Good design is about clearly communicating your message. Every component of your church presentation should visually align with what you’re trying to say to your congregation.
But that’s not easy to do. Without a clear understanding of your main message or how design elements affect it, creating presentation slides often becomes a subjective task of choosing “what looks good.”
Proclaim’s art director, Shiloh Hubbard, says there are three things churches should keep in mind to produce high quality presentations: contrast, hierarchy, and simplicity.
Poor contrast creates an instant barrier between your audience and your message. “If you’re trying to communicate something and people can’t read it, it’s a problem,” Shiloh says.
There are some simple ways to make sure you have enough contrast, and it’s important to optimize your presentations for the settings people actually see them in.
“You want it to look ideal in the context you’re designing it for,” he says, “which may be different than the context you create it in.” In a big room with a projector, your final presentation may look completely different than it did on your computer.
“We have to consider the final medium—the screen—and that final presentation is key to communicating the idea.” In this case, the final medium may not be as vibrant and colorful as what you see on your computer. “A lot of times you have to sacrifice aesthetics,” Shiloh says. “You have to overcompensate for the final medium.”
Shiloh recommends using a few different strategies to ensure you have enough contrast in your presentation. “There’s the back-row-squint-test. If you sit in the back of the church and squint at the screen, does it all look like the same color?”
It’s also important to consider the various lighting that will be used during the service—how will those changes affect what’s visible on the screen?
“If you turn all the lights on, can you still read the slide?”
You probably want to know if your presentation is going to look right before you show up on Sunday morning. A quick way to test contrast with just your computer is to hop onto Microsoft Paint, or a similar program.
Copy and paste your slide into Paint, go to “File,” and select “Properties.”
Under “Colors,” select “Black and white.”
If your text disappears, there’s probably not enough contrast for people to read it on the projector screen.
When you tell Paint to change an image to black and white, it takes every color in the image and determines whether or not it is closer to white or black on the color spectrum. It’s not random, and if everything turns to black or white, you might be using too many colors on the same side of the spectrum, and may make it hard for your audience to distinguish between text, background, and graphics.
This is where you have to decide what matters most on each slide. Hierarchy in design is about “defining the most important thing and determining the cutoff point for all that extra information.”
Take your announcement slides, for instance.
“I can’t leave a slide up for four seconds if it requires someone to read a paragraph to get all the information about an event,” Shiloh says. You have to reduce the slide to it’s most important pieces. “If people can’t read the date and time, they’re not going to be able to show up.”
Your informational slides should all start with one question: “What action do you want people to take? Work back from that,” Shiloh says. “Do they have the right information to take that action right now? Contact information, event name, address, etc.” The key information should be the most prominent. And by the time the slide is off the screen, everyone who saw it should know exactly what it was expecting them to do.
But hierarchy isn’t just important for your announcement slides. It applies to every aspect of your church’s design.
“For the visitor,” Shiloh says, “Things like ‘wayfinding’ are addressed by hierarchy. Where do I go? How do I find the bathrooms? Who do I talk to about ____? A lot of those things are solved by design—by putting the right information in the right places at the right time.”
“Simplicity doesn’t mean the fewest things possible,” Shiloh says. “It means the right amount of things to serve the people. I think that’s one of the hardest things for churches to do—defining that scope and really executing on it.”
There’s a lot of overlap between hierarchy and simplicity in design. Hierarchy is how you rank and organize the most important pieces of your message—simplicity means removing all the excess.
“Simplicity looks different depending on where you are, what your goals are,” Shiloh says. “It goes back to your mission and vision, who you’re trying to reach with your church. At my church, we see Western Washington University as a key to our mission. We tie our visual identity to who we’re called to reach.”
Like hierarchy, Shiloh says there’s one question designers, presentation builders, and pastors should be asking:
“Why are we creating this slide, and what do we want people to do? If all the things on the slide are not accounting for those questions, the slide is either under-designed or not strategically thought out.”
Churches should be asking questions like this with everything they do.
“A huge part of my role at church is asking clarifying questions when I get design requests,” Shiloh says. “What is the true impact of this thing? What is it actually doing? Is this just about getting our name out there? Is it for people to feel like they have a home? Is it for visitors or for members?”
These questions aren’t meant to be barriers. They should open doors to creativity—the right doors. “Through that process, we always come to better solutions and end up working on the right types of projects.”
If your church staff can’t answer these questions, it’s hard to draw the line been necessity and excess. “What’s the point where this is all too much?” Shiloh asks. “Speaker systems, light shows, how do you balance all that? Those decisions all have to come back to those questions.”
The challenge for designers, volunteers, and tech people is that these questions need to be answered by church leadership. The needs, objectives, mission, and identity of your church have to be clear to every person who contributes to the visual identity of your church. “The majority of that falls on leadership,” Shiloh says. “Whether you’re a pastor leading a volunteer team, or a leadership team of 20 leading 1,000, you have to clearly communicate that vision.”
So what’s the key to simplicity?
According to Shiloh, it’s “Maintaining an open line of communication, encouraging people who make decisions to honestly consider why they want to do things. Many of the projects proposed at my church change after we ask that question. What’s the return on investment? The return is all about people. And if it’s ever about promoting our church or promoting our ‘brand’ for the wrong reasons, I try to steer us back to who we are and what matters to us as a church.”
Or another way to put it:
“How does this actually help people meet Jesus? I don’t think you can truly justify everything if you’re being honest about why you exist and why you want to do that thing.”
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