This is part two in a six-part series exploring the tools graphic designers who work for churches need to succeed. You can go back and start with part one.
Without training, education and practice it’s hard to have confidence in anything, let alone your job. Without that confidence you will find yourself always reacting to last minute requests, changing guidelines, going through endless revisions, receiving generic criteria and never acting on fully realized concepts, exploring multiple ideas or having ample time to tweak and revise. You’ll be a waiter serving freshly borrowed, canned ideas.
There is no formula for confidence. It’s an uneasy balance of intangible results. Confidence comes with experience, experience comes with work, work comes with time and time allows for training and education. Sadly, most of us are busy, over-scheduled, broke and impatient. That impatience can lead to poor decisions, such as compromising on ideas and creativity for the sake of time and expediency. Without time, patience, experience and work your level of confidence is weakened and over time you might unwittingly find yourself becoming the Wal-Mart of graphic designers (doing anything you can to move work off the shelf).
Your ideas will never be perceived as valuable without confidence and as a result your ideas will become easy to defeat. Confidence builds trust between you and your leaders; trust that you will be able to deliver what is needed and trust that your ideas are worth investing in.
Design is more than simply using fonts and clip art, a series of tricks and trends, to make something pretty. There ought to be reasoning behind typographic choices, color palette, imagery, format, grid systems and layout. Without reason there is no cause and without cause you’ll be left without evidence to defend your ideas.
Without proper knowledge of design your concepts are merely opinions, subjective preferences of “I liked the way this looked.” When your preference goes against the preference of others (namely, the one who has final say), guess who wins? Any idea you present will be seen as fancy decoration and easily changed, wherein your work will be superseded by the safe confines of the “industry standard” (these are words that should make you shudder, whenever you hear “industry standard,” cover your ears and start shrieking)—the already done idea, the predictable solutions, the common visual metaphors, the obvious cliché.
You will be asked to borrow or steal ideas, and often you will do it. Without the proper ammunition to defeat the progress of bad design within the church culture it will sadly further entrench itself as acceptable normalcy, with you aiding in its continued usage. All thanks to a lack of confidence.
The best way to gain confidence is to have knowledge, but if you didn’t go to school for design you might ask “Where do I start?” It’s one thing to read and browse the endless tutorials and “best” lists of web design, church design, etc; but that’s just observing, not knowing. You’re bound to unintentionally borrow the work of someone else when you just browse for “inspiration” without knowing what you’re doing. But truly learning your craft (without going back to school) requires effort and time (and sometimes some money).
If you’re not formally trained in design, than it’s time to educate yourself on the basic principals of design with books on the history of design, typography, layout and grid systems, marketing and visual language (see recommended reading below). Why is it important? While design is not more important than the message it supports, the symbiotic relationship between message (content) and visual (form) can transform an otherwise common and predictable concept into a layered, meaningful and powerful solution.
Design should help draw someone to an emotional response to what they’re seeing. What if that person is “unchurched” and suddenly they see something that isn’t what they’d expect from a church, and it peaks their interest? That knowledge, that confidence, that ability to not just make something because someone has to do it, can have a significant spiritual impact.
Without that confidence you will be making design that adds to the noise, design that has no message, no impact, no originality, no distinction, no reason. While design is not more important than the message it supports, the symbiotic relationship between message (content) and visual (form) can transform an otherwise common and predictable concept into a layered, meaningful and powerful solution. Without that confidence your value dwindles.
- The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
- Stop Stealing Sheep and Learn How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann
- Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton
- Universal Principals of Design
- Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field
- Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design
- Visible Signs by David Crow
- Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative by Edward Tufte
- All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
- The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell