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Review of ‘Permaculture Web Design in 15 steps”

Lost in a sea of HTML and CSS3 code, I’m placing all of my hope for a good web design in a new e-book I discovered, Permaculture Web Design in 15 Steps by Nick van Zutphen.   It uses Bill Mollison’s seminal work, Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual as the main reference.  As a permaculture instructor, I was very intrigued. Because the first of the permaculture principles is to Observe, I assumed it would start there.

van Zutphen called Step One: Define a vision.  It’s true that you have to know where to observe before you do it, so visioning is a great place to start. He does a great job defining a vision as more of a gut feeling than a goal, in that it sends you in a direction not to a certain place.  To find your vision, you should ask these questions.

1.  What result to I expect from this web site?  Why/When do I redesign the web site? (if a vision is a direction, not a place)

2. Who is my audience? How and when do they use my website?

3. What is the profit this website generates?

Step Two: Keep Permaculture in view, remembering that permaculture is a system of designing system components (conceptual, material, strategic) in a pattern that benefits life in all forms.  So when we design, we should be observing the relationships between components, not looking at each component by itsself.   The web site needs to have multiple functions, so if one fails, the other two can still hold it up!

Step Three: Broaden your view!  Make sure you aren’t designing for only one thing, like if you only designed for zucchini in your garden, you wouldn’t get as many hits as if you designed for the three sister’s garden.

Step Four: Find your property.  In this case it’s your screen!  (Make sure you keep your vision in mind when designing your screen!)

Step Five:  Esthetics will follow!  Make sure your functions and interactions are in balance.  Beauty should naturally follow.  Hmmm.  I wonder what weeds look like in this website permie model? Or are there no such things as weeds?  Do they have the most vitamins to add to the health of the site?

Start with an outline or mind map that matches your vision and build it.

After it’s built, OBSERVE! Check out your site traffic carefully and make changes to realize your vision. Keep observing and changing, it will grow and grow.  Introduce innovation after you have a strong following.

Step Six: List your elements!  (ideas for elements would be Content, Graphics, Links, Visitors, Search Engines)  To extend the metaphor here, your content is soil. Your audience is what grows (plants) that only grows if the soil is fertilized.  The plants aren’t pollinated without bees or the wind.  Graphics attract the plants to the place you want the plants to grow.  And finally the fruit  is the yield you are after.

Once your graphics pull in your audience to where you want them to grow,  you need to decide how to keep your soil fertile and how to pollinate so that you can bear fruit.  The fruit should be whatever it is you are after:  the realizaiton of your vision.

Step Seven:  Design your zones.  In Permaculture gardening, zone 0 is inside your home (easiest access) zone 1 is closest to your back door, to grab as you make a salad or whatever you need every day.  Zone 2 is your larger garden, alittle further from the house.  Zone three is perhaps your orchard, where you only go once a week or so.  Then zone 4 is more like a potato garden.  Plant it and leave it, (well, that’s how WE grow our potatoes), and then zone 5 is a place of nature.  

This is how van Zach interpreted zones for a web site.  I really like it.  Of course every design is different based on what your needs are, the south facing slope, etc.  So this isn’t necessarily the final design, but it’s a good place to start! Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 2.52.52 PM

Step 8:  Apply the Permaculture Ethics:  Care of the Earth; Care of People; Share the Surplus, which he interprets as make sure all can live in harmony on this site.  I think that means not to get too political!  🙂

Step 9:  Build up your capital!  Just as there are many kinds of plants, there are many kinds of capital:  Social Capital, (connections) Material Capital, (high quality knowledge that is still viable after 2 years) Financial Capital, Living Capital (things that need to be nurtured), Intellectual Capital, Spiritual Capital, and Cultural Capital (a well told story).  Investing in all of these gives you diversity.  Watch for capital that is out on the edge.  That’s where the creativity is.  Look there for ways to grow your capital.

If you don’t nurture your plants (audience) they will wither and die.

Also….if you put up too many edges and borders, your capital will get too unruly and distracting. Make sure your edges are clean and simple. As soon as your audience is distracted, you’ve lost them in the weeds.  However, if your reader is looking for a distraction or something irregular, they are very likely to be distracted by what’s on the edge at the end of a line—on the right side of the screen.  An non-distracting left side encourages readers to start reading.  A busy left side could keep your reader from even seeing what you want them to see on that page.

Step 11:  Introduce diversity!  The more diverse your garden, the more resilient it is.  So too with web sites!  Diversity makes the system resilient.

For instance, if you only have a monocrop of information, it won’t be long before something new comes a long and your readers will be elsewhere.  Keep the new stuff coming.  Keep your website updated.  Introduce variations on a theme.


Step 12:  Sort out your energy consumption:  How much time/energy are you putting in?  Are you getting enough out of it?  Are you getting good kinds of capital out of it?  How can you make sure your energy is sustainable?  The system needs to produce more energy (or capital) than it consumes.

Step 13:  Self Sufficiency would be “user generated content” so they continue the growth without you.

First invest in a loyal base with a healthy flow of visitors, then you can set the vision or direction for user generated content. But you shouldn’t start until you have a healthy food forest (when the time is right).

Step 14:  Consult the Designer’s Manual (by Bill Mollison)

Step 15:  Define your end goal.   When has your site served its purpose?  Make sure your site doesn’t remain in existence just to maintain itsself.  That might mean you aren’t getting new readers or followers.  Then you need to re-design.



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