Article Art by Patrick Fore

What is Design?

Posted by Stephen Brewster on July 01, 2012.

Author: Stephen Brewster

Design is so much more than what happens in Photoshop or Illustrator. The beauty of design can reach deeper than any After Effects project, any really good edit, or any interesting live experience. Design is about emotional experience and communication. It’s about the feeling you get when something is right.

Design tells stories through a series of textures and images; it communicates vision through presentation. It’s more than just using Helvetica Bold Condensed over an interesting image or really cool lines and trendy triangles.

Good design communicates the tone of what we’re sharing and how people interact with these thoughts. Good design starts with a feeling, a plot, and an emotion. Great design, however, changes how we interact; it’s the difference between good and great experiences in our lives.

Great design changes how we interact.

In its best and most powerful form, design is simple. Designers often add elements, rather than removing, because it’s easier. But adding becomes a crutch for hiding a lack of clarity or direction.

Simple design creates emotion, reinforces content, and provides context without ever becoming a distraction. The simplicity of a design is what makes it desirable. It becomes a feeling of wonder – not just an action or function.

Simplicity in design also creates accessibility for the user. It affords people who aren’t familiar with our worlds the opportunity to feel comfortable and connected to our mission. Simplicity in design is not about a lack of artistic flare or imagination – it’s the ability to creatively inspire the user and their imagination.

Great design provides value and shows we care about what we’re sharing. Sure, we can tell our story with a handwritten sign or a Word document, but the value we create from designing these pieces – the value that changes the experience – manifests itself when we’ve taken the time to think about how we can creatively tell the same story differently. The time and effort put forth changes the experience and shows that we’ve placed value in the message we’re sharing.

Great design also requires a blend of attitude, curiosity, and skepticism.

Great design also requires a blend of attitude, curiosity, and skepticism. What tone are we setting with our design? What emotion are we seeking? What is the felt need of this message? Are our fonts and color choices, our images and lighting, our shading and edits creating the attitude that supports our message? Is there consistency across all platforms? Are we being curious in how we share this message? Have we been skeptical about how this design will be received and how people will interact or be impacted by the design we’ve created?

It’s rare when curiosity, hope, skepticism, and attitude collide. But, when they do, we start to journey to a process that will change how we look at what we’re creating and how other people receive these designs.

Great design – the type of design that inspires people to experience life change – requires a relentless commitment to focus and strategy. What is our end goal? How do our environments and tools support that goal? Have we been as focused on the details as much as we have in the “cool” we’re creating?

Focus on the end goal requires fanatical attention to detail more than it requires fanatical attention to dribble.

How are we removing distractions and obstacles and creating the opportunity for people to experience God in their lives like never before?

This should be a question we wrestle with more than if our art is going to be re-blogged or Instagrammed. In focusing on the goals and mission of our organizations, as well as how our design supports these goals, we have to toss out the temptation to design just to be different. Avoid gimmicks. Don’t take the short cuts. These things create emotions, but not the ones you’re looking for from your experiences.

Being great is very different. When our art supports our mission, is accessible, and inspires emotion, we’ll be as different as we can handle. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. Avoid the traps of making your art cheap by selling out.

Finally, great design, and the creation of great art and experiences, is about teamwork. It’s not about the activity of one super talented individual, but rather the conversations that take place, the input of the teams responsible, and the complexity of the process. Community helps create usable experiments; usability creates a feeling of control. When people feel they’re in control their user experience is amplified.

Designers are often providing skin to ideas. They color and frame the feelings we desire people to have. They help mold spaces and time to help create something unforgettable.

As designers, we have to remember one important concept: the power of our instincts. The design team at Apple calls it “finishing the back of the drawer;” designing every aspect of the experience – even the stuff most people will never see. Doing this ensures that things will be done right. When we ignore it, design sends a powerful message. It cheapens our products, organizations, ministries, communications or plans. It makes our information forgettable and devalues our experiences.

Never underestimate the power of great design.

About the Author

Stephen Brewster | T w
Creative Arts Pastor at Cross Point Community Church. Passionate about creativity, leadership, church and how those live together. Dad and husband.

4 Comments

  1. Great article.

    I am the Visual Arts Manager at our church and we are still trying to change people attitudes from clipart Christianity to reasoned, tailored, custom design that the world takes much more notice of. I get criticized for making things ‘professional’ but God wants our best, right?

    A bit of constructive criticism for this site’s typography:
    Bigger font size. Less line spacing. San serif font like Lucida. If it has to be serif use Georgia. And not justified on both edges – that stretches some lines, pulling words away from each other, making readability difficult. Make it aligned left and ragged right.

    But content is top notch as always.

  2. True. Call it cramming, poor planning, or simply mediocrity — a lot of well-meaning Christians mistake “artwork” for design; just grabbing any ‘beautiful/semi-related’ graphic or picture on the internet, adding some cool fonts, add some contemporary popular effects, then tada! A church artwork.

    Unfortunately, they don’t realize that all it does is get some “ooohs” and “aaahs”, or some “wow” or “cool!”. And then people move on.

    Design should make people remember the message, albeit subconsciously. It should make them think and rethink: “what the heck was that about?”. Design should disturb people. Disturb enough to ask the pastor, the leaders, anyone what it means. It should awaken a sense of “I want to know more! I need to know more!”

    Putting all the information on a design is good. But making people desire the message is better.

  3. So true. I’m the lead designer for the church where I serve & I needed to read this today…and I’m sure I’ll read it again. Thanks.

  4. “It’s more than just using Helvetica Bold Condensed over an interesting image or really cool lines and trendy triangles.”

    Phew! Good…we use Gotham Condensed Bold over our images…so we’re in the clear.

    Joking aside…thanks for this well-written article. Great reminder for those of us who so easily forget to ask, “Why?”


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