Despite the criticism from some people who are calling it a pseudoscience, there is no doubt that Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese discipline, is as fascinated as it is wise. It’s the system that promotes the creation of harmonious environments to ensure the happiness of people who are surrounded by them. The fundamental aspect of Feng Shui is Qi (ch’i) that represents a “flow of energy”. If nothing blocks or disturbs this flow, then we have a positive environment, or a good ch’i, but if ch’i stagnates then we have a bad Feng Shui.
It’s pretty obvious what is symbolized by ch’i on a website: if a reader gets a nice user experience from visiting and exploring the site, if the site colours don’t hurt the eyes, the navigation doesn’t cause a confusion and the carefully constructed typography doesn’t cause a headache, then we can safely say that this web site has a very good Feng Shui. In other words, in the world of Web:
Feng Shui = Usability + Design
Now, that we’ve managed to decipher and see how important it is to have a good feng shui on a web site, and since blogs are fast becoming the most popular types of web sites, let’s go through some DOs and DON’Ts in blog Feng Shui.
DO pay an extra attention to the homepage – even for a blog it is still the most important page of the site. Despite the fact that people usually land on one of the blog’s articles from search engines or following links from other sites, most of us always check out the homepage afterwards. Be sure to check Jacob Nielsen’s Top Ten Guidelines for Homepage Usability, though some of those guidelines apply to the blog’s overall layout, not just the homepage.
DON’T interrupt the positive ch’i with links that don’t say where they lead to, or open new windows, or present readers with a PDF document without a warning. We’ve all seen articles with links that say “read here and here“, or several linked words in a row – all to different sites. Every time I see such links, I mouse over and look at the status bar, trying to determine from the URL where that hypertext is linking me to. But what if the permalink is not user-friendly, or people are less tech-savvy than I am and don’t have all the time in the world to follow all the outbound links from that article. If you have to use a short and not very descriptive links, be sure to include them with the title attribute that creates tooltips that display the original title of the article when mousing over that link.
DO keep in mind how people read on the Web – they are not just scanners, they are “savvy selective scanners“. Write not just eye-catching but meaningful titles, break long paragraphs into several shorter ones, intersperse your main text with highlighted words (links, typeface variations, in a different colour), make it more attractive with appropriate images, write a gripping content.
DON’T overlook the power of colour. Colour is one of the most effective and easiest ways to affect someone’s mood or energy flow. In Feng Shui each colour expresses one of its five essential elements: Earth (stability), Fire (high energy), Water (abundance and purity), Metal (clarity) and Wood (growth). Since Feng Shui colours are comprised from all colours of the spectrum — “yang ch’i – from red to yellow and orange, yin shui – from green to violet-black”, the important part is to learn how to design your site with a harmonious colour combination.
DO put more effort into understanding the principles of a good typography on Web. Be careful when combining typefaces on your blog. Cater your text size to users with different preferences, don’t limit them with having to read a tiny (or overly large) text on your site, avoid specifying font size in pixels or points (absolute size), use one of the relative font size options (em or percent) instead, so that its size can be increased by users if needed. A List Apart has posted a great tutorial on How to Size Text in CSS last November, so it’s still very much relevant today with people using different browsers to read our sites.
DON’T neglect your old treasures, use different ways in promoting your old articles, be it with adding Recent and Popular articles sections, or creating a separate Archives page, or displaying Related articles at the end of the post, or make a list of your personally recommended articles from the past, deep link to them from your recent articles, or you can do all of the above, and perhaps come up with something extra, to give a better guidance to your readers in exploring your site.
DO prepare printer-friendly versions of your site with CSS. There is nothing worse than having to print an article and ending up with dozens of pages with numerous page ads and broken pages due to the large graphics. Ronald has put together a quick how-to guide for Creating a Printer Friendly StyleSheet in WordPress, and A List Apart has a great article on how to get our websites ready for Going to Print.
DON’T break the consistency – one of the essential principles of usability. People are already used to seeing clickable blog titles, don’t substitute those linked titles with some additional buttons or links and expect readers to guess how to get to the full version of that page. Never underline your text if it is not a hypertext. One of the reasons why it’s not recommended to open links in a new window is because the default link behaviour is to replace the current page with the linked one – people love Back buttons, they make us feel more secure – we can always retreat down the same path that brought us to where we are now. Be consistent with your navigation, colour scheme and essential elements throughout all pages of the site. Don’t move around content blocks, layout structure and design of your blog too often: if I’m used to seeing your search textfield at the top of your blog I expect it to stay there during my consequent visits, without having to wonder where did you move to your Search bar this time. Make your new found readers wanting to come back and your old readers feel “at home” with a good Feng Shui.
What other important elements of a user-friendly design would you expect to see in this guide on blog Feng Shui? In your opinion, what are the most horrific mistakes people make from the usability’s point of view? What kind of blogs do you find captivating and engaging so much that you prefer to read them by going directly to the site rather than reading the articles from your RSS feeds or Inbox?