Design Principle #2: Scale & Proportion

Design 101: What is scale and proportion? How it is applicable to design?

Dear Designer,

This is a continuation of the Universal Design Principles (please read Design Principle #1: Balance). Today, we will discuss the importance of scale and proportion in design.

Scale and Proportion are related concepts and can be easily confused. Both are quite important in design. Both scale and proportion are based on a feeling or intuition. It feels right when good proportion is evident. It feels right when the right scale is used. Now, lets figure out what is scale and what is proportion.

Scale can either be described as the objects’s size in accordance with a conventional system of measurement, i.e. the table is 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2,5 feet high (knowns as mechanical scale).

Or, scale can be described how the object appears visually in comparison to other objects placed in the environment (known as visual scale). In other words, scale can be large, small, or just right when compared to other object(s) or the environment.

Small Chair

Small Chair

Big Bed, Small Space

Big Bed, Small Space

Scale is responsible for believability. If a coffee mug is too big on a table or a cow is too big for a landscape, it’s difficult to believe the settings (the example is taken from Applying Interior Design Principles to the Web). Also, when scale is off, you would feel quite uncomfortable. For instance, in interior design, having a huge bed in a tiny room feels quite tense and claustrophobic.

Small Pictures

Small pictures, big room

Bedroom Layout

“Just right” scale for the painting.

The example on the left shows bad use of scale in interior design. The pictures on the wall are too small for the bed and the wall. This scale problem can be fixed by hanging bigger picture (like the example on the right) or hanging a cluster of small paintings above the bed.

These image examples are taken from here:

Now, proportion is very similar to scale. While scale refers to the size of something, proportion deals with the relationship between parts of the composition.

Proportion is the ideal relationship in size or shape between one thing and another or between the parts of a while (New Oxford American Dictionary). In the example above with the room and small pictures, you can see how the proportion of the picture to the size of the room is off.  The small picture looks lost on the wall, but when a bigger picture is used the room looks well-proportioned.

Proportion is defined in terms of magnitude (size), quantity, or degree.

Phi Spiral

Proportion is usually based on rations. Pleasing proportions are termed as “golden.”  (Wikipedia – Golden Ratio). The golden mean also known as golden section is a ratio defined by the number Phi (= 1.618033988749895 ). A line that visually divides an object into unequal but harmonious parts is known as the golden mean. The golden ratios 2:3, 3:5, 5:8, 8:13 based on Fibonacci series are considered pleasing to the eye.


Proportion: windows

Photo Credit: A Designer’s World

In the following example, the interior designer from A Designer’s World explains:

Notice how the “golden mean” is applied by placing the tiebacks on the lower part of the drapery panels. Something to keep in mind when using tiebacks on your own drapery panels – never place them right in the center of the panels!

Here are some more examples of Golden Ratio.

Human Form

The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa (Image Source)

Leonardo da Vinci - Vitruvian man

Leonardo da Vinci – Vitruvian man (Image Source)

Phi in Fashion Design

Phi in Fashion Design (Image Source)


Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal (Image Source)


Parthenon (Image Source)

Notre Dame

Notre Dame (Image Source)



Quantum Golden Ratio (Image Source)

Spiral Plant

Spiral Plant (Image Source)

Graphic, Web Design and Art

Golden Ratio - Apple Logo

Golden ratio in the Apple logo design (Image Source)

Golden Ratio - Twitter

Golden Ratio – Twitter (Image Source)

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Japanese Artist Hokusai

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Japanese Artist Hokusai (Image Source)

More Reading & Resources:

Phi and the Golden Section in Architecture

The Golden Ratio

Design Basics Series: Proportion by Cristina Colli

Design Basics Series: Scale by Cristina Colli

Interior Design 101 – Proportion by A Designer’s World

Scale & Proportion in Interior Design by Tonya Lee

Applying Interior Design Principles To The Web by Katie Thompson

Fashion and Apparel Design by Dr. D. Anitha

What Are Scale & Proportion by Terrie

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