The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee


London designer Olivia Lee has created a sketch pad with grids based on the mathematical principle of the golden ratio.

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

Called The Golden Rules, the pad allows users to sketch guided by proportions believed to represent an aesthetic ideal.

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

Lee used the pad to sketch a range of objects with iconic status including the Panton Chair by Verner Panton, CCTV building by Rem Koolhaas and ipod by Jonathan Ive, and found that design classics tend to fit these rules.

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

"These objects have had a particular resonance in their respective worlds," says Lee. "It is quite interesting to see how it falls into line with the golden proportions."

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

Here are some more details from Lee:

Singaporean designer Olivia Lee has created a sketchpad, with grids based on the golden ratio (φ) for aspiring architects, designers and artists. The grids are composed of rectangles that have a dimensional relationship of 1:1618 (approx.). The proportion remains constant as the rectangles increase in scale along the diagonal lines.

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

Additionally, the diagonals work together to allow for 1-point, 2-point to 3-point perspective drawings. A pseudo-isometric system can also be found within the grids. Still many opportunities exist to utilize the line composition as drawing guides and tools.

For those who believe that the golden ratio represents an aesthetic ideal, The Golden Rules is the convenient progression of the humble grid paper that acknowledges the use of the golden ratio in creative professions.

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

The Golden Rules sketchpad provides an opportunity to explore and experiment. If a mindless sketch falls happily into proportion because it is drawn on this grid, does it become more aesthetically pleasing? If used consciously, does this mean that beauty is formulaic?

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

From Le Corbusier to Leonardo da Vinci, these divine proportions have occurred time and again in the works of the masters. Arguably, the influence of the golden ratio has resulted in the most iconic works of our time. Should we continue to be mystified by this mathematical phenomenon?

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

Is our concept of beauty really defined by a number? Is the golden ratio a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is the presence of these proportions simply coincidence or the deliberate act of a creator?

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

The Golden Rules: An Exercise

Using The Golden Rules, the mystifying effect of the golden ratio continues with an exploration of proportions within objects that have achieved cult-like status. Is there a correlation between their iconic status and their divine proportions?

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

The response for the sketchpad has been very positive. It was originally aimed at a design audience, but it has proven popular with little children who love to colour in the grids and invent shapes. It has also attracted the attention of teachers who like its potential to explore mathematical concepts. People continue to surprise me with ideas for using the grids.

The Golden Rules by Olivia Lee

The exploration continues and I extend these questions to everyone out there. The plan is to expand the sketchpad into a collection with different form factors.

So far the things that I have sketched include:

CCTV building by Rem Koolhaas
Galaxy dress by Roland Mouret
Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck
Panton Chair by Verner Panton
ipod by Jonathan Ive
Chanel 2.55 Purse by Coco Chanel

See also:


Limited Edition Design Dolls
by Olivia Lee
Stream of Light by Olivia Lee
and Alienor de Chambrier
More stories about

Posted on Thursday June 10th 2010 at 12:07 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • paula

    >>>Is our concept of beauty really defined by a number?<<<

    I think that numbers describe (and not define) proportions that are being sensed by a human in a most appropriate way. These golden proportion just feels fine.

  • stella

    What a great idea. I don’t draw, but I’d love to write or receive notes on paper like that. The design seems to open up possibilities that extend beyond the page.

  • BigK

    Lovely – just ordered one!

    • DonjiYD

      Where did you order from?

  • Rom

    …The iPod classic don’t have Golden proportion.

  • Libny Pacheco

    It’s about simmetry first and foremost!

    Somehow we have put simmetry as a principle of beauty. Of course, simmetry (geometric simmetry) is not common in nature. So, its weirdness, its scarcity makes it desirable. We lust for simmetry. But it is artificial.

    The most simmetric faces and bodies are those we consider to be beautiful.

    This grid is just an instrument to achive simmetry. It seems, that’s it.

  • earl

    zaha hadid would beg to differ.

  • somedude

    seems like some random drawings placed over a random grid…the relationships between the grid and the drawn objects is a stretch…
    The golden ratio is a much simpler idea and relates specifically to rectangle proportions:
    you can’t just throw in perspective projection lines and say that the objects drawn on this pad relate to the golden ratio. It does not work.

