui is, quite literally, the ability to detect and correct the imbalances in the flow of energies through observation and repeatable calculations, as well as the implementation of time-honored methodologies.  By the proportioning of natural and artificial artifacts, Feng Shui creates a balanced environment that allows natural energy to reach its full potential.  The ideal flow is strong where it has to be, and soft or slow where it can be.  That flow is never a straight line that has to cover the shortest distance, but rather proportionate and incremental “waves” or swirls.  Feng Shui is a benchmark ruling system that measures the quality of harmony.

None of this is uncommon or even new for Western cultures.  Where Feng Shui is an Eastern approach to harmony and balance, the West applies a mathematical and numeral approach to measure the same thing.  The Golden Ratio is one of the precepts that shares similar principles and objectives as Feng Shui. 

The Golden Ratio is numerically described as 1:62.  The Fibonacci numbers are a key component to this ratio.  All you Da Vinci Code readers may recall that the secret to Da Vinci’s genius was his ability to apply the Golden Ratio in the composition and symmetry within his works.   Da Vinci applied this rule to shape perfection.

Did I geek you out by that?  All apologies if I did, but there is more to it than famous paintings and best-selling books.  This ratio is all around us.  The Fibonacci numbers can be traced throughout nature, from branching in trees, to the leaf arrangements in plants, to the scales of a pineapple and even the curves of waves.  The sequence is applicable to the growth of every living being, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, even human DNA.  Heck, even the bones in your fingers are proportioned roughly to the 1:62 scale.

Because the number and ratio keep popping up everywhere, humans have evolved with a pre-disposition to feel comfort and natural beauty in objects that reflect the ratio.  We’ve applied it in architecture and art, as well as in music compositions and even facial recognition software.  We know most of the famous examples, such as the Egyptian pyramids or the Christian cross, but everyday mundane objects hold this principle as well.  Your credit cards, for example are perfect Golden Ratio rectangles.

So while the outcome of a Golden Ratio proportioned design is to have an enhanced appeal and attractive energy, the basic principle of Feng Shui is that everything is energetically connected, and its purpose is to help create balanced and harmonious energies.  I see both as sharing the same objectives, be it one is numerical and linear (the Golden Ratio), and the other is more lucid and spatial.  Both are creative outcomes that resonate and link with our emotional well-being.  To say both are one and the same would be oversimplifying it, but there are common grounds beyond a human desire to formulate a measurable success.

Back to this memorable symbol, the Apple icon.  The jpg demonstrates how the icon fits the Golden Ratio composition rules, and few of us would challenge that this brand has “something going for itself.”   I would also argue that it contains a certain positive and charismatic energy, which equals good Feng Shui.

This poses the next question – are there brands out there that do well – or fail to do so – because of their Feng Shui?

At eight, Mario van der Meulen could list up to 64 Crayola colors by heart, and today, he knows all of them by Pantone swatch number, plus the ecological impact each of those inks hold.  He is a globe-trotting, urban-adventuring, vintage-collecting optimist who finds inspiration in the details of everyday life.  Mario is Creative Director at frog, based in Shanghai, China.  In 2012, Mario was recognized by CBNweekly as one of China's Top 50 Innovation Pioneers. You can follow Mario @SGTHdesigns.