I did not get into design because I love design.
This may sound surprising to some, as I most definitely love design now. I love beautiful typography, thoughtful layouts, information hierarchy, and clear communication. I feel pride when I create something beautiful and useful, and joy when I see others doing the same.
That’s not where it began, though. I did not begin learning design because I had any interest in design, art, typography, or user experience. I didn’t open Photoshop for the first time because I was excited to use the layer effects. Unlike Andy Rutledge, a designer I respect and admire, I didn’t feel a calling to design. I got into design for people.
Ministry by Design
Before I entered the design industry, I was a music director at a church. This wasn’t your average church; we were strategic, with a laser-focus on our target demographic of outsiders.
To be specific, our target demographic were males, ages 33-37, with a family and income in the middle-to-high income range. These were not people comfortable with going to church, singing hymns and seeing a collection plate pass them by. So, our services were strategically planned to alleviate as much of this tension as possible. We blew up bottles of Diet Coke with Mentos, locked our pastor in a glass case with chains on his wrists, played the video for Promiscuous by Nelly Furtado, and much more.
Why did we go to all of this trouble? Because, at least in Canada, church is not a popular place to be. I don’t have a source, but someone mentioned once that maybe 1/10 people in Canada go to church on a regular basis.
We planned our services down to the minute with secular music, dramatic pieces, stage design and props for the message. Everything that happened from the moment visitors entered our parking lot to when they left was calculated, thought-out, and executed with excellence.
All of this was done in order to communicate a message. We designed our services to all lead to a single point, a bottom line that we tried to communicate weekly. This focused strategy helped the church grow from around 50 people to over 1000 in just over a decade.
During my time at the church, I became increasingly passionate about people, about finding ways to communicate to them in a way they could understand. Outsiders, or (in web-speak) first-time users, were in the front of our minds every step of the service design process.
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why making the move to the design industry was such a natural step. We have the unique opportunity to whittle a message down to its core, in order to communicate it as clearly as possible. We can design interfaces to guide a new user from Point A to point B, and help them accomplish the tasks they wish to in a way that is easy and even enjoyable.
Yes, typography and layout and information hierarchy and semantic code matter, but each of these only find meaning in the context of people interacting with your design.