Design Isn’t Just Pretty, It Impacts Experience

Design Isn’t Just Pretty, It Impacts Experience

June 26, 2017 by

Good design is about more than how something looks. It’s about how something works. It affects the visitors experience and can cause them to stick around or walk out the church’s door. Because of that, churches should care a great deal about design.

But good design doesn’t happen by accident. You have to be intentional to design things well and make them feel natural, intuitive. And, it becomes pretty obvious when things are poorly designed. Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate the point.

Design and the Real World

My car radio displays the song titles and artists. The feature helps me discover new music, kind of. The radio ultimately is so poorly designed that it becomes a distraction.

Good design is about more than how something looks. It’s about how something works.

The display only shows eight characters at a time. Literally: “Minnesot” instead of “Minnesota.” Because of that, whenever I hear a good song and want to know what it is, my eyes drop to the radio repeatedly. I wait and wait for the characters to cycle through so I can read the entire artist name and song title. Like I said, it’s a distraction, and potentially a hazard to safe driving.

But the radio uses a huge screen. A better design, maybe just a toggle of “show characters full-screen,” could make the radio functional, fun, and safe to use on the road. I don’t get it. What were the designers and developers thinking?

Another example: my window wipers. They offer three settings: low, high, and intermittent. But the intermittent setting requires me to use a second switch to get four more wiper speeds.

When it’s raining, especially raining hard, I don’t want to mess with two switches. I need the wipers to work, now. And I should be able to. I shouldn’t have to think about which switch does what. It’s another example of poor design, and it’s one that increases the risk of having an accident.

OK, maybe I think about design too much when I drive. But design makes a big difference to the driving experience. Anything that distracts the driver from the road is a potential hazard.

Design and the Church

In one sense, you could say the stakes aren’t as high when it comes to design and guest experiences in the church. Guests likely won’t crash into oncoming traffic because of a poorly designed visitor card.

But in another sense, the stakes are eternal. We share the gospel at church. Anything that turns people away, from an intrusive visitor card to a confusing church layout, could prevent them from hearing the good news.

The terms might be stark, but it’s why we prioritize good communication and design. I’m not saying a single typo in your bulletin is going to send someone to hell (though using Comic Sans might), but an accumulation of bad experiences, frustrations, and annoyances could stop someone from coming to church.

So your church needs to pay attention to design—not just the layout of your visitor card, bulletin, and worship slides, but the way things work.

How does a new visitor experience your church? Do they go through a process? Do they fill out a card? Does someone follow up with them? Do they get an email or a phone call later that week?

Does the process reflect the mission and values of your church? Does it show you’re a warm, friendly congregation? Or is the process more haphazard and coincidental?

What about the timing and pace of your announcements? Do you ask guests to fill out a visitor card but don’t give them enough time to actually fill it out?

Design and Testing

Someone might have tested my car radio and window wipers, but I wonder. Surely someone would have thought about real-world contexts before rolling out the features. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. In any case, they were deemed good enough and delivered to the public.

That isn’t the approach we should take with our churches. We need to test our designs and guest experiences. Put the designs in a real-world context and try them out. Ask someone unfamiliar with the process to run through it. Watch what they do. Figure out what confuses them.

While you want an efficient and streamlined process, you also need to consider who it’s streamlined for. Is the process designed for your convenience as a church staff, or for the convenience of guests? Too often churches design things for themselves, not the wider world they’re trying to reach. We need to remember what Paul says in Philippians—we’re to look out not only for our own interests but also the interests of others.

In our guests’ interest, let’s be intentional about how things work in our churches. Design experiences, online and off, digital and print, well. Test them. Make tweaks, and test them again. If we do that, we might just get to share the good news with the neighbor somebody’s been asking to church for months or years.


This month our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site is exploring design. We’re specifically focusing on beginner or non-designers who still have to do design work as part of their job. We’ve got lots of resources, guides, tips, and more to help you out. Join now!

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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