Church publications meet Hollywood design aesthetic
Church publications meet Hollywood design aesthetic

When it comes to a parish newsletter, a worship bulletin, a blog, a website, or any other kind of designed material used for communication and marketing in churches, my instinct is to react with the immortal words of Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?”

But judging is what we do in the world of marketing and advertising, and consumers as well as creators take part. When one of these materials is submitted for review or input, it crosses a threshold into subjective territory.  When it’s viewed for its aesthetics,  it becomes something to be judged.

When I used to work on movie poster designs for a living in Hollywood, I would sometimes submit a dozen options to the higher-ups for approval, with the only difference being the color of the film’ s title.  I can’t tell you the amount of stress that goes into deciding between red, blue, beige, or turquoise texts, and often I would get the scornful feedback, “Why did you even show [insert color here]? That is hideous!”

Everyone who judges material brings preconceived notions of what looks good, what is pleasing to the eye, whether they realize it or not.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some aspects of design that can be aesthetically pleasing (or annoying) to a majority of people. In that sweet spot, anyone can create material that will be warmly received, no matter how impactful its content. My list below are just some of the essential tips for avoiding design flaws and steering clear of the pitfalls that can make your church publications a marketing mess. Judge away.

Pick a font, two max, and stick to them

Nothing makes the eyes more sore from strain than looking at words on an image in many competing fonts. Yes, fonts. You know, like Helvetica (simple, elegant, sans-serif) or Courier New (save that one for scripts, please) or Calibri (gross!) or Sabon Roman (the Book of Common Prayer font, which is not Garamond as most people assume), or one of my favorites, Century Gothic.

Whatever you chose, I recommend sticking with one. If you need to add another, which will be decidedly secondary or used for headings or accents, then try to alternative serif and non-serif fonts.

Colors come in palettes

Take it from the 14-year-old version of me who had no concept of matching his own clothes: colors work best when they are of a common theme. Is your material right for a bluish, frigid theme?  Or should it use warm, earth tones?

These consistencies matter, and considering which shades of baby blue are going to work with which burgundy fonts may actually attract a reader or viewer to your work of art.* A little research helps; I find the Colour Lovers site helpful for choosing palettes.

Simple is best 

We might call this the Apple rule—as in the Steve Jobs design aesthetic that has captured the world’s imagination in the last fifteen years.

There’s a reason why iPods sold so well, I suspect, that’s about more than having access to our iTunes playlists to go. Apple’s advertising, concepts, designs, and even their packaging stressed that less is more. When I think of Apple design, I think, first and foremost, of the color white. And small, elegant type. And it works.

Simple is attractive, and over-complicating your material with all kinds of images, fonts, colors, and styles may turn off your recipients.

Be yourself

This may come as a shocker, but you want your material to be somehow intrinsic to your nature, whether it comes from you personally or your organization. Authenticity is essential, now more than ever.

Sweat the small stuff

Consider this example: If your parish is known for its liturgy and its well-rehearsed choir, it matters that the worship bulletin is neat, ordered, easy to follow, and containing all the necessary elements. This means that proofreading is essential! Start early on your designs, review often, and release something you’re proud of. The little things really do matter.

Now you have the basic starting points for creating your church-oriented materials. A little marketing goes a long way. Just remember that time spent on advertising just might lead to more people coming through your doors!

* I’m sure science proves this somewhere, but I prefer to let my subjective opinion sound official regardless.

Greg Millikin (@My_Tweet_Lord) is a Virginia Theological Seminary M.Div. middler from the Diocese of Los Angeles and the former Director of Creative Advertising at Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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