Category Archives: design

A Type of Humor: Churches and Papyrus

papyrusToday, I came across a funny post regarding churches and fonts. It’s a broad covering of my topic, but hey, it’s good to smile and share a laugh.

First, since it’s sort of an industry joke, a few words of explanation:

There are two fonts graphic designers love to hate: Papyrus and Comic Sans. Snobbish as we are—we don’t even call them fonts, by the way, we pretentiously refer to them as typefaces—designers cringe at the sight both.

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with either Papyrus or Comic Sans. They both are types beautifully crafted for their purposes by highly skilled designers. The only sin they’re guilty of is overuse. And use in the wrong setting. This, of course, makes it user error, not type error.

That said, here’s the tongue-in-cheek posting: New Barna Study: Overused Typeface Gains Foothold in U.S. Churches.



The Art of Illumination

Tuk e vzproizveden list ot Kru... Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

Tuk e v"zproizveden list ot "Krupnishkoto" evangelie (vzh. list 3, 4).Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

I’m reading a book that’s totally awakened me to an art form I previously knew little about.

The book is Graphic Design and Religion: A Call for Renewal, by Daniel Kantor. The art is a historical technique known as illumination.

Illumination is commonly associated with Middle to Renaissance Age religious manuscripts. Considered the most sacred of all documents, these manuscripts were embellished with decorative borders, elaborate initials and detailed illustrations. Because artists created them in gold, silver and other brilliant colors, they appeared illuminated on the animal skin pages.

The Slavic piece shown here, exquisite as it is, is a somewhat muted example (it’s the only image I could find with copyright permissions). Comparatively, works such as de Brailes Hours or Biblia pauperum, two of many listed in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, are much more intense. Imagine the time and discipline that went into creating any of these beautiful works of art!

While illuminations, as an art form, are fascinating, I’m most inspired by the ideals they represent.

Kantor described the illuminators as the finest of artists who remained “lifelong students of their craft” and “eschewed shortcuts that compromised aesthetic integrity.” They chose the most quality materials available to create visuals for a largely illiterate population—visuals that, as much as humanly possible, communicated the divinity of Christ.

Illuminators saw their work as “a ministry worthy of their best efforts,” writes Kantor.

The techniques we use today certainly have changed the way we visually communicate our faith. Graphic design and commercial printing are light-years away from those hand-rendered illuminations. Yet the ideals are still the same. The time we spend training and conceptualizing, the quality of materials we use and the dedication we apply to our work, all reflect the reverence we hold to Christ.

Communicating Christ, after all, is a ministry worthy of our best efforts.

Shame on Google

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

So it seems Google—that search engine magnate labeled the most powerful brand in the world—doesn’t feel the need to compensate its creative talent.

Last week, The New York Times wrote of Google’s invitation to prominent artists to contribute artwork for its new Google Chrome browser.

Compensation? None.

Understandably, many of these artists felt somewhat hung out to dry. And, admirably, as much as they’d love Google’s exposure, many rejected it with outspoken opinions.

How does that relate to us and our work of communicating Christ?

Certainly, it doesn’t, right? After all, our churches don’t have the multi-billion dollar income of Google’s. Nor do we share its wordly mission. The church is excluded from respecting the work of creatives because, after all, it’s for the Lord, right?


God blesses people with creative talents, of which many use  to earn a living. They study their craft and spend great time developing it. Their work, known as intellectual property, deserves respect. God also commands us to respect our nation’s laws and says,  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” (1 Peter 2:13).

Here are a few things to keep in mind, as we show Christian respect to creatives and our laws.

  • Graphic design, illustrations, photography, music and written words are all exclusively owned by their creators, including those posted on the Internet. To use them without permission violates the U.S. Copyright Law. It’s stealing.
  • Fair Use, a section of the copyright law, offers a little leeway. However, it’s very ambiguous and contextual, and churches shouldn’t feel it offers complete exemption from the law. Church Marketing Sucks posted an interesting discussion on how it applies to religious organizations.
  • Professionals work hard to create their craft. Just as a church compensates a plumber or electrician, so should it compensate a professional artist.
  • Many professionals donate projects out of love for God and their church. Pro-bono, however, does not mean “no value, no time or no effort.” Creative work can command $50-150/hr., elsewhere. Respect this work. Respect the professional’s time, just as you would someone you were paying.

An Up-to-Date Website: Accessibility

When it comes to today’s websites, of the Three A’s (Audience, Application, Accessibility), perhaps accessibility is most important. No matter who your audience is or how well you’ve applied good elements, if your website is inaccessible, it serves no purpose.

We hear this word all the time these days. What’s it mean?

Accessibility means making your website accessible, or viewable, to as many people possible, no matter what browser or device they’re using.

The internet isn’t just for computers anymore. According to The Kelsey Group, almost 40 percent of users of mobile devices such as ipods, iphones and Blackberries are using them to access the internet. And you don’t have to live under a rock to know mobile devices are commonplace to anyone under the age of 50.

As Christians, there’s another online presence we should consider: those with disabilities using special browsers to accommodate their needs. Many of our old ways of designing, such as frames and outdated coding, are inaccessible to people using such browsers.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offers extremely detailed instructions for online accessibility. In reality, this reads a bit like Greek to most of us. Here are a few basics, however, to get you started:

Limit Flash
Flash is fancy. Flash is fun. And nowadays most computers can handle it. But mobile devices and many browsers for visually impaired viewers still cannot. Use Flash as an accessory but never for vital content.

Think scrolling
Mobile device screens utilize lots of vertical scrolling. Now’s the time to get rid of that introductory splash page and your wide width dimensions. If you’re designing specifically for mobile devices, downsize your site to a width of 320 pixels and put your best and most sought after information at the top of the page.

