5 Tools Church Designers Need: Confidence

March 22, 2010 by

This is part two in a six-part series exploring the tools graphic designers who work for churches need to succeed. You can go back and start with part one.

Without training, education and practice it’s hard to have confidence in anything, let alone your job. Without that confidence you will find yourself always reacting to last minute requests, changing guidelines, going through endless revisions, receiving generic criteria and never acting on fully realized concepts, exploring multiple ideas or having ample time to tweak and revise. You’ll be a waiter serving freshly borrowed, canned ideas.

There is no formula for confidence. It’s an uneasy balance of intangible results. Confidence comes with experience, experience comes with work, work comes with time and time allows for training and education. Sadly, most of us are busy, over-scheduled, broke and impatient. That impatience can lead to poor decisions, such as compromising on ideas and creativity for the sake of time and expediency. Without time, patience, experience and work your level of confidence is weakened and over time you might unwittingly find yourself becoming the Wal-Mart of graphic designers (doing anything you can to move work off the shelf).

Your ideas will never be perceived as valuable without confidence and as a result your ideas will become easy to defeat. Confidence builds trust between you and your leaders; trust that you will be able to deliver what is needed and trust that your ideas are worth investing in.

Design is more than simply using fonts and clip art, a series of tricks and trends, to make something pretty. There ought to be reasoning behind typographic choices, color palette, imagery, format, grid systems and layout. Without reason there is no cause and without cause you’ll be left without evidence to defend your ideas.

Without proper knowledge of design your concepts are merely opinions, subjective preferences of “I liked the way this looked.” When your preference goes against the preference of others (namely, the one who has final say), guess who wins? Any idea you present will be seen as fancy decoration and easily changed, wherein your work will be superseded by the safe confines of the “industry standard” (these are words that should make you shudder, whenever you hear “industry standard,” cover your ears and start shrieking)—the already done idea, the predictable solutions, the common visual metaphors, the obvious cliché.

You will be asked to borrow or steal ideas, and often you will do it. Without the proper ammunition to defeat the progress of bad design within the church culture it will sadly further entrench itself as acceptable normalcy, with you aiding in its continued usage. All thanks to a lack of confidence.

The best way to gain confidence is to have knowledge, but if you didn’t go to school for design you might ask “Where do I start?” It’s one thing to read and browse the endless tutorials and “best” lists of web design, church design, etc; but that’s just observing, not knowing. You’re bound to unintentionally borrow the work of someone else when you just browse for “inspiration” without knowing what you’re doing. But truly learning your craft (without going back to school) requires effort and time (and sometimes some money).

If you’re not formally trained in design, than it’s time to educate yourself on the basic principals of design with books on the history of design, typography, layout and grid systems, marketing and visual language (see recommended reading below). Why is it important? While design is not more important than the message it supports, the symbiotic relationship between message (content) and visual (form) can transform an otherwise common and predictable concept into a layered, meaningful and powerful solution.

Design should help draw someone to an emotional response to what they’re seeing. What if that person is “unchurched” and suddenly they see something that isn’t what they’d expect from a church, and it peaks their interest? That knowledge, that confidence, that ability to not just make something because someone has to do it, can have a significant spiritual impact.

Without that confidence you will be making design that adds to the noise, design that has no message, no impact, no originality, no distinction, no reason. While design is not more important than the message it supports, the symbiotic relationship between message (content) and visual (form) can transform an otherwise common and predictable concept into a layered, meaningful and powerful solution. Without that confidence your value dwindles.

