Effective Design for the Local Church:
An argument for print and comprehension
By Jesse N. Love
Here is my friend Caz, pictured above. Caz is an old friend from California who visited the Pacific Northwest last month. He is 30 years old, he works in higher education as a student affairs administrator and is a part-time DJ. Very millennial.
On New Year’s, we went out for some dim sum at University Village in Seattle. Close by the restaurant sits Amazon Books, a brick & mortar bookstore that advertises: “Store prices are the same as Amazon.com”.
We perused books, played some games and enjoyed our visit. My friend Caz, again, who was visiting, mentions to me that he would have bought more books if he wasn’t traveling – he didn’t want to carry too much stuff on an airplane.
Several weeks later, I am doing research for my workshop for Roots & Wings, the Puget Sound District’s training event for laity and clergy. Kyle Franklin, an admin at the District Service Center, had invited me to lead a design workshop for this event. He wanted me to share some wisdom in helping local churches make their print materials more effective.
Immediately, I thought this would be a challenge.
Ever since I started working at my job, I’ve acknowledged that many – including myself – have already embraced a shift in receiving information over the Internet – and in the last years, over mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. When doing research in creating effective print design, I found that my ideas morphed from teaching actual design to simply identifying the target audience print is made for.
I Googled keywords “why people read print”. In reading two to three articles, I started thinking, surprisingly. “There is actually an argument for reading print.” I found this article from The Washington Post entitled, “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.” (Read it and tell me what you think: bit.ly/print-prefer)
I texted Caz asking if he would like to share his experience at the bookstore. Some of his ideas paralleled those from The Washington Post article – and I didn’t even share my findings with him. Doing my best to be non-biased, I asked him a few questions.
Me: Why buy printed books at a bookstore? Why not just buy your books digitally?
Caz: Going to the store is an actual experience. There are sections (in the store), you can see the cover art, and see what people gravitate to. You can tangibly pick up a book and flip through it. I get a better sense of the value and the process that went into creating the knowledge and produce more so in a paper copy.
Me: Say you had a book you wanted and it was free – both in print or a digital download. If you could only chose one, which would you choose and why?
Caz: Don’t get me wrong, I also bought a few books on my phone that day because I had to worry about the weight and space (physical books) take up. I would take the free printed book because, again, it is tangible. I can annotate it easier. I read and retain info better on paper than reading online. I buy digital books if they were in PDF and I would use it for work-related purposes…and for cooking! Digital cookbooks are better because I can pull up on my phone ingredients when I am shopping.
But for actual reading, for leisure or education, I prefer real books. They make me feel smarter!
Caz’s response – again – without telling him about my own research, shared some key points that represent why people read in print and digital forms:
-It is a tactile experience
-Print offers easier annotation
-People read for comprehension and retention of information.
-Offers quick searching
-Is convenient, especially for travel
Cost can play a factor when folks choose to read something in print or on a digital device. In my workshop, I also had asked if cost was not an issue, how would you prefer to read something. I heard people opt for both: some choosing print, some choosing digital.
My piece here isn’t to make an argument pitting print vs. web. My focus is more on comprehension – how we absorb and understand messages we create. Part of making our messages efficient is discerning what medium to use when we are reaching out to our target audiences, both internally and externally.
Would you want to advertise an event featuring older adults through current, trendy apps like Tumblr or Snapchat? Or vice-versa…Would you want to start hype for a youth-oriented event via your local newspaper or bulletin?
I don’t want to give a general answer – we all have specific audiences with specific needs. But what I can say is, for what we are creating, it helps to understand who our target audiences are and to consider certain consequences related to comprehension due to our need to be cost-effective.
We have vulnerable audiences we are called to reach out to. People in this group may not have access to obtain news and information digitally through a device, maybe because of age or education, so a shift to go all-digital does affect how they receive info. Others may be in low-income situations and simply accessing daily news digitally is a challenge.
Yesterday, I read this headline: “Amazon Plans To Open Hundreds Of Physical Bookstores, Says Mall CEO” (http://on.wsj.com/1X6rJvb). This means there will be more physical books available at online costs, lower than other brick & mortar retail stores. If this headline says anything, it says that there is still a need for actual printed resources – for information, comprehension, and simply enjoyment.
As communicators, as conduits of information, we have to consider doing more than just posting information to the masses and be satisfied with our hundreds or thousands of “likes” on Facebook. We have to wonder: Do people actually understand what we have shared? How do people best obtain information so they can utilize and be transformed by it?
This article serves as a supplement to slides presented at “Designing with Purpose: Effective Designing for Your Local Church” led by Jesse N. Love
Roots & Wings, a Puget Sound District Training event was held at Anacortes UMC on January 30, 2016.
Jesse N. Love serves as the graphic designer & print manager for the PNWUMC.