“Without mathematics there is no art.” – Luca Pacioli
The Golden Ratio, or 1 : 1.618, is a number found in patterns that we see all around us every single day. In fact, the shape of the screen you are reading this on is probably pretty close to a Golden Rectangle, which is a rectangle where the long sides are 1.618 times longer than the short sides. The Golden Ratio is used in the design of the televisions we watch, architecture, paintings from the likes of Salvador Dali, and even occurs naturally in plants and our own DNA.
Shapes and patterns created with the Golden Ratio have been found aesthetically pleasing for centuries, and when it comes to data visualization, these patterns offer the added benefit of helping us prioritize the content we share in our dashboards. In our last tip, keep your data visualization simple, I shared that I try to stick to twelve dashboard components or less, including titles, charts, and filters. The Golden Ratio is one of the tools I use to help guide how to select and layout those twelve widgets.
The gist of the layout is that the most important data you are communicating should be toward the top and to the left, with lower priority information appearing further toward the bottom and right of your view. Just as you start reading a page in a book, you can expect your audience to approach your data visualization the same way.
Knowing your audience will help you choose which content earns the prime real estate on your dashboard. For example, if your audience is C-level executives, you should likely have your main measurements of success and your progress toward achieving that success near the top left of your dashboard. If you are creating self-serve reports that your audience is going to use to help answer their own needs, you may want to consider prioritizing the filters, which will be a natural starting point for this type of end user.
The Golden Ratio is effective in both a horizontal layout (pictured left) as well as vertical layout (pictured in the web above). The choice of a vertical or horizontal dashboard should be based on how you intend to distribute your data visualization. For self-serve dashboards with many filters that other analysts are going to use to help find stories in the data, I typically opt for a horizontal layout. I prefer vertical layouts for dashboards that I know are going to be saved as PDFs and passed around, and for all of my Tableau Public dashboards, which are embedded in blogs that typically have vertical designs.
Using the Golden Ratio in your data visualization is an easy way to subconsciously provide a familiar and well-balanced layout to your audience. It also serves the practical purpose of helping you prioritize content and think about how your audience is going to consume your dashboard.