There's a pretty influential industrial designer named Dieter Rams. He designs stuff... physical possessions that cost far more than I'd be willing to spend. Regardless, in industrial design circles, he's kind of the man. He's famous for writing The Ten Commandments of Design, and for designing this radio. You can find these all over the net; here is the copy I'm working from.
So what if we assumed, just for the sake of discussion, that Good Design didn't just function for making stuff to fill your home, but also for making ministry decisions that really impact lives? What if design wasn't just an attribute of our objects, but also of our ministry? What would that look like?
So without further ado, I present the first three of Rams' Ten Commandments. Feel free to substitute his use of "product" with your ministry arena... "youth ministry,"
"Sunday morning worship," "small groups ministry," whatever. Take a look... what do you think?
1. Good design is innovative.
It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.
What if your youth ministry did not copy existing forms, but also refused to produce novelty for the sake of novelty? What would it take to make your class really innovative?
2. Good design makes the product useful.
A product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose – in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product.
All of my theologian friends know that Paul declares all Scripture to be God-breathed... much ink has been spilled on that one. What's less clear to many, though, is how all Scripture can really be "useful," or that Paul would consider the utilitarian function of Scripture to be one of its highest attributes. The Bible isn't just a good book full of truth... it's also USEFUL! I am sick unto death of useless ministry. One of the things I love about my church is that we don't have much of it. But how do we ensure that the stuff we design is useful? What makes something useful?
3. Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product – and the fascination it inspires – is an integral part of its utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality, for two reasons.
Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people.
Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion.
Ain't that the truth. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder... a worship set that one person loves feels overproduced to the next; a room setup that one finds inviting another finds pretentious. "Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to." But how to gain the "years and years of experience" without going through them? How do you accelerate that process other than to make lots and lots of mistakes?
That's plenty long, for now. In parts 2 and 3 we'll tackle the rest of Deiter's 10 Commandments, but I can't be the only one thinking that he has far more to offer than how to build a better toaster. I'll end with a quote from my Reader:
If it’s a good idea and it gets you excited, try it, and if it bursts into flames, that’s going to be exciting too. People always ask, “What is your greatest failure?” I always have the same answer — We’re working on it right now, it’s gonna be awesome!