Recommended Reading:





Post By:

Paul Armstrong

Paul Armstrong is a photographer, a designer, a husband, a father, a writer, a reader, a wandered, a daydreamer, a procrastinator, a stone thrower, a collaborator, a consumer, a follower and seeker. Paul has over 15 years of experience in the graphic design, web development and programming; 9 of which have been operating his own studio, Wiseacre Design.
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6 Responses to “5 Tools Church Designers Need: Confidence”

  • Noreen
    March 22, 2010

    Caution: snarky professional designer chiming in.
    If you lack confidence in your design skills because you’re not professionally trained as a designer, well, Hallelujah! I am thankful for your humility: I see way too many church designers out there who “know photoshop” and have good taste, and they think this all they need to make them a good designer, This is at the very least, uninformed, and at the worst, arrogant. This attitude leads, usually, to lousy work: maybe it’s pretty, but is it on message? Does it organize the information well? Is it coherent? Design is not all about pretty pictures. It’s about organizing information powerfully and effectlively.
    If you lack confidence in your design skills because you are not professionally trained, well, you’re right. Listen to that voice!
    There is no substitute for a professional design education. Would you hire yourself out as an architect or a doctor without formal training?
    I agree with the author that a good place to start is with some books, and I agree that not everybody can afford to go back to college, or even take a class. But at the very least, find a good professional designer out there in the world who is willing to be honest with you, mentor you, and work with you on the important stuff.
    This is design for the Kingdom. We can’t mess around with this stuff!!!

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  • Andy Wittwer
    March 22, 2010

    I recently asked a graphic design professor to teach a short design-basics class to our admin staff who end up designing things that my graphic designer doesn’t have the time to do. It was a great success; the admin felt appreciated and our ability to communicate well was bolstered.

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  • bondChristian
    March 22, 2010

    Good comment, Noreen.
    I’m not a professional designer, or really any kind of designer, but I tend to fail on the side of overconfidence and arrogance more than the other.
    It definitely goes both ways. For some, confidence is easy. For others, it’s difficult. This post of course seems geared toward those who find it difficult, but I appreciate the balance. Thanks for sharing.
    -Marshall Jones Jr.

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  • Katie
    March 24, 2010

    Noreen – Honestly, how likely are you to agree to mentor a non-professional-designer church worker who approaches you and asks you to devote time to mentor him/her for free and you’re never going to make any money off of it? If you do that for others, I seriously congratulate you and thank you on behalf of those you mentor and the people they communicate to. Also, do you know anyone who wants someone to mentor, cause I’d love to have one!
    I personally work with more of a budget than most of the other church workers I interact with, but that’s still not much. I know more about the messaging part than the “making it look pretty” part and I TOTALLY sympathize with the point you’re trying to make, but for most of us have no other option than buying/checking out books, subscribing to blogs, and looking around for inspiration.

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  • Noreen
    March 26, 2010

    @Katie–Great points, Katie. I totally see where you are coming from. I guess my main frustration is with people who present themselves to a church as a professional of any stripe (designer or whatever), when they really don’t have the skills, background, or credentials–maybe figuring that a church doesn’t know any better, or doesn’t need to have very high standards. I’ve run into a few of these self-proclaimed “church design gurus” who run on not much more than a WHOLE lotta confidence–hence my earlier rant in response to the topic of this article. However, I’ve also run into a lot of really talented, really humble, really excellent church communicators. They’re usually the ones who are too busy working to toot their own horns. :)
    As far as mentoring non-professional-designer church workers, there are a lot of people out there who are passionate about excellence in communication who do this all the time. Witness the success of CMS’s Peer Review deal on Flickr. That’s a really great forum to get specific, constructive feedback on any project.
    I have a little pool of designers who are way better than I am who I frequently hit up for advice and comments. They are always happy to oblige. I’d encourage you to find some people whose work you really respect and ask them for advice. I bet you’ll find they’re happy to help.
    Best to you in your quest for excellence!

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  • Paul
    March 26, 2010

    @Noreen – This article is specifically targeted to those who find themselves doing design because someone in their church said it was a need (but they’re uneducated, trained); this happens far more often than one would think (as one sees when they pour through the Lab).
    I think you have a very different definition of “confidence” than I do; I’d say what you’re describing is arrogance, not confidence

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