Graphic designer Paul Nielsen wrote a really interesting piece about church graphic design. Nielsen says churches often find themselves in one of two camps. They either aren’t thinking about design at all or they’re way overthinking it.
I always say everything a church does communicates something, so why not intentionally think about it. And that’s really the philosophy Nielsen follows when looking at churches who don’t put much thought into their signs, brochures, worship folders, etc. He says:
Media and design say something about a congregation, specifically about the reason and goals for the gathering. By extension, they also say something about God, about what a church thinks of God. Like a lot artistic endeavors, exactly what design says isn’t quantifiable in tidy terms, but that it does speak is undeniable.
People's first impression of a church is often formed by what they see on a sign, on a website or in a brochure. Nielsen also quotes author Hans Rookmakker as saying:
[Visual elements] are often the outsider’s first encounter with Christians. In a way they constitute our outward face and appearance. Just as people show who they are by their clothes and the way they move, so these things (music, posters—in one word, art) are the things that form our first and sometimes decisive communication.
If you’re like me, there are certain companies I have favorable or unfavorable impressions about based on how they express themselves visually. Walking into an Apple Store has a much different feel that going to a dollar store. Why? Because of the intentionality Apple puts into expressing itself through graphics, product design and store layout.
Yet at times Nielsen says churches overthink design. I believe at times we overthink it because we’re trying to strive to be something we’re not, have no idea about good graphic design to start out with or aren't willing to learn more about design. But when we give design too much attention, we often times end up with a product that isn’t functional and doesn’t represent our church well. Nielsen’s big example is worship music slides. He says:
The point of putting the words of a song on a screen is so the congregation can read them. When we put complex images — some of them animated no less — behind the lyrics, it makes them much more difficult to read. My suggestion? Leave well enough alone and keep the background a static, solid color in contrast with the color of the text and be intentional with your interior design.
So somewhere there has to be a balance, right? For me, that balance comes when churches truly understand who they are. What’s your DNA? When you know that, it’s a lot easier to say yes this design fits us or no it doesn’t. Too often we end up in a bad graphical design wasteland because we’re not working towards that single vision.