INTERNET FENG SHUI

Feng shui (pronounced fung shway) is the ancient Chinese system of arranging environments to maximize their internal harmony, and the happiness of the people who use them. In the 1990s, trendy Westerners sought to apply its principles to their homes and offices. This may have been because they realised how good it was, or because some marketing people realised they could sell a bunch of books, mirrors and indoor fountains on the back of this fad. Maybe both.

I thought I'd see what feng shui could tell us about creating appealing and harmonious websites. If the Chinese have found these to be decent design principles for the last 5,000 years, we should at least give them a go.

The most important aspect of feng shui is ch'i - the life force that flows in and around everything, binding it together. Ch'i is the energy that must be able to flow well if you are to have a positive environment - good feng shui. When ch'i stagnates, you get bad feng shui.

Feng shui in web design terms involves aligning web pages, and the user's experience of navigating the whole website, in ways which will maximise the flow of positive ch'i.

LIGHT AND COLOUR

Bright, clean pages will bring good ch'i. Darkly coloured pages, or (even worse) pages with dingy colour combinations, are bad.

Bold use of colour is good, and stimulates the flow of ch'i. White and blue, representing air and water, are good colours, although any imaginative use of bold colour should be positive. Insignificant bits of colour, or wishy-washy colour combinations, will not be effective. Graphics should be clear and well-defined. The messy dithering of colours that occurs with JPEG compression is bad feng shui.

LIFE AND MOVEMENT

Life and movement can be used to fill in stagnant areas or break up long, straight lines. In interior design terms this can mean putting plants in the corners of rooms, or fish tanks against boring walls. On the web, this might mean the addition of some pleasant, natural-looking graphics. It does not mean that you must add some really annoying animated GIFs that repeat their sequence forever. Take it from me, that is bad ch'i. You will see that many NewMediaStudies pages have flowers growing on them, which adds a comforting reflection of the natural world, and draws attention away from the inevitably angular nature of a browser screen. Positive ch'i just flows around those pages.

STILLNESS

Having said that, ch'i can flow too fast, and you need areas of stillness, or a focal point which can lift the area. On the web, this can be in the form of a logo area which appears on every page and which includes a navigational element.

SIMPLICITY

Load up your website with lots of multimedia gimmicks and you'll have a ch'i tornado, which is no good at all. Simple, calming devices are much better.

STRAIGHT LINES

The Web contains far too many straight lines. Ch'i doesn't flow smoothly around these pages, and the user's response to their repetitive appearance makes them all the more stagnant. The number of sites with a bar down the left side and a bar along the top is enormous. All those corners and right-angles lead to bad ch'i.

So break up the straight lines and add unusual and curvy design elements wherever you can. The vector-based design platform of Macromedia Flash encourages curvy images and is therefore blessed with positive ch'i.

NAVIGATION

The user must find it easy and intuitive to get around your website. If they feel that they have reached a 'dead end', and have to use the 'back' button to get out, you have got a terminal stagnation of ch'i. If the user can swim easily through your pages to get to where they would like to be, that's great ch'i.

OTHER WAYS TO IMPROVE THE FENG SHUI OF YOUR WEBSITE

  • Make sure it has an appealing entrance area - the 'splash' screen and main menu page.

  • Avoid using an internet service provider which has a bad history - for example, one which has hosted several failed sites. This would create bad feng shui even though, to 'rational' eyes, the internet service provider has not been in any way responsible for these failures.

  • Don't line up all elements against the sides of the screen.

  • Ch'i thrives in harmonious and pleasant environments. Designing websites which merely look 'businesslike' will not give pleasure and a healthy circulation of ch'i.

  • Only have a smallish number of carefully-selected links. Long lists of links are stagnant in appearance, and the ch'i rapidly escapes through them.

  • Different companies are trying to develop the industry-standard plug-in that will deliver ambient music, in small files (that's why it has to be ambient), to web sites. These would probably be good for the feng shui of sites, since soothing ambient music in the background would be akin to the flow of running water, which increases the flow of positive ch'i.

By David Gauntlett, September 1999, and owing a lot to "Feng Shui for Beginners" by Richard Craze (Hodder & Stoughton, 1994).

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