“How do I design my bulletin, newsletter, flyer, brochure, all the church communications both in print and online?” “What makes a good design in a church publication?” These are questions every church communicator asks and this article provides some foundational advice no matter what project or media you are designing for.
Understand what design is really all about
Before you can create a tangible design that will result in an effective church communication, it helps to have an accurate definition of design. Most people think designing publications means you have to create a decorative, colorful, highly artistic creation—a process far out of the reach of ordinary people doing communications work in the church.
Webster’s definition of design presents a different picture. The dictionary defines design as:
“To sketch an outline for, to plan, to contrive, to plan to do; intend, a plan; scheme, purpose, aim, a working plan, pattern, arrangement of parts, form, color, etc., artistic invention.”
Note that only the very last few words “artistic invention” of the definition have anything to do with the artistic aspect often associated with design. The rest of the definition emphasizes the heart of good design—it is a plan, an arrangement of parts chosen that will accomplish your purpose and clearly communicate your message.
Clarify your message
“The purpose of graphic design is to make it as easy as possible for readers to understand your message. Because graphic design is a tool, not an end in itself, it should be unobstrusive, almost transparent.” Roger C. Parker
This quote by Roger Parker underlines the reality that design is the messenger, not the message. That is why it is so important to construct and refine your message before you begin designing. You first have to clearly decide what you are going to say before you can select a design for it.
Clarify your audience
Just as important, you need to clarify your audience. For example, a few years ago before the book that gave a false portrayal of the Christian faith, the DiVinci Code came out, many churches held classes to teach people the basics of the Christian faith so they would be able to answer questions about the falseness of the stories in the novel. That was the message.
Though the message would remain the same the design of the message would be different if your intended audience for the class would be your college group who would be doing the class in a coffee house setting or if your audience would be a senior citizen’s book club, who wanted to share the truth with their friends.
The design is the carrier of the message to an intended audience and just as you wouldn’t serve coffee out of an etched crystal decanter, some designs are inappropriate carriers for the ministry message you are trying to communicate.
Fom evaluating many ministry communication pieces I realize this match between message, audience and design doesn’t always happen. One of the biggest reasons many publications don’t accomplish their purpose is not because of “bad” design, but because the design isn’t appropriate to either the message or the audience.
How to find good designs for your audience
Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. That advice applies well to finding good graphic design ideas. Once you clarify your message and narrow your audience, a good place for research on how to communicate to that audience is a book store like Barnes and Noble that has a large selection of magazines.
Look for publications that are designed for your audience. Let’s take our example above of the two audiences: college-age and seniors. You can find a number of magazines for either group you are designing for. Pick out several you like, purchase them (don’t just look at them over a latte and put them back on the shelf), take them home and study them. The creators of those publications carefully studied their target audience and designed accordingly.
You’ll notice for each group certain typestyles, layouts, graphic treatments and colors used will be similar. Select some of the same elements for your publication. Evaluate the publication more closely: what techniques were used for various kinds of ads? If you find something similar to the event you are wanting to advertise, you might use a variation of that approach.
No matter what style you choose, keep it simple
Remember design is primarily about creating a plan with the purpose of deciding the best way to communicate a message to an intended audience.
If you look at popular and highly successful publications, you’ll see that often the most uncomplicated designs are the most effective. Some of most popular and well read publications—the Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY, for example, have really relatively simple designs and they are always the same in their layout. Why do they do that?
The creators of these newspapers don’t create exotic, wild designs that change all the time for a reason. Their clean, predictable design makes the information—the message—primary. Good design enables readers to always know where to find the information they want, in what order and in what section
Don’t forget to ask advice from the Master Designer
The Lord knows your audience and He knows exactly what they need to respond to your message. Don’t forget to take time praying for your people, your planning and your designs.
He is the great designer and can inspire you in ways you could never imagine on your own.