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Good Design Makes a Good First Impression

First Impressions Begin with Good Design

Good design helps the mind determine the quality of our content and message. The mind operates under two systems. System 1 is the automatic, unconscious part of our mind that is largely involuntary and is responsible for snap decisions, pattern recognition, memory recall, and it works quickly. The second system, System 2, is the slow, conscious, and deliberate part of the mind that deals with complex problems, strategy, and other high-level thinking. It is more focused and requires more energy. First impressions happen in System 1, and it’s automatic.

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he describes how these two systems work and the impact they have on a variety of disciplines.

I was introduced to his book by a keynote at a conference I attended. Tim Newton, the Executive Creative Directory for Ramsey Solutions, was talking about branding and how churches can better impact their communities with good branding.

I want to share a couple of key ideas from the book and how they impact design in the church. Good design matters if we want to make good first impressions.

The Mind in Two Systems

Our mind’s System 1 informs how we judge relevant information. When a user sees our graphics or website, ones brain quickly scans the information ruling out information that seems irrelevant. It quickly references memories and experiences and attaches emotional relationships to the design.

Because System 1 is so fast at making associations and judgments, these first impressions carry a lot of weight. This gut feeling is hard to overcome. When users are introduced to our Facebook graphic or announcement slide, they immediately assign feelings to the design. They are recalling colors, fonts, layouts, and looks from memory and identifying feelings and emotions that can be attached to our design.

If those attachments are good, then their minds will be more inclined to view the information and our church more favorably.

If, however, they attach bad feelings, then we will have a hard time overcoming those reactions.

These first impressions are vital in establishing good communication.

The quality of our designs will have an impact on first impressions. These first impressions cause our logical and conscious mind to determine credibility. The better our designs are, the more credible our church will be viewed as by our attendees and our community.

Impact on Design

How do we use this information to make better design decisions? Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when creating graphics, websites, or print materials that will take advantage of how System 1 works.

Return to the basics of design. Make sure you are holding to fundamental design principles. Don’t bend or break the rules unless there is a compelling reason.

Limit your colors to four in your design. Consider using primary, complementary, and corresponding shades in your design. A good design color palette will avoid negative impressions and the feeling of chaos. Make sure the colors have adequate contrast.

Limit font choices to two. Poor font choices in our designs are quick indicators of bad design. Choose a font that reads and communicates well. Then find a quality complementary font for subheadings or subtext. I generally recommend picking a font family and choosing a serif and sanserif version, or working with two different weights of the same font to add variety.

Embrace white space. Don’t overcrowd your designs because they will become cluttered. Our minds will begin erroneously labeling information as irrelevant. Give your content plenty of room to breathe. Let the eyes move across the design.

Using a grid layout will ensure elements follow a natural pattern for the eye. Make scanning the design simple by keeping elements aligned to a simple grid.

You Don’t Get a Second Chance. . .

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Our mind’s System 1 will be biased and have an emotional context already assigned to our work. If we are going to be able to effectively communicate the Gospel, our design process must be intentional and the finished deliverables must be well thought out.

The Gospel is the most important message we communicate. Our pastors work hard to study and prepare to preach the Gospel each week. As communication leaders in our churches, we have the responsibility to enhance worship and remove distractions. When you publish content to the web, distribute it to a podcast, or share it on social media, ask yourself, has the content been designed in a way that will give the minds of our guests a good first impression?


  • The automatic, unconscious part of our mind will make snap decisions about our designs.
  • Automatic associations and judgments carry a lot of weight and this gut feeling is hard to overcome.
  • Quality designs for church communication help with church credibility.
  • Good design adheres to the fundamentals. Don’t bend or break the rules without compelling reasons.
  • The Gospel is worth good design.

Good design matters.

Resource: [amazon_textlink asin=’0374533555′ text=’Thinking, Fast and Slow’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’churchcomms-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5a2acb67-8ba6-48ce-a16a-662a268d57ff’]




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