We live in a filtered generation. Heck, many girls get their tans from adding Instagram filters to their photos. We are obsessed with getting the right look for the least amount of work.

This cultural phenomenon of quick fixes affects designers. It’s just so easy to make something beautiful. But a clear message is harder. For those of us who design for the church world our job is especially difficult. We absolutely must focus on the message and clarity without sacrificing the design that makes people stop and take notice. For most of my life, I watched a church secretary add clip art into a Word document. I watched every church flyer print out in black and white with Papyrus font. Thank the Lord that is changing. Design is now a key part of how churches are reaching the next generation, but that doesn’t make our job any less difficult.

Whether you are designing banners, yard signs, flyers, or websites there are a few key things to remember if you want to get it right. Next time you sit down to create that killer design, try to remember these four rules.

1. Think Left to Right and Top to Bottom

In Western cultures, people are used to reading things from left to right or top to bottom. Make sure you are putting the most important information in that order. This rule is most important for designing any kind of signage, banners, or yard signs. If you want your message to be seen by people walking or driving by, you must make sure your message is clear and easy to follow. It doesn’t matter how awesome that font is or how hip your floral patterns are if people can’t read what you want them to read.

It doesn’t matter how awesome that font is or how hip your floral patterns are if people can’t read what you want them to read.

2. Focus on Copy and Negative Space

The fewer words the better. When designing an informative piece, the general rule of thumb is: 60% for negative space and 40% for your wording. Negative space is simply the blank space that allows your text and design to breathe a little bit. I’ve found narrowing my focus has dramatically increased the quality of my designs.

3. Do Your Homework

I know, only nerds like to do research, right? Not necessarily. If you take the time to learn what you are saying in your designs, you will be ahead of the game. Obviously, there is an infinite number of color combinations, font choices, or design styles you can use to create a piece. I would encourage you to take the time to research the psychology behind the colors, fonts, and shapes you are using. Everyone hates to get that tweet or text message in all caps, so be careful your next church mailer is not SCREAMING at people. Do your homework. Take the time to understand how your design will look through another person’s eyes. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Take the time to understand how your design will look through another person’s eyes.

4. Think Outside Yourself

Design can often turn into what the designer thinks looks good. This just won’t work in the church environment. Like any good leader, a designer must become one with his or her people. You may not love the grunge style, but if that is what best represents your church, suck it up and learn to make the best looking grunge designs the world has ever seen. Getting to know your target audience will only make you better. When people get your sermon series mailer, they should automatically be able to recognize that it came from their church. You won’t be able to accomplish this every single time, but once you grasp the heart of your people and community, your designs will begin to reflect the entire church.

Once you grasp the heart of your people and community, your designs will begin to reflect the entire church.

The main goal of any communication or design piece is clarity. It doesn’t matter how cool something looks if it can’t be understood. In the best designs, every color, font, shape, or even picture works together in perfect harmony to create that strong and clear message. I hope these tips will get you started on the right track.