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5 Tools Church Designers Need: Communication

April 5, 2010 by

This is part four 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.

It seems pretty obvious that people communicate in a way that they understand, but what isn’t obvious is that our communication isn’t interpreted the same from one person to the next. We all apply words in different ways based on context. Words like strong, bold, expressive, bright or elegant, while descriptive, are utterly meaningless without context. Communication brings context to words that otherwise are open to interpretation.

Your duty as a designer is to eliminate any possibility of misinterpretation by exhausting all manner of definition for any given word or phrase. It seems daunting (and yeah, it really is), but the quickest way for a project to fail is to assume that our words mean what they imply. Don’t take for granted that something that seems obvious is actually obvious. Perhaps the word “bright” means color, but bright may also mean sunshine, light, glowing, full of life or effervescent. If bright is about color, than what colors are bright? Yellow, sky blue, red?

One word contains hundreds of pathways to visual and verbal solutions. Without clearly pinpointing the intention of a word, you can never successfully create a solution. Instead of blindly walking without a map get the directions you’ll need to find the intended destination of your design.

Every person comes from a certain preconceived set of verbal vernacular–usually a vernacular that applies to their specific industry or even personal perception. This verbal palette, while understandable to those inside the group, is meaningless to an outsider. Within any corporate or nonprofit culture there are terms and words used that have an expressed, understood meaning to those within that culture. Add to that the individual macro-vernacular, words that have an understood meaning to a single person (but not necessarily to another person).

While meaningful, words like “saved,” “faith,” “spirit-filled” and “called” are meaningless to any outsider and obfuscate their intention and impact. Using our own “short cuts” to language is simply poor communication. Your primary goal as a designer is to clearly communicate (visually and verbally) and the only way to communicate clearly is to remove the barriers of ingrown vernacular.

It’s your obligation–yes, obligation–to help guide your “client” in how to articulate what they want. You become 50% psychologist, 45% linguist and 5% sherpa. This will often annoy and frustrate your client, because communicating outside one’s comfort zone is amazingly difficult. So with every generic comment received you will have to push back for more clarity until you’ve uncovered the full meaning of “bright” or “bold” or “grungy.”

Choose not to accept what you’re told at its face value. Eliminate doubt in communication by asking more questions and seeking more answers, it’s the best way for design to reach its desired impact–and your entire team will feel more unified and energized, and it will show in your visual communications.

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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3 Responses to “5 Tools Church Designers Need: Communication”

  • chad swanzy
    April 5, 2010

    This challenged me but when i think about it I feel pretty silly for not asking these kinds of basic questions. Thanks for the help.


  • Brad Bretz
    April 5, 2010

    Great thoughts Paul. “the quickest way for a project to fail is to assume that our words (AND our DESIGN) mean what they imply”. HUGE lesson here.


    • Melissa
      February 21, 2011

      I have found that a Creative Brief is a great tool for me to use as I communicate with our lead pastor. It helps me guide him in a ‘non-threatening’ way to get the answers to the questions that I needed answered. I have tried it several times without and it took me learning the hard way to truly realize what I have learned from college that this is a tool that is needed for every project that I am included with being a part of.

      I suggest that all designers find a great template that can be used for all kinds of ministries to communicate with you through.



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