How to Create a Website Using Permaculture Design Principles

Nick van Zutphen
Wednesday, 14th January 2015

Can we apply permaculture principles designing a new website? Nick van Zutphen thinks we can and explains how. He also offers us all a free eBook!

As you probably know, permaculture is often associated with a forest garden, natural fishpond or a social system, but could you design a website using those same principles?

Vision vs a goal

Every permaculture design starts with a vision that guides you where to go. It is a bit like a distant city you would like to travel to. Instead of making that city your end goal, you decide to start moving towards it. With every step you take you can observe and adjust your course. Instead of a rigid determination to reach a specific place, it results in an organically evolving process that makes you land exactly where you need to be. 


In order to start our envisioned design we need to know what kind of elements we can work with. You can think of your content as the healthy soil, which your living capital - your visitors - thrive on. Links are like the mycelium treads that connect things. Beautiful graphics and trending topics are like the aromatic flowers attracting living organisms from abroad. You can see how all this starts to look like an ecosystem.


Permaculture-minded people tend to think 'out of the box', so where do you picture your zones when designing a website? In order to think about zones we need to have a site to work with, and it so happens to be that we have a web-site! The screen is the arable land we have to our disposal, and so we divide it according to the frequency we visit it.



On our zone design starts with zone 0 - the main content area - this is where visitors spend most of their time. With zone 1 we have our main menu - the large access paths - to get us quickly to the broader areas of our website. In zone 2 we find our unrelated content. This consists of links and elements that have nothing to do with what is displayed in zone 0. In zone 3 we find content related to what is currently displayed in zone 0. At the bottom we find zone 4. This is where we collect all energy that is bound to pour off our property. Think of visitors that are lost and might stumble upon a question that suits them and thus stay with us a little longer. As in any permaculture design we have the wild in zone 5. This is where nobody ever goes and acts as the scenery that connects our digital presence with the physical world. 


In a garden our greatest enemy - if any - is unintended plant growth or weeds, often found along edges. We also know that it is along the edge where most diversity and growth occurs. The large cobblestones alongside a path, that are intended to organize things, cause more edges and thus more potential growth and weeding. In the digital world we play the visitors’ game and our opponent is: distraction, as visitors can be distracted away or towards you. Can you see the potential?


On our website we have positioned content in such a way that we can direct the behaviour of our visitors by design. We want people to read the main content, so on the left we have minimized the distraction. A bored reader is likely to be distracted at the end of a line, so on the right side we offer links to unrelated content, offering an alternative. If a visitor enjoys the article it is very likely that he reads to the end, so right underneath every article we offer articles that are similar.

Design for obsolescence

We live in a world that is bound by life and death, known as the circle of life. In nature, absolutely nothing exists forever, not even stones. Although they fade away very slowly, they do fade. So something that can start - like your website - is inseparable from its end. For a website it makes a lot of sense to define the moment it has served its purpose. I can think of so many entities in this world that only exist to maintain themselves, causing more trouble than they attempt to solve.

Easing out

Garnense will joyfully ease out of existence when: 'people, animals, plants and fungi live together in harmony'.

Free e-book

eBook.jpgIn our free e-book: Permaculture Webdesign in 15 Steps (available for a limited time) only we continue to explore permaculture web-design, including: ethics, building multiple forms of capital and self-sufficiency on the web.

Garnense is an online training platform for inspiration, training and knowledge for self-sustainability and permaculture.

Nick van Zutphen ('85) studied multi-media design and completed his PDC with Geoff Lawton in 2013. He has continued his self-sustainability journey every since. 

Watch a trailer for the eBook here:

Further resources

Applying permaculture to people:

People and Permaculture

Applying permaculture to finance

Applying permaculture principles to transport

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samshaf |
Tue, 30/08/2016 - 11:43
I believe that as we awaken as human beings and our awareness grows, we turn away from <a href="">web designing</a> our own private Eden and engage more fully with the rest of humanity and the biosphere. We cannot build ecological arks on a failing planet. We are part of an inter-dependent ecological system. There can be no ‘them’ and ‘us’ in ecology.