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When designers cry: A logo makes a bad impression

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash.
Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash.

Walk into a restaurant, convenience store or really... almost any location on the planet, and you’ll eventually come face to face with Coca-Cola® red. 

You may not even notice the logo itself. The ubiquity of Coca-Cola branding means that, for many of us, just seeing the color makes us thirsty. 

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In fact, it’s reported that 94% of the world can recognize the red used by the famous bottler. Whether seen on a billboard or a beverage, the logo is always the same. The words Coca-Cola are written in its trademarked script in pure white surrounded by CMYK 4,100, 95, 0. (That’s the technical color designation, also known as Pantone color code for designers.)

Similarly, other commonly identified brand colors are Walmart blue (CMYK 84, 54, 0, 0) and Starbucks green (CMYK 100, 0, 78, 42). 

The key to having that level of identity is consistency. 

Remember, branding is the emotional connection, experience and reaction to our public image as an organization. It’s how we look and talk to the world. A logo is the distinctive design element that identifies our organization and helps communicate the brand.  

The Starbucks logo is always presented in the same color with the same font, a customized type style. Not only is Starbucks consistent in the design of their logo but also with its branded experiences within the store: Notice their menu, business cards and price cards in the snacks case match. This consistency communicates the brand through text, imagery and color. 

Walk into most churches, and the branding story is quite different. 

Design elements may appear as if done on a whim instead of following through on a strategy. The look of materials may seem to reflect a wide variety of preferences. Flyers with unmatched designs, colors and fonts often fill brochure racks. The dreaded Comic Sans font, often loathed by designers, makes a regular appearance. The church logo may or may not even appear. If shown, the official logo color isn't used. 

This lack of consistency can come across as the staff being unprofessional. The elements intended to be inviting are unwelcoming. Church ministries reflect a lack of unity with no shared vision. Worst of all it can make a church experience forgettable as there wasn't a clear focus to remember. 

Avoid these practices to capture and keep people's attention. It'll also help you draw in more attendees including millennials and Generation Z.

To overcome the pitfalls of design doesn’t require a degree but simply setting standards and adhering to them. Taking the time to craft, explain and share the design strategy and branding can transform your communications overnight and make your ministry outreach noticeable for the right reason.

Logo standards

For some churches, it’s not a question of whether there’s a logo but which one to use. Over the years volunteers or staff armed with clip art and Microsoft Publisher may have created several options. 

Aim for higher design standards for your logo by:

The United Methodist Communications’ branding toolkit provides assets and guidelines needed to maintain visual consistency with the denomination’s brand and logo. These resources make it easy for local churches, annual conferences, general agencies and other denominational entities to adopt across our global connection more unified branding.

Most logos today are designed in two orientations to adapt to different layouts: wide rectangular or stacked, which are vertically aligned or square-ish.

Once designed, print the best copy of your logo (preferably an original high-resolution .jpg or .png) in varying sizes and in both black-and-white and color. Review them closely to make sure that every element is clear when minimized to a size most legible to a mobile device (200 pixels - 400 pixels wide), email signature (maximum height of 100 pixels) or printed on letterhead (300 dpi).

Color standards

Decide on a color scheme deriving from your logo. Consider two predominant colors (like green and blue) with an optional darker or lighter variant of one of those. List colors in a brand standards document that is shared with anyone responsible for design. You may also wish to include it as a link on your website's info page. Noting the RGB, CMYK, HEX and Pantone (or PMS) codes of your branding elements helps to create consistency across all of your church's promotional efforts and items (i.e. website, flyers and t-shirts). If you don’t know your color codes, upload your logo to this online tool for help.

Font standards

It’s time to trim back on fonts. Using too many conveys the feeling of a ransom note and dilutes attention.

Be guided by the fonts of your logo. If the original design file of your logo is unavailable, use the online tool What the Font! to identify which ones are used in a logo. 

Select only two font families (for example, Helvetica and Georgia) for everything. That’s right, only two. Everything. Every letter, every postcard, every PowerPoint slide, every visitor card and (definitely) every brochure will use — at most — two font families. Be mindful to stick to professional fonts. To make the best impression, you'll want to avoid outrageously hip (Bleeding Cowboys) or frivolous (Curlz or Comic Sans) fonts. 

Decide on and model in a sample within your brand guide what font variations are to be used. For example, 

  • Body text in Helvetica Neue regular 11 point
  • Headlines in Helvetica Neue regular 14 point 
  • Titles in Georgia bold 24 point 

Sub-brands

A sub-brand is a part of the overall brand that needs its own promotional elements. Although stemming from your church, this sub-brand identity can stand on it's own. For instance, your church may have an outreach ministry like a food pantry or foster parent closet that people identity with, yet know it's a part of the church's ministry. Critical to a sub-brand’s success is an easily identifiable family relationship. Anyone looking at the sub-brand should instantly recognize it belongs to the main brand through shared fonts, colors and logo. (Compare, for example, Diet Coke and Coke.) 

Churches may choose to develop sub-brands for age-related ministries, especially for children or youth. In these cases, be sure to use the church logo and name above the sub-brand’s creatives to make the connection explicit rather than implied.

Tagline

Your church may also wish to include a tagline or a brand promise. If so, include the standards that apply (font, capitalization and punctuation) and when (and where) the tagline should appropriately be present.

Communicate and (gracefully) enforce

If the standards you define are not communicated and enforced, consistency is lost. The elements affecting your identity matter and impact the church’s reputation, visibility and trust among the community. 

Pull together a brand guide, promote it and make it available to all leaders and members as a download and/or in print. Create an online folder where members can download fonts and high-resolution logos. The guide should explain and offer examples of each of the standards set for use of fonts, colors, logo, etc. Need inspiration? Use The United Methodist Church brand manual as a model for your needs.

Ease into the changes as new projects begin. Whenever anything is developed off-brand, have a grace-filled conversation about brand enforcement. Inevitably, print pieces will need to be reprinted and graphics redesigned, so it's important to proactively remind designers, staff and volunteers of the standards you've established.

A brand is more than a logo. Your church graphics matter and must be professional. To be visible in an increasingly design-savvy world, your church brand needs to establish and protect its standards. Don’t let a bad first impression prevent your ministry from reaching those who need it. 


Jeremy Steele

Jeremy Steeleis the teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.