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5 Tools Church Designers Need: Introduction

March 15, 2010 by

This is part one in a six-part series exploring the tools graphic designers who work for churches need to succeed.

There you are on a slow Monday morning, a freshly brewed mug of coffee, NPR playing in the background and your fingers dancing on the keyboard, composing the most stunning tweet ever put to screen, when suddenly you’re interrupted.

“OK, we have the most brilliant idea ever and want you to work on the graphics for it right away. Our next series is going to be called ‘Fringe: Following Christ For Outsiders,’ and you’ll use the same look at that TV uses. So get on this, it’s gonna be amazing!”

Whether you work for a church or a corporation as a graphic designer, too often your job is perceived as a service. You are the waiter, the maid and the mailman; and while it’s true that you are delivering what was ordered, you’re not merely there to make sure that your “customer” is right.

Unfortunately most creative fields carry the misguided perception that the results are limited to personal preference and taste. If someone doesn’t “feel” or “like” a design, that is all that is needed to prove that it’s bad. No where is that more obvious than with the church and other nonprofit organizations where the “creative” standard is safe, common, familiar and obvious. The fear of being too complicated or too fancy (in what is essentially the selling of the story of Jesus to others) will confuse the message, thus using safe visual metaphors and concepts—and sometimes outright stealing them—is seen as a means to “appeal” to the masses in a language already understood.

In their view, it’s your job to cater to that desire. It’s your job to “borrow” the title graphics from that TV show. It’s your job to dispense the clip art that thousands of other churches and organizations have used to communicate the same message (that people have seen over and over to the point that your message becomes meaningless). And it’s your job to do it now.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. You don’t have to be confined to the box of design disaster.

The truth is that the value and perception of your job are determined by you, the designer—regardless if you’re educated, trained, full time, part time or volunteering. You can have all the skills, all the right tools and software, but without confidence, determination, precise communication, solid boundaries and teamwork, a designer is doomed to be at the whim of the dreaded “personal preference,” where your talents, gifts and resources will be devalued and misused. It’s time to make your career a part of the body of the church and not an accessory.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be attempting to break down these five key tools and rules to help increase your perception and value within your church or ministry:

Post By:

Paul Armstrong


Paul Armstrong is a photographer, a designer, a husband, a father, a writer, a reader, a wandered, a daydreamer, a procrastinator, a stone thrower, a collaborator, a consumer, a follower and seeker. Paul has over 15 years of experience in the graphic design, web development and programming; 9 of which have been operating his own studio, Wiseacre Design.
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10 Responses to “5 Tools Church Designers Need: Introduction”

  • Kevin
    March 15, 2010

    Monday morning, my cup of coffee is in hand but I’ve got Pandora on instead of NPR, and I am already looking forward to this series.
    The church is in a unique time, but then again she always has been…pounding out the Creeds, the Crusades(yikes!), Reformation, Enlightment, Modernity, Post modernity(huh?), and here we are now – such a wonderful time to embrace our past, repenting from some of it, and looking toward the future. I am excited to consider the next generation of web presence for the Kingdom. In many respects we have already become a caricature of ourselves where “edgy” and “extreme” have not become either, but rather somewhat predicatable on the web.
    What in the world are we going to do in ten weeks when the series finale of “Lost” is a wrap? At the very least, it will mean we won’t have to see the now proverbial “Lost” sermon series advertised on church websites anymore. Maybe ABC will develop a replacement series called “Blood Atonement.” Just think what we could do with that…


  • Jill
    March 15, 2010

    I too am looking forward to seeing this series unfold. Thank you Kevin for the first laugh of the day….”Blood Atonement”. LOL


  • adam
    March 15, 2010

    Having just been told that the worship pastor didn’t ‘feel’ something I had worked really hard on and instead wanted a stock photo of a drop of water with a single word on it, I am encouraged to know that it’s not uncommon.
    The bot-tripping word below is particularly fitting, today.


  • Clint
    March 15, 2010

    Can’t wait to read, comment, encourage and empower.
    First bit of help, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


  • Chris
    March 15, 2010

    I am really looking forward to the rest of these posts. Our creative department is always struggling with this.


  • David
    March 15, 2010

    at “NPR” I stop reading


  • kevin
    March 16, 2010

    While surfing this morning I slammed head first into a church homepage advertising the latest sermon series: “The Born Series.” There was a rifle sight overlay and dark espionage background. Jason Bourne is the daddy!…I’ve seen all three movies multiple times, but is this a good use of creativity, or is it a tired method? I mean no disrespect, but as a former pastor I wonder if in the marketing of the message the scriptural integrity is confused or lost altogether.
    Are we letting scripture push the preaching, or is the marketing potential or ability to commodify a message which dictates the direction?


  • Paul
    March 16, 2010

    @Kevin: stay tuned for the next 5 parts, I hope to answer some of those questions.


  • chris brice
    March 18, 2010

    @ David.. I’m a graphic designer at a church. I’ve been doing it for about 5 years. Doing a series that poeple can relate to I think is good. You can spawn your own ideas and illustrations out of the bourne series. As far as the covers go Your designers should make their own versions of the bourne titles. But keep with the look. A good graphic designer reviews lots of different ideas to get inspiration flowing. Then there are those times where the pastor says I want it to look just like this. When that happens kindly suggest other options along with what he wants. Sometimes he/she may go for what you think. but unfortunately sometimes that doesn’t happen. But that’s your pastor/boss gotta do what they ask of you :) but hopefully you are hired or hire somebody who you trust their graphical judgment.


  • ChristineB
    March 22, 2010

    Funny, you had me at “NPR”… :-)



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