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