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Friday, October 26, 2007

Ramblings on Design

I have had a handful of comments and conversations lately about the look and feel of Westwinds. We have always and we continue to pride ourselves on offering something special. We are a boutique of sorts—the kind of church you go to find that little something that no one else has in the area.

Warning: metaphors to follow. All metaphors break down at some point so give me some gracious slack.

In the world of local churches, we would much rather be compared to a wine and chocolate bar as opposed to an Applebee’s. Sure, Applebee’s has variety but, it doesn’t really leave you wanting more.

Sharper Image rather than a Wal-Mart. Sure, Wal-Mart has everything you might need in one spot but it also has things you will never need and you might end up tossing your hard earned cash at things you didn’t really need to throw in your cart but the beckoned to you like sirens because they were on the shelves and cheap so they must be good. (?)

Nintendo rather than Sony. Instead of trying to compete with the mass production and killer graphics of Playstation, we have the Wii. It’s for a niche audience. We’re glad our friends have Playstation though. We have fun sharing.

The Little Shop Around the Corner rather than Fox’s Books. You want to hang around TLSATC all day, drink organic fair-trade coffee, talk with friends, curl up on the sofa in the corner, watch the fire, listen to the great indie music, and leave with the handmade soap that was created by a local and sold at the counter.

The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor rather than The Staples Center. The Blind Pig broke Nirvana and Soundgarden in the Midwest. There is something about hearing great music in a venue where the beer is cheap and it is wall to wall with average people who came to see some amazing rock and roll in a personal environment—like hanging in your living room. And there is something special about the authenticity, the smell, the feel, the approachability and the access of a rock club. (Okay, sometimes the Blind Pig smells like urine—we opt for vanilla incense in its place).

Sushi rather than meat and potatoes.

Radiohead not Maroon Five.

The Deadliest Catch not Survivor.

Over the last three years we have trimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our budget. We have reduced spending in huge ways. We have established systems and protocol that did not exist prior to our inheritance of the budget. We feel very good about the time and energy and attention that have been given to the budget. When we lay our heads down on the pillow at night we can sleep. That is the positive side of things—checks and balances, reorganization, stewardship. Positive steps forward.

Then, there are those things that have been painful—laying off staff, cutting ministries, reducing spending where it doesn’t seem fair or even possible. Our staff has done an amazing job of being frugal.

In all of this, we are constantly asking good questions about “what goes” and “what stays” and “what can we live without” etc. In all the question asking, we have decided there are some things that would be “unwise” to cut back on because they are the things that make Westwinds . . . Westwinds. Our aesthetic, our art, our creativity, our “little something special” things are important to us. They are important because it is who we are but they are also important because that is what people know and love.

Recently, someone asked me about why we spend money on making cool books and postcards for our people in order to disseminate information. Why not print black and white on regular paper and save some money?” she asked. Fair enough. She has a great heart and it is a legit question when you are trying to save money.

We do spend some extra here and there on special things. Not a lot. But, yes we could save money on paper if we wanted. But the answer to my friends question lies in the way she posed the question and her understanding of what our printed material is designed to do. Her perception is Paper + Print = Information. Our goal is a more complicated equation along the lines of Paper + Print + Art + Information + Design + Intention + Mission x Months and Years / Taste and Commitment to Quality = Relate-ability, Familiarity, Consistency, Belonging, Ownership and Sense of Worth.

The latest issue of Fast Company has a great article on “Masters of Design” and features the insightful rhetoric of Yves Behar—CEO of fuseproject. Pick it up today and read it.

“Despite the rhetoric now in vogue across the corporate landscape, that kind of full-throttle engagement in which design plays a role in everything the customer sees and feels exists in only a handful of companies, Apple, Target, Proctor & Gamble, and Nike among them. Behar himself estimates that only about 1% of American companies really dig in on design, and that the rest ‘will be left in the dust by companies that do. Over time, they will fail to connect to consumers in a relevant way and become obsolete.’”

I was resisting this often used metaphor but . . . Apple rather than Microsoft.

(By the way, read “The Apple Way” by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank)

As much as we would like to believe the church is all about the “people” and not the “stuff”—if we are honest with ourselves, people choose a place to worship based on likes and preferences as well as relationship and mission. We could cut back in a few little areas like cool paper—more than we already have—but after a point we start to look different, feel different, and well . . .

If you take the frugality argument to its logical conclusion and cut back EVERYWHERE we possibly can . . . we could end up being very boring, no fun, non-relevant, and ultimately have the life sucked out of us. A place with no life and energy in its people is also a place where no one wants to attend or give to. And, we will ultimately cut our own throats.

Then, we will be forced to call a denomination and ask for money and change our name and start singing 500 year old songs and meet in a cafeteria and put up a sign in front yard that says, “this church is prayer conditioned” and pass out bulletins with clip art and have potlucks. I am only halfway joking.

In case you misread me and think I am talking about spending money to be cool that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our latest aesthetic cost us . . . $0. And, it looks like a million bucks. A commitment to resourcefulness, recycling, low cost, AND design are important to us.

This is a special piece of real estate with a special group of people with a special heart for the community and a special look and feel that is home—with a special look and smell—a boutique—a place unlike anything Jackson has ever seen. We want to protect that.


Anonymous said...

Love it! Love it!

Except you lost me at Radio Head verses Maroon 5.;-)