the baby and the bathwater

Rubbish Design: The explanations no.1
February 17, 2009, 11:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Reasons for rubbish design 1: An inherent suspicion in the parent-generation of anything that attracts the attention of our children.

As a father, I make it my business to know as much as I can about what is influencing my children. I check what they watch on TV, I check what sites on the internet they access, I check what games they buy for their nintendos, I invite their school friends around to the house so I get to know who they are spending time with, I encourage them to pursue certain activities and clubs because I think it will help them to grow into the person God intends for them. I hope in all of this I am exercising wisdom.

But like every other generation before them, my children will eventually want to change the world for themselves. They will want to change the political landscape, they will want to revive and build new church, they will want to build new expressions of community where they live. They will even want to change the language that we speak (yo dude, wicked, char, lush). And when they aspire to these things, they will only be doing what God made them to do: allowing His life-breathing Holy Spirit to invade their lives and impact everything and everyone around them.

But the parent-generations, through an honest but often misguided sense of responsibility, have tended to crush this creativity in their children. I can remember it wasn’t too long ago that young people were being told that drums were the music of the devil and shouldn’t have a place in their lives, let alone their spiritual formation. (And who can remember the film ‘footloose’). Of course now we all know different. But how much ground was lost in the Kingdom in the meantime?

The thing is, most of us parents are suspicious of anything that attracts the attention of our children. And that’s because we love them, are concerned for them, and want to be wise in what influences touch their lives. But too often those suspicions can lead us to throw out the baby with the bath water. What we need to be doing as a parent-generation is not controlling the creativity of our children, but nurturing it; not stifling it, but guiding it’s formation; not being critical of it, but embracing it.

And that may mean that in our church we have to sing some songs that aren’t written by Graham Kendrick; we may have to have a style of music that isn’t ‘Radio 2’; and we may have to stop illustrating the peace of God through a cheesy white dove. And we certainly have to stop using clip-art. Because in terms of our children, these things just don’t cut the mustard anymore.

Some of you may know that I design our church magazine. I do love that part of my job, and I love the fact that many people have connected with our church because of it. It sits in doctor’s surgeries and the waiting rooms of many businesses in our Town. It has even found it’s way into holiday apartments in Spain.

But the greatest pleasure I have got recently is when I found my 11 year old daughter reading it in bed one evening. She was reading a great article written by one of the youth in our church about identity in Jesus. I could never have written such a great article myself. But at least I am pleased that I found a way of presenting it that attracted the attention of my daughter, and she ended up reading something that she very probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. Now I know I’m biased, because I designed it. And actually, it may not have been the most incredible bit of design in the world. But it did grab the attention of my daughter.

You see, most Christian design is in a time-warp. And too many people hope that the next generation will one day come round to loving it.

They won’t.

So get over it.

Our children’s attention will be grabbed by something. Let’s get out of our cacoons and come up with the things that we want them to be grabbed by.


2 Comments so far
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This whole series on design is a real breath of fresh air. My wife is a graphic designer by trade. As well as this, she is an extremely gifted designer. Last year she took on our Church magazine, which had been run by a retired policeman. He’s a lovely guy so I won’t implicate him in any way! But the magazine Ellie took over was characterised by this:

– Church logo (yes, you guessed it, which is a Dove sort of moulded into a cross-shape).
– Printed on green, blue or pink pastel paper (which is still used for the weekly bulletin and other “special” flyers).
– Where photos were not available, suitable christian clip-art was utilised to illustrate an article.
– TNR font size 10 all the way through.

When Ellie took this over she was furnished with all the tools for the job, a copy of MS Publisher (you know that cutting-edge modern design tool), a text book of clip art, and a CD-Rom full of clipart too. Each of these things can now be found somewhere under our sofa.

Anyway, Ellie has really fought and pushed to bring the magazine into the “now”, sometimes by just following basic layout and design rules, and also by excercising creativity. Both of these have at differing times resulted in push-back and some criticism. Criticism we can deal with, but comments such as “this design isn’t appropriate for a church magazine” don’t cut it for us. What does that mean? It’s not in pastel colour, with clip art and TNR fonts all the way through? Is the design not crap enough to be called “of the church”?! As you can tell this does touch some nerves for me.

As Ellie is still young, I see the same suspicion you describe above as I would still regard Ellie (in her 20’s) as part of the younger generation of our church. Rather than embracing new creativity, suspicion and “wanting to maintain the status quo” arise, yet in the same breath we talk about wanting to reach “this generation”.

I am I the only one missing the point (or the obvious) here?

BTW I love the ideas of putting the newsletters out in GP surgeries and business etc…

Comment by Kev B

Good comments Kev. I totally understand the frustration! We’ve all been there….And there is a prejudice and mindset out there that needs changing!

Comment by neilbennetts

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