Horizontal Design

I fully acknowledge I am a bit of an Apple fan boy…my phone has been exclusively an iPhone since about 2009, we have several iPods, iPads, an Apple TV and four! MacBooks between us… There is even an old 90’s Performa in the loft from my university days…when Mac’s came in beige and had less storage than my phone (1.2 gigabyte hard drive anyone?) But there is a reason so many of us choose Macs…they look great, are highly functional, and as the adage goes…”they just work”. Apple Heaven?

There’s been a lot of discussion this week amongst the Apple fans as Jony Ive has done an extensive interview with The New Yorker. Now I read the Jony Ive book last Christmas, and it was a great read; very interesting and inspirational…I highly recommend it. The interview in The New Yorker is possibly the most informative piece of writing on the inner workings of the Apple design studio (the Jony Ive book was pieced together from snippets of interviews and research), and just highlights how central Jony Ive and the creative team are to all of Apple’s output.

Segregated Departments

Many organisations have design teams alongside marketing, development, sales etc…but often they don’t properly hook up together. If you read the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs (again, another great read), it was apparent when Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 that it wasn’t working…they had a desktop computers department, laptop department, computer monitors, printers, handhelds….and none of them were talking to each other. Hence the design, compatibility and infrastructure were completely disparate…hence the near bankruptcy of the company. What Steve and Jony did was to simplify and reunite all of this…initially the company shelved everything and went back to making four main products…a professional desktop and laptop, and a consumer desktop and laptop.

What is especially apparent from this New Yorker interview though is how central Jony Ive and the design department is to everything Apple does. They oversee from beginning to end, and control and integrate design into the whole Apple experience…from the case to the keys to the software…they even pay special attention to the design of the box so the unboxing experience is a special event in itself.

It struck me that we as churches should pay attention to this. I talked a while back about templates and orders, and how every church has a template even if they don’t realise it. But it is also incredibly important to have a central, horizontal design to our church services. What do I mean by this?

Service Elements and Orders

When putting a church service together, there are several different elements which are pieced together. They may include prayer, music, bible readings or liturgy, drama, announcements, an all age or kids section and a talk or sermon. We may include media, some sort of interaction, sometimes communion and a benediction. I am sure your services will have some or all of these elements at some point. But when it comes to putting them into an order of service, how do you approach it? Do you follow a similar pattern each week: welcome, song, prayer, song, announcements, sermon, song, prayer. Do you make an attempt to try and join the songs with the theme of the talk, or reading? Does your worship leader attempt to create a set which works together musically, in key, tempo and style? And who is in charge of putting this together: the service leader, the minister, the worship leader? Or someone in the office who types up the service order?

As you can see from the examples above, assembling service elements like this is a very vertical, blocky form of construction. We all know of churches who have the hymn/prayer/hymn sandwich as it is called. Which is not to say it is wrong. But if we took this horizontal design approach to all we do, I believe we can construct a much better order of service:

So the opening song or welcome or Opener sets the theme or background to the service…this transitions smoothly into the songs which are also transitioned musically into the next section…maybe a drama or media which illustrates or highlights a question which is going to be tackled in the talk. The talk answers the question and then leaves the congregation with a challenge…this transitions into a time of response…the band come to the stage during prayer and start to play…moving into an end time of worship, which finishes on a prayer or benediction and then an invite to personal prayer and/or coffee.

You can see this overview of a service (which is something you would experience most weeks at our church EBC) contains all of the elements mentioned above, but there is more of a horizontal thought as to how the different elements and sections fit together, link, interact and complement and support the whole message. Part of the reason Microsoft’s Zune never really took off was because it wasn’t a very appealing package….it played songs as well as the iPod, but didn’t look very good. Similarly there are many phones which look stunning, but the software embedded in them is buggy, counter intuitive and slows you down. This can be applied to websites, books, shop signs….and church services. Good design is pointless if it doesn’t work, and the best machinery, software and technology are pointless if no one understands how to work them. This is one of the reasons Apple do so well, as the design is thought about and integrated from the start, and again from the New Yorker article it is clear the involvement happens every step of the way through to completion.

1,000’s of possibilities

There are many different ways of putting a service together, and I don’t believe there is one “correct” way. However, I do believe with just small amount of horizontal design, and thinking this way from the start to the end, it is possible to make service orders, not matter what elements or style, far more impactive to the congregation who are attending them. And this is also easy to do if there is one person responsible for putting the order and elements together…be it a service leader, producer…whatever or whoever, just one person will be able to join the dots. This doesn’t mean they’re responsible for creating all of the elements…but they are able to have the horizontal overview and control.

So next time you’re putting together a service order, try to think of the whole experience from end to end…a horizontal design.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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