The magic (and science!) behind the BTG advert page

Advert size and placement are designed according to human proportions to ensure every ad gets seen.

Our advert sizes are modelled after the Modulor Man's proportions

Some people asked how we came up with the different advert sizes and why we don’t offer one-size-fits-all only. In this article we explain our thoughts (and calculations!) behind the current design and why this is the best possible way to make all adverts be seen in our opinion.

From a pragmatic point of view it made sense to offer different sizes from the beginning: Some people like smaller ads because they’re more concise in their opinion or because they like the understated feel of them. Some designs flourish in big spaces but not so much in smaller ones.

We also thought it was nice to have different pricing options for small and big budgets. The different prices relate to the space used but *not* to visibility and here’s why:

The science behind the advert sheet

What we chose for Berlin Tango Guide is a geometric grid based on human proportions. Each advert page is laid out according to the Modulor principle architect Le Corbusier came up with in 1948. The Modulor Man is a guy with a raised arm who looks mildly unsettling. He is 1.83m tall although he used to be smaller in the 1st version (1.75m) but the English complained because the handsome detective in English novels is always 6 feet tall (really!). The proportions of his body parts are calculated by division with Phi (roughly 1.618), a number that is called the Golden Mean and appears to be at the root of organisation and arrangement in nature, art, and architecture.

(Attention, nerdy stuff ahead. Skip to the next section if you feel like getting to the point.)

Phi is directly related to a mathematical phenomenon called the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence starts like this:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, . . . .

The keen observer will notice that each number can be calculated by adding the pair of numbers on it’s left. You can also divide each Fibonacci number by its left neighbour and the results approximate 1.618 the higher the Fibonacci number is: 2 divided by 1 is only 1 and 3 divided by 2 only 1.5. But 8 divided by 5 is already 1.6 and if you move ahead to 144 divided by 89 your result is about 1.67977. 

Fibonacci sequences appear quite often in biological settings: For example, the number of petals in a flower consistently follows the Fibonacci sequence. It can also be seen in the way tree branches form or split. Snail shells and nautilus shells follow a spiral design that fits the Golden Rectangle in which he ratio of the sides a/b is equal to the phi.

In fact, the Greeks used the proportions of The Golden Rectangle to construct their temples as for example the Parthenon but also the pyramids have their own phi number if the base of the Pyramids is considered one unit, the sloping sides are 1.618 units, and the height is the square root of 1.618 units high.

(End of nerdy stuff. Keep reading.)

Le Corbusier described the Golden Ratio phi and the Fibonacci sequence as

“…rhythms apparent to the eye and clear in their relations with one another. And these rhythms are at the very root of human activities. They resound in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages and the learned.”

This natural inevitability and affinity to the Golden Ratio is why we used Le Corbusier’s model of a human to design or advertising sheet.

Our ads match the Le Corbusier modulor in proportion.

The image below shows how our ads match the Le Corbusier modulor in proportion:

While the ads at the top are the smallest ones, they still get seen well because raised hands calls to attention. The medium ads are in the sweet spot the human eye focusses first on when viewing a sheet, the head and torso. The big ads are large enough proportionally to draw a lot of attention to them although they’re at the bottom from the navel down. All sections are roughly divided by phi.

This distribution algorithm ensures that each advert gets an equal amount of attention even though they have different sizes. It is also a very harmonic and recognisable layout that calms the eye, allows for concentration, but isn’t too equalised at the same time.

Why not equally sized adverts or lots of different sizes?

When you order items on a sheet of paper there are two extremes:

  • Complete order: A layout with equally sized symmetrical items placed at equal distance like for example the squares of a tiled wall.
  • Near chaos: A mix of differently sized items, none is like the other, and sizes are chosen so that somehow the sheet is filled.

Total symmetry is a bad idea design-wise because nothing in nature is completely symmetrical. Shapes in nature follow much more complex mathematical rules as for example Fibonacci sequences (we’ll get to this in a minute). A symmetical geometric grid with same size advertisements might look very orderly but it is very uncommon and distracting to the human eye. Try to count the squares of a tiled wall and find no. 8 instantaneously. When everything looks the same, the human eye can’t get a grip and almost ‘slips off’ each same-size shape.

Near-chaos with lots of different advert sizes is even more disturbing because it’s so noisy that it drowns out all information. The eye can’t focus, skips to the next ad, tries to get back to the original one, misses… and so on. It’s like looking for this one top in that huge pile of clothes on you bed: Even though everything looks different, it’s hard to find.