  • nicey

    if the sketch is the panton chair; does that prove you have to ignore the grid? some points on the fluid curves coincide with points on the grid; some nearly so, some not at all. besides, is the panton chair really beautiful? it’s an icon and very clever too, as a single piece moulding; but is it beautiful? i think i’m falling asleep…zzzzzzz..

  • Symmetry sometimes occurs in nature, often shockingly so, like the insides of shells or the broken shale gorges that I used to live near in upstate NY. There were perfect 90 degree angles of shale broken by falling water, and it seemed amazing lines that neat could occur naturally, but they existed. And I found that beautiful

  • Prof Z.

    When Alessi asked Starck to design a tray and he drew a lemon juicer in an italian restaurant, it’s more the influence of italian wine than mathematical research…. Then he sent the napskin to Alberto Alessi ….
    Then the studio refined the sketches… with more symmetry, more nice details…. He is not Louise Bourgeois or Alexander Calder….

  • AJ

    I love the idea of this!!

  • A little bit ‘o brilliance. Totally love the sketchpad.

  • alex

    I agree with ROM, the ipod does not relate to the golden rectangle.
    Don’t try to force it!

  • DD

    hmm..i’m skeptical..the sketchpad is a great idea..but you can’t justify the ipod with the golden rule..too random..I’m sure if you didn’t draw the ipod, it would have a greater response..

  • doug montgomery


    Yes the Panton chair IS beautiful – thats my perception along with thousands of other users, and within that context it is incontrovertibly beautiful. Its permissible for icons to have attained their status on account of being aesthetically remarkable as well as adequately fulfilling a function.

    Some of the drawings have inaccurate proportions and seem forced to fit the grid, especially the Lemon squeezer – the top is normally much longer.

  • Martin

    The only golden rule is to avoid any magic formula/shortcuts to beauty.. and that includes the golden section. Nice idea though.

  • I.P. Freely

    The Panton S chair IS beautiful.

  • Design, is not artificial and symmetry can be found everywhere in nature, when we haven’t interfered with it. I see a lot of confusion here in these comments. Our cells, molecular structure, flowers, growth patterns, coastlines when viewed from satellite photos are all symmetrical, based on this same structure shown here and there is no math involved. As creatures of this world, symmetry is hardwired into our heads. When we apply our design ideas to symmetrical structure all we are doing is empowering our visual concepts. If you are seeing something you might describe as being “random”, then you’re doing this wrong, or missing something. That is not to say this structural understanding or knowledge will be in control of your ideas, that is false and is a common misconception. All the greatest artist throughout history followed this same structural awareness, it was studied at great depth by the Greeks, who in turn, learned it from the Egyptians, where our common 5 x 7, Golden Mean 5 x 8 and simple square first appear. In my opinion, format shape isn’t nearly as important as the relationship your design has within it. That this, in fact, is the entire point of utilizing the structural process, it gives integrity to the design. Picasso drew over 500 thumbnail designs per day, every one of them following this same structure and he wasn’t alone. Not to be confused with the Colorists, who use shapes of color in different values (Rothko for example), to create structure of a different nature. Their work is purely concrete, so needs no linear structure. In my opinion too, it is unfortunate that this Web site introduces perspective, because to the student designer or artist, this can be harmful or at least confusing. Humans do not see in terms of perspective as it was an invention, not a discovery. Don’t believe me, study the Sistine Chapel. Perspective is the arch enemy of two dimensional art, though is a great help to architects. When we work in two dimensional form, in order that our design or painting be successful, it must remain two dimensional, which is the opposite of perspective.

  • The IPOD is design exactly on the structure of a 5 x 8 format, commonly known as the Golden Mean or rule. The features on the face of the IPOD also follow the linear structure. All you need do is trace a line around the IPOD to see it is a 5×7 format. Draw the lines in, corner to corner, midway to corner, and to midway and it’s right there to see. The nautilus is probably there in the design too.

  • Addendum to my last comment. IPOD is 5×8 not 5×7. Apologies for any confusion.

