Strategy & Marketing

Why Design is the Language of This Generation

Few things are powerful enough to unite an entire culture.  Governments, dictators, business leaders, and global influencers of all kinds have spent centuries trying to discover how to bring together organizations, communities, and nations; and time and time again, they’ve found one answer – Design.  Early in the life of the church, the Christian community discovered the transforming power of images.  From Byzantine paintings and mosaics, to the great art of the middle ages and renaissance, to the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy, the church presented it’s message through the narrative storytelling of images.  Under Communism, Lenin exploited the influence of propaganda posters, and it didn’t take long for the kings of American business to investigate the power of advertising images.  For good or bad, since the earliest days of recorded history, the power of
design has influenced millions.

And now, once again, design has united a generation.

From the intense graphic design of videogames, to the pioneering special effects of major motion pictures, to the storyboards of music videos and commercials, and high definition television, young people today speak the language of design.  My daughters could retouch digital photos while in elementary school, and by middle school were accomplished web designers.

Today, we live in a design driven generation, and if the Church is going to make an impact, design is the language we must learn.  In Western culture, content has always been king.  From the earliest days of the Hebrew scriptures, to the spread of Christianity across Western Europe and eventually America, we’ve been a “word based” people.  William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English sparked a revolution of literacy in the 16th century, and the greatest missionary efforts of the last few centuries have been the goals of translating and distributing the Biblical text to every culture and people group on the planet.

As a result – and rightly so – content has been far more important than form in our art, writing, media, music, and architecture.  But today, we live in a design culture, and form has become a critical key to connecting with the public.  So while Biblical literacy can never been taken for granted, we now face a new challenge:  presenting a message of hope to a generation that’s more visually sophisticated than any generation in history.

It’s not hard to see, because the evidence is everywhere.  Just check out the unique design features of new computers or the interior design of coffee shops.  Cell phones, automobiles, software, movies – all are examples of a design driven culture.  Better design isn’t just decoration, it’s “connection.”  Designer Charles Eames said, “Design is a plan for action.”

Sure, 16th Century Pope Julius could have painted the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel a nice solid color, but he chose to give Michelangelo a little creative challenge.  We Christians should have learned something, but today we build churches in metal buildings, design boring websites, and create tacky book and tape covers.  As a producer and media consultant, I have spent decades encouraging clients to realize the power of design for connecting with customers, and recognizing its influence on getting a message heard.  I recommend they reconsider worship graphics and images, product packaging, television programming, websites, publications – anything they create with a new attitude toward design.

Re-thinking the design elements of a project isn’t just a “cosmetic” issue – it’s a fundamental issue about something that connects with the audience or customer on a very deep and significant basis.

Don’t toss out your Bibles, commentaries, reference books, charts, or tables.  The power of text will always be critical in telling the eternal story of our faith experience.  But now you have a new tool to help you capture a new generation.

Simply put, if you’re interested in creating a ministry outreach that presents the gospel in a compelling way that will capture the hearts and minds of the mainstream audience, design is the language to speak

Become a catalyst for telling the greatest story ever told, in a language and style this generation understands.

Welcome to the powerful world of design.

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7 Comments

  1. Excellent blog and so true! Design is everything because this is a visual world we live in and if the church chooses to no embrace that truth you are not truly doing all you can to spread the word of God.

     

    (Our website relaunch is next thursday Oct 21, 2010)

  2. Great thoughts — so important to reclaim all things for kingdom use. There really is no excuse for lukewarm visual presentations. But lately, I’ve had opportunity to visit a couple churches that have fully embraced and combined the latest in design and technology, almost to the extent that “design” has become the message, not just the conduit of a beautiful Message. (e.g., The children’s wing feels like Disney World; stunning, yet slightly unsettling somehow). How do we define the line that provides the critical balance for form and function, especially in this arena?

  3. Good and bad design says something about the organisation that is communicating their message. 

    Bad design is a barrier. Good design is an open door to hearing the message.

  4. I’ve just come out a great church meeting that had pool tables, sofas, coffee tables, open plan kitchen, smaller tables with chairs. We all sang together, listened to the speaker, yet really connected with each other and new people. The visual presentation of everything is important, not only better PowerPoint. Thanks for great article.

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