Having used a smartphone for the past six or so years along with much of my generation, and also having dabbled in app creation myself, understanding what makes a good app overall and in terms of design is quite straightforward. Upon opening up the App Store or Google Play store, any smartphone user can make an assumption on whether or not an app interface is successful. The same goes for any of the millions of web sites or any other digital products out there that we have available to us today.
What makes an interface successful?
As I stated previously, it doesn’t take a professional designer or an app creator to determine whether or not an interface is successful. When thinking about what makes any kind of digital interface successful, a few concepts come to mind: harmony, balance, simplicity, lack of clutter and complexity, ease of access, etc. Coincidentally, these are a lot of the same aspects of the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui.
In her article, Jessica Phan, founding product designer for Zugata, draws connections between Feng Shui and her experience with app creation, suggesting that the goals of feng shui in a home are identical to the goals of an app’s user interface. She provides us with a list of principles of feng shui side by side with screenshots of apps, websites, and other interfaces, showing us how feng shui can be utilized in these interfaces to create a successful user experience. I personally find this connection to be extremely helpful: we are all looking for balance in our lives, and if we can attain it in something as simple as what we’re looking at on our smartphones and computers, then why not take that advice when designing anything?
Well okay, what is Feng Shui exactly?
Feng Shui deals with the placement of items in any given space that allow for personal success, happiness, and prosperity. This can very much be applied to design: when almost everyone in the world has technology at their fingertips, we should expect a high standard of the things we see and use every day. It also focuses on the flow of “chi” within a space, chi being the energy that flows in and around everything. It’s the fundamental life force that surrounds us and everthing in our world. If China was located in a galaxy far, far away, they’d call it the Force.
Jessica Phan gives us five steps on incorporating positive chi into design work:
- “Attend to your entryway.” In this step, she explains that in feng shui, the entryway to a space is known as the “mouth of chi.” In design, an entryway refers to the front face of the app or website, where you would maybe sign up or log in. As you would in feng shui for a room, for design it is crucial to keep this entryway simple yet appealing and enticing. A great example of this is something as simple as the front page of Google.com. The main purpose is laid out for you, without fillers, nitrates, or MSG. Only the good stuff.
- “Remove the clutter.” This one is pretty self explanatory. Once there is too much going on, it becomes unappealing and causes your eye to bounce around and not focus on what’s at hand. In feng shui, reducing clutter allows a great amount of flow and reduces mental static.
- “Soften the edges.” Jessica tells us that something important in feng shui is the act of reducing harsh, sharp edges in the room that cause a room to be jagged and make a person entering feel as if they are being pointed at. Round and soft edges/corners allow the “chi” to flow evenly and in a relaxed manner. This is especially important in design: for example, an app where the interface is full of buttons with rounded corners is much more relaxing to look at than one that is harsh and more squared off.
- “Stimulate movement.” In this step, Jessica explains that in feng shui, once the entrance to a space is clear and concise, there must be a balance to stimulate this movement and positive energy throughout the entirety of it. This is true for design as well: an app that has a great first impression but continues on to have a terrible interface won’t be effective. This includes smooth transitions between pages, simple animations, and other micro interactions.
- “Add gentle sounds.” Jessica tells us that in feng shui, something used a lot to enhance the feeling of a room is the continuous and relaxing sound of a fountain. Although they may be often overlooked, sounds can be equally soothing in design: a soft sound can act as feedback while a user is interacting within an app. An example of this Jessica gives is the Apple iOS, whether it be keyboard clicks or lock sounds.
Altogether, I think utilizing these concepts of feng shui can certainly be effective in design, as well as many other pursuits in every day life. Apps and web technology have a big part in many of our every day lives, whether it be for communication, organization, or whatever else. Treating the creation and design of these interfaces that we rely on so much as something as sacred as one’s home may certainly improve the quality of user satisfaction.