  • Prof Z.
  • felipe starck

    the drawing is definitely not the product

  • The product of this blog is Olivia Lee’s sketch pad which refferes to the Golden rule. It seems the product then is using this system of structure to draw or design, be it a lamp, a painting, a hat or a boat.
    Hi Olivia, are the visual examples above true to what appears in your sketchpad? If so, it is an excellent concept but the lines are not correct. Which is why your example of the IPOD isn’t working in the example you show. The Golden Mean, or 5 x 7, Tatami and others, have both diaganal and reciprical lines which must both begin in each of the four corners. The reciprical lines must cross the diaganal lines perfectly on perpendicular or 90 degrees, which I do not see happening in your example here above. As is, maybe the name of this sketch pad should be the Olivia Lee Rule? I think it is an excellent concept and could potentially be a great tool.

  • It’s an ambitious idea, but to say that all design can be boiled down to one harmonious proportion is about as ridiculous as saying that by following the seven elements of design they teach you in mediocre design classes anyone can create great design. It completely overlooks intuition, accident, and experience, three factors which are virtually unteachable.

    It might be a novelty for students and design dilletantes, but if any good comes from it, the lion’s share of credit doesn’t go to a magic formula for design.

  • karl Merklein

    If it is representational: like the figure of a chair, a tree, a landscape, a bus, a chair, human or a building it will, if it is worth looking at, boil down on structure. It could be structure based on any shape of rectangle, from square to infinity, it does not need to be a Golden Mean (5×8) format or any other specific shape. But It will have diagonal and reciprocal lines that intersect at 90 degrees. It is a visually fundamental expectation that is so hard wired into our minds that two year old children do it intuitively. It is unlearned by most of us by the age of five or six, when we begin compounding a child’s imagination with written language and other skills necessary in this contemporary world we now live in. If you are really that excited about design, I’d challenge you to give me your most favorite design of all time. Pick something from any age, from Egypt onward and I’ll show you the reason why the design looks so great is because it will be utilizing every structural opportunity possible. The more the contours in the design follow on structure or parallel to it, the more the the design will resonate as being beautiful with the viewer. This is what separates the mediocrity from the genius.

  • Christian Matthey

    The thing about the Golden Ratio is that it is linked with the very world we live in; all natural and minerail are somehow shaped and subject to the golden ratio. We, as human will naturally define beauty with this proportion: it is our only reference, it is a proportion that is everywhere on earth.

    I personally think that there is a link between the golden ratio and the gravity of the earth. All animals, plants and even minerals are affected by gravity and nature creates the shapes depending on the weight. We need to be perfectly proportioned in able to live on earth, walk around etc. If we are too heavy, light or disproportioned, the natural selection will do the trick. This proportion is, I think, linked with the golden ratio. That is also why we often discribe the deep water animals as “unatural or ugly”, because they are subject to different factors.

    What would be interesting one day, is to go to another “habitable” planet with different gravity, pressure etc… and see if the golden ratio is maintained.

  • sofsof

    Good idea but doesn’t really work I think. But yeah, good idea to try to turn an abstract mathematical concept into a fun exercice. If kids grow some interest in mathematics and art by playing with the sketch pad , it can only contribute to educate . Good intention, needs refinement…

  • sofsof

    Good idea to try to turn an abstract mathematical concept into a fun exercice. If people can experiment the relations between art and mathematics , why not!

  • Ravi

    It has been proven time and again that the golden rule is there in natures design almost everywhere. In us, navel up-navel down is 1:1.618. the shell of a snail, the nautilus. There was a documentary on discovery channel where researchers had divided the face into parts as per the golden section and beleive me, from catherin-zeta jones to claudia schiffer all fitted the template. ( aren’t those the most beautiful faces on earth? golden rule or not?)

    It just goes to say that the golden rule is there and that is what we find attractive and beautiful.

    The sketch book is a great tool to design, or atleast use it to create something with the golden rule much easier.

    As far as starcks juicer is concerned i believe that one should follow the idea rather than what has been sketched.

    i personally love the golden rule.

  • Bruno Miglio

    With reference to some of the above comments , I would like to submit a couple of considerations.
    An aura of mystery still surrounds the definite meaning at the root of The Golden Rule as celebrated in the Past. I just would like to offer the following considerations without any pretence of dispelling that aura.
    Clearly the fact that in a segment of any length there is only one point (or section) that divides it in two parts with their ratio equal to the ratio of the whole segment to the longer of the two parts,induces in the observer a sense of harmony and completeness as nothing “unused” is left in the segmentation. Such segmenting is therefore unique.
    Our brain probably extends such appreciation even when the two parts are presented adjacent continuously at 90 degrees rather than at 180 .
    Accordingly, in the architectural world horizontal and vertical lines dividing areas in buildings are probably better perceived when offering the proportionality of the Golden Section.

