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  • 2015-03-21

    Desktop Feng Shui


      This document expresses my thoughts on feng shui in the context of the software developer’s environment. It emphasizes improving workflow and concentration through the minimization and removal of visual distractions.

      Balance and Harmony

      Every desktop and its surroundings possesses particular senses of balance and harmony that may influence the feelings of the user.

      For software developers, and in particular programmers, desktop feng shui is of particular importance, as visual distractions and imbalances can be detrimental to one’s capability to work.

      Although each developer’s sense and needs of harmony will differ - and some may not even care or be affected much by such things - in general a sense of good order is of importance. Order is at the foundation of good program design and commenting quality, and as such, this should be emphasized by the environment as well.

      Although not required, tiling window managers are excellent methods of enforcing balance and efficiency within the desktop. Even further, the organization of tiling itself, when combined with display sizes and aspect ratios, can enhance harmony and order greatly.

      For non-tiling window managers, it is best to keep your desktop in good order, with minimal clutter and strong organization. Failing to do so introduces visual clutter that can easily distract the mind from concentration.

      Colors and Visual Theming

      Colors, especially of IDEs and terminals, can play important roles in enhancing concentration and decreasing distractions. In general, muted colors can provide a peaceful sense to the environment, although sometimes can be detrimental when strong notifications are wanted.

      The guiding principles for colors should general be to draw focus to the areas one cares about the most. For programming, this generally means that comment areas and folded sections of code should not draw as much attention and should hold to colors that do not call as much attention to themselves. Types, variables, and values should generally call more attention and should be of brighter and more complex coloring. General text should be of a neutral tone at a sufficient brightness so as to not be drowned out by the emphasized texts.

      In general, color schemes fall into light and dark schemes, usually of complementary or partially complementary inverted schemes. Although varying from individual to individual, darker schemes can promote a strong sense of focus, especially if bordered by much brighter color schemes. In this way, a dark scheme in the primary programming editor window, if surrounded by brighter schemes containing more information or debugging information, acts as the center point, drawing focus to itself whilst also keeping contained and isolated from the others - i.e., a bastion of focus.

      Additionally, the background also plays an important role. Whether it is the precise shade of the color scheme or a graphical background image seen through transparency, the background can promote a sense to the experience and promote particular thoughts in greater earnest. In this sense, it is usually wisest to choose backgrounds that motivate you or promote senses of peace. These backgrounds, if graphical, should likely change to match what you are developing, so as to promote subconscious thought and provide positive reinforcement.

      Beyond the Virtual Desktop

      Such principles do not need to be isolated to just the virtual desktop, but can also be expanded to include multiple monitors, the physical desktop, and most everything that can fall within the visual field.

      In multi-monitor setups, the distance between monitors, orientations, and size discrepancies can play crucial roles in what feelings are emphasized in the user. Physical distances between monitors can play a similar role to the previously mentioned dark-amidst-light focus scheming. Orientation can promote certain patterns of usage, such as portrait for reading manual pages, or landscape for programming - these things differ, of course, by font size and how many rows and columns one can fit comfortably within the height and width.

      With size discrepancies and orientation differences, the virtual desktops’ placement should be adjusted so the movement of the mouse from one screen to the other does not contain too much difference - i.e., if moving to the right from Screen 1 to Screen 2, the vertical distance changed between the two should be minimal, and if preferred, centered.

      Beyond the Physical Desktop

      Going further than this, what is beyond the physical monitors matter as well. Having an open view, such as a window, can be positive by enhancing moments of meditation and clarity, especially if a peaceful view is to be seen. However, if the view does not promote a sense of peace and is too distracting, the physical location should be adjusted. In a sense, what is behind the physical monitors plays the same role as desktop backgrounds and what sense you wish to have while developing.

      A Holistic Feng Shui

      In conclusion, one should develop a strong sense for the entirity of their environment, both virtual and physical, and adjust both to promote the sensibilities they most require. If you wish to focus more on one particular aspect, then mute other portions by chosing softer color schemes, smaller fonts, or increasing the distance between them. Acquiring the proper feng shui of your desktop will require your own experimentation and analysis, but it should be approached if you wish to optimize your own productivity.