Environmental Graphics and Story Telling

For some of you, the term “environmental graphics” may be foreign or one that you have not heard used in a church context.  I hate to admit it, but I was not aware of its meaning, use and significance until a few years ago.

In short, Environmental Graphics address the visual aspects of wayfinding, communicating identity & brands, information descriptors, and shaping a sense of place. The word environmental refers to graphic design as part of creating the built environment, not to the natural environment. So this has little or nothing to do with “environmentalism” or being a tree-hugger…unless that is the story your environmental graphics intend to convey.

To many churches, when they hear this term, immediately think “kids theming”. You have all seen the planes hung in kids spaces or half a fire truck that looks like it is driving through the wall or Noah’s Ark with animal heads peering through portholes.  And while those are definitely a component of this subset of story telling, it is not the only area of your campus where environmental graphics convey story.  In fact, I believe that it is a little disingenuous to have a kids facility/building/wing/etc. that is pimped out with the balance of the campus being passé?  I understand that your target market may be families with young kids, so having your kids space scream KIDS is congruent with your vision.  But don’t forget their parents…again…or your guests.

Environmental Graphics are not just for church.  Take a look at the collage below and tell me if you recognize the location by these images (HINT:  If you are a traveler, you may have an advantage).

Do you see a theme?  Is there something that jumps out at you…a story that these images are communicating?   Any guesses as to where these images are from?  If you are an HHonors member, it should be pretty simple…HILTON GARDEN INN.  They are communicating a story about a garden…their tag line is “Welcome to the GARDEN”. The story starts as you approach the front door…enter the lobby…even the carpet in the corridors has the same story telling theme. In keeping with this story,  their logo on their website has a vine growing.  All of the visual elements above, and so many more, are examples of environmental graphics that communicate a story.  I can assure you, that as a weary traveler, when I see the images of vines growing on the the front door, or the park like setting off the lobby, I begin to relax and become transformed mentally and emotionally.  These kinds of customer/guest-centric businesses know that the environment and the sense of place is an asset to their guests.

“The environment and the sense of place is an asset to their guests.”

 They have been intentional about setting an environment that is welcoming, warm and “familiar” all while communicating a story that guests relate to and regulars are comforted by.

Our guests see these kind of environments in many of the places they hang out and visit.  It is part of their every day life and culture.  The church does not have be the “world”, but lets not be so different in our built environments that guests are put off before they ever have a chance to hear the good news of Christ. Being intentional with creating an environment is as critical as determining how many seats you need in the worship center. Don’t miss this opportunity to impact people.

Check out our book, Why Church Buildings Matter. Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. This book will reveal how to maximize your church facility to share the greatest story ever told, the gospel.

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