This is a great interview with Daniel Kantor, author of the book Graphic Design & Religion, in which he calls for the renewal of graphic design and the arts in the church. You can read the whole interview here, but here are a few of his remarks that really got me riled (in a good way!)
- Religions, for the most part, have just started to wake up to the power of good design.
- His inspiration for the book was the “appalling state of religious communications media and the profound ugliness through which it is often conveyed.” As the owner of a design firm, he noticed that his religion-based clients were far less sophisticated than his corporate clients when it came to good graphic design.
- We all want shortcuts to meaning because there’s just too much information out there. Graphic design is essentially content wrapped in efficient form that can communicate with immediacy… How important is it that we somehow distill the tsunami of information we all experience on a daily level down to what is essential? How important is it that we actually enjoy being informed. Design is critical if it can help us say “yes” to one thing and “no” to ten thousand other things.
- Imagine if one only saw food as fuel. Imagine what life would be like if the food we ate was never meant to be enjoyed. We need design to help us find more joy and meaning in the information we choose to consume.
- As long as religions believe they have something to say, and something to offer this world, there will be the need to appreciate how to do this beautifully.
- Religions must help designers understand their visual sacred traditions. This is where… symbol, mystery, and beauty come in. Religions are ripe with symbology, but rarely are these symbols tapped for their richness. Religion is too often seen as academic or dogmatic. The trick is to break it open and find newness again.
- I often see religious organizations that own very sophisticated computer equipment… But when it comes to producing well-designed communications materials, they’re still missing some essential tools. They still need the right software for one (and Microsoft Office isn’t enough!), and then they need someone who knows the software… Desktop publishing is not the same as desktop design.
- [Do the designers have to believe what the church believes?] Working with a “believer” is ideal. But I caution against black and white judgments. Some of the world’s mot profound sacred art expressions came from artists who most likely didn’t “believe” the way we think they did.
COLLIDE: Why do you think churches don’t emphasize graphic design and the arts more?
KANTOR: I think they emphasize some arts over others. Music, for example, is emphasized quite a bit. But graphic design is invisible in its ubiquity. It’s everywhere so we don’t notice it. Graphic design is also too often confused with desktop publishing. And when amateur desktop publishing becomes the acceptable standard, it’s harder to make the case for the need for professional graphic design. Of course, graphic design costs more. But when money can be found for million dollar organs, solid oak pews, beautiful stained glass windows, etc., there’s no reason one’s logo, signage, and advertisements can’t be as equally welcoming. Good design is better hospitality, too, because so much of a church’s graphic design is being seen by those outside the worship community. It ultimately comes down to awareness. I just don’t think people are aware of graphic design’s role because no one is talking about it. That’s why I wrote my book. Visual fluency is critical to appreciate the role of beauty, so it’s an education issue. Most have learned to appreciate really good music when we hear it, but the same can’t be said about good design.
What would be your encouragement to graphic designers that are religious?
- Come out and be proud. You are needed! Be educators and leaders. Stop following and start inspiring. Don’t wait for religion to come to you. Go to them. Show them how you can help.
- Have heroes and read what they have to say about good design. Become an ongoing student of your craft. Study the best designers in the world, just as a musician would study the greatest composers.
- Be humble. If you don’t have experience as a design leader, find someone who does and learn from them. Don’t assume that your belief in something is enough. You must become as practiced at communicating as you are at designing.
- Beware of dumbing down your work for those who have low or no visual fluency. This just perpetuates more of the problem.
- Read my book. I wrote it for you!