    The ratios mentioned above are of course 1.61…. like the ones of any pair of numbers (following divided by preceding) of the Fibonacci Series carrying on proportionality ad infinitum.

    In some of the comments above Symmetry is being mentioned.
    It should be noted that the word Symmetry, when referred to the original Greek meaning stands more for commensurate, which fits well with the basic nature of the Golden Section and related applications.

  • karl merklein

    Hey sofsof, there is no math needed in the Golden Rule, that is the beauty of it. If your looking at the sketch pad, you’re right, it doesn’t work. Not because the Golden Rule doesn’t work, but because the sketch pad isn’t done right. The system of lines is the same in any shape of rectangle. There are diagonal lines from each corner crossing a reciprocal line at a 90 degrees. The reciprocal line on a Golden Mean or Rule starts in the corner and hits almost halfway on the long side after crossing the diagonal at “90 degrees”. This is the only critical part of the structure and is missing in the sketch pad, which unfortunately leaves the pad somewhat ineffective. The 5×7’s structure is done exactly the same way, but only the Golden Rule has the nautilus or spiral. Um, it’s never needed to be an experiment between math and art. There is no math involved. All this does is inform the artist’s ideas, it does not control the artists ideas. It does separate the amateur artist from the professional, or even the artist who intends that their work be taken seriously. Choose your favorite piece of art or design, I ‘ll show you it has this structure. Abstract, classical, landscape, Frank Lloyd Wright, whatever you want, the structure will be there. Feel free to email me an image of any real piece of art, sculpture, architecture or design.

  • steve kelsey

    I love the idea.
    For those who dispute the relationship between beauty and math I suggest you do some research.
    Music, with all its emotional power and organic expression, is highly ordered and mathematical.
    Fractal math describes the most elaborately eroded landscape.
    What a surprise, math is also a human construct,a way of seeing the world.It’s intensely abstract, creative and beautiful in it’s own right.
    Look up Garret Lisi and wonder at the extravegant beauty of the E8 Lie group.
    Olivia has a unique mind.
    This should be celebrated.
    Beautiful product

    • DonjiYD

      Whats the point of a product if you can’t buy it?
      I’ve been wanting to buy this notebook for the longest time and I can’t find it anywhere.

  • KMK Design

    @ Somedude: It’s a shame you think that the golden ratio can only be used for simple geometric design/math. In fact, the golden ratio is just a guide. But, if you look closer, you can see that every single line in the drawings above uses either: math, specific angles that follow the sketch pad’s lines, and/or specific heights! Still not satisfied? Research Leonardo Da vinci’s works of art. He uses VERY elaborate designs to depict golden ratios. You can use the golden ratio for anything… not just squares and triangles.

  • Andy

    I read an interesting article recently that linked the golden section with the way we actually perceive our world rather than any rule inherent in its construction. The idea is that as humans, our eyes are forward facing and lined up horizontally, subsequently our plane of focus is a slightly elongated rectangle, horizontally orientated. Over the many thousands of years of our evolution this shape actually became much easier to process, and was more recognizable than others, eventually it was the proportions of the rectangle that we recognized regardless of the orientation. So beauty really is in the eye of the beholder! Wish I could remember where I read it, it was a really fascinating article.

  • karl merklein

    Hi Steve, I’m just saying that using the term “Golden Rule” as a name for this sketchpad is misleading because there is an elementary line missing, that is critical to the success of the whole process. It is a nice idea, for sure. If the sketchpad were actually functional, I buy one myself, but it isn’t.
    Is the Golden Rule/Mean, process math, art or nature? It is most probably all three, but that is irrelevant. Are you more brilliant than Leonardo? Probably not. What more proof does a person need? Every one of the greatest designers and artist recorded used the formula, unless their structure was based on colour, like Rothko or some of the Romantic painters for example. Structure is hardwired into our heads, as Andy’s article is suggesting. A person can become familiar with this knowledge and incorporate it into their work to strengthen their particular style. Let it inform what their intuition was already telling them and be a professional, or remain an amateur. Once a person has figured it out, it’s no longer really a debate.