Use semantic code (at least HTML 4.0 Transitional)
Sorry folks, Word, Publisher and FrontPage just don’t cut it. These are not reliable web design programs and the code they deliver do not meet today’s standards. Learn to code. Use a true WYSIWYG program such as Dreamweaver.

Does all this seem too complicated?

Well, sometimes it might just make more sense to consider a professional. Let them do what they’re good at, so you have time to do what you’re good at.

An Up-to-Date Website: Application

Reaching your audience is crucial to keeping your audience. This applies even more to the internet, where our attentions are pulled in so many directions. The second of the three A’s (Audience, Application and Accessibility) shows how a few design and content elements make a huge difference in reaching your audience. While specific audiences require specific applications, there are some commonalities that work for all. Let’s look at those today.

Show, don’t tell
Yes, we’re reading more and more words online these days—on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, that is. When it comes to websites, however, a picture still says more than a thousand words. Don’t tell viewers your church focuses on youth. Instead, show it focuses on youth. Show images of young people on your home page. Use images liberally. Edit your text liberally.

3-click navigation
The same two rules apply today as in the past: Keep navigation simple and use the 3-click rule. Users should be able to go anywhere on your site within three clicks.

Use the right font
San serif fonts, namely Arial and Verdana, have long been the preferred choice for online reading. Without tails at the end of each letter, they present the easiest reading from a computer screen (as opposed to serif fonts which are the easiest to read on a printed page).

But times are-a-changing! We now have Georgia, a serif font developed specifically for the web. This is an easy-to-read screen font and has become very popular in today’s websites, including this blog.

Frequent content updates
The days of putting a website online and never touching it again are over. Viewers now want updates and they want them often. An outdated, old-news website is an absolute no-no. Many designers now create sites with owner content management systems (CMS), thus enabling church personnel to easily update their own information.

So, now you’ve applied design and content elements that reach your audience. Next, we’ll make sure your site is accessible to your audience.

Three Things for an Up-To-Date Website (You do have one, don’t you?)

Asking if you have a website is hopefully a needless question. Being without one is comparable to Jonah refusing to go to Nineveh—if that’s the case, you really should consider life inside a whale for wasting such a God-given opportunity.

That said, what makes a good website for today’s online presence? Think three A’s:  Audience, Application and Accessibility.


Identifying your audience is a crucial first step. It determines the look of your site and the message you want to convey. But let’s back up: In order to identify your audience, you must also identify your goals. Here are some possibilities:

Church promotion
If your goal is to promote your church, to whom are you targeting the promotion? Potential new members from the community? Families? Professionals? Tourists passing through? Your website style and content should match that of your audience and their needs.

Member communication
Is your primary goal to unify your membership? Nurture their faith? Increase their awareness of what’s happening at church? If so, who are your members? What are their ages, their careers, interests and life situations? For mechanical purposes, what are their online capabilities? Are they tech savvy? Do they have high speed internet?

Now, more than ever, the internet offers the widest, quickest access to the greatest masses. Is spreading the gospel is one of your website goals? If so, the world is your audience and you must assume zero faith knowledge. No shop talk allowed!

That’s it for now. Next we’ll look at applying design and content elements to reach your audience.

Attitudes are Contagious


Our church is currently raising money for a $4 million building and renovation project. We’re doing this whether we can afford it or not. Well, sort of.

Nowadays, what congregation can afford to take on such a monumental expense? And what congregation operates on a relatively balanced budget? Certainly, not ours. Before starting the project, we conducted a feasibility survey and opinions ranged from half-hearted support to out and out refusal to commit. Most questioned how we could afford such an insurmountable task. In spite of this, we voted to go forward with construction.

Here’s where attitude comes in, and here’s where communication plays an important role.

We humans are fickle beings. Our attitudes are easily swayed one direction or another. Whether positive or negative, attitudes can be contagious. In the case of our congregation, where the vote has been cast and what’s done is done, it’s important that members’ attitudes go the way of positive.

Communication can shape attitudes. Communication can tell people how they feel or what they are. Tell people they are happy, they feel happy. Tell them they are go-getters, they become go–getters.

A quirk of human nature? A shaping of our emotional makeup? Oh, yes. The media, advertising and political arenas know this all too well. They successfully use it on us every day. Can we also shape attitudes with our communication, and can we do it in a God-pleasing way?

You bet.

For our capital appeal, the communications committee focused on creating a positive attitude that would dispel the Doubting Thomases. We chose a theme based on Isaiah 11:6 that provided a ready answer to the questions of why, when and how. We designed an accompanying logo that was bold, current and pleasing to all age groups…hey, even teenage boys were wearing the T-shirts at the church picnic! We regularly promoted church events to the community with news releases.

All of the above worked to permeate a sense of excitement in our congregation. But our campaign newsletters proved to be the biggest hit.

The appeal committee wisely approved a generous communications budget. This enabled us to professionally print eye-catching and well-designed newsletters that promoted enthusiasm and up-to-date information. Showcasing multi-generational families created a sense of heritage and history, as did photos and stories of bygone days from elderly members. Human interest stories, such as those of members going into the world with the message of Christ, reinforced our church’s mission. Stories involving community emphasized our relationship within our own city.

The tone of our newsletter was also well received. We kept the content light and easy to read. Of course we communicated God’s message—that is most important, after all. But we were also careful to do it in a non-preachy way. We included lots of pictures and most of them were of people. We recognized God’s blessings. We said thank you.

Have we raised our current goal of $1.75 million? Not yet. We’re still in the first of our 3-year campaign.

But God works in wondrous ways. What began as a negative attitude has shifted to a positive. Many people have commented there is a level of excitement and involvement within our congregation that they’ve never seen before.

To Him be all the glory!