One of my favorite bands I listened to as a teenager was Joy Electric. Their sound was a unique mixture of synthesizers, airy vocals, and poetic lyrics. They had a unique sound all their own, especially in the 90’s Christian music scene. My cousin, however, hated them, and usually referred to their albums as “crazy Nintendo music.”
One of the things that intrigued me most about them was how they limited themselves while recording their earlier albums. For example, they would only use a Roland System 100 synth. This limitation forced creativity, resulting in some really spectacular albums that most would find hard to believe was created using a single, analog synth from the 70’s. My cousin still hates them.
We know very well that a holy lifestyle will create boundaries in our life, and there is comfort in those boundaries. I find the same to be true about boundaries in design. By limiting myself to type only, I have already narrowed down my approach to the design. This is by far my favorite way to build a sermon graphic. It is especially helpful if you find yourself having to build your tiles “on the fly.”
Just because you have limited yourself to a type-only approach doesn’t mean there aren’t some very important decisions to be made. You still need to determine a typeface, sizing, spacing, and, of course, composition. I would suggest using a maximum of two fonts on any sermon graphic. Choosing a secondary font for the speaker name is just as important as the main font. Find a typeface that will compliment your main font. Your font choice can make or break your design, so this will take some experimentation on your part.
If you are just getting started with designing sermon graphics, I would also recommend limiting yourself by having just a few fonts activated on your system to keep from becoming overwhelmed with choices. Additionally, installing/activating too many fonts can result in your computer taking a performance hit, and comes with the risk of font conflicts (making your system unstable). While there are free utilities, such as Apple’s Font Book, available for font management, I recommend Suitcase Fusion from Extensis.
The question I am asked most often when discussing sermon tile design is where I find fonts. There are many font resources out there, and many, such as dafont.com fontsquirrel.com, are free. There are several advantages to using free fonts, but the number one reason? They’re free. (Enough said.) A major disadvantage is that these sites tend to be saturated with many low quality fonts that can lack proper kerning (the space between letters) which will make your design suffer.
There are also paid font services such as myfont.com and, my personal favorite, losttype.com. You don’t have to spend a fortune purchasing fonts. You can find some really great fonts in the $10-30 range.
The second question I am asked most often is how I choose which fonts to use. I usually make my font choice based on the “mood” of the message. An upbeat, “Holy-Ghost-power” message might require a strong san-serif font such as Gotham or Trade Gothic. An uplifting, faith-building message might use a serif font or modern script font such as Wisdom Script.
I highly recommend reading Matthew Butterick’s free eBook, Typography in Ten Minutes. In it he claims “If you learn and follow these five typography rules, you will be a better typographer than 95% of professional writers and 70% of professional designers.”
A few tips to keep your typography-based design on the right track:
Choose the most important word, or words, in the message title and build your design around it. You can emphasize these words by adjusting color, size, and font style.
Less is always more. Learn how to use white space to your advantage. Your sermon tiles should compliment the message, not take center stage.
Once you have finished your typography composition, choose a background color, gradient, or pattern that will fit the message. You can also try experimenting with putting the text on an angle, skewing the type, or, if the design warrants, adding a texture to the type.
Limiting yourself to type-only design is a great way to stretch your creative muscles, and perhaps force you out of your comfort zone. These tips should get you on your way to creating great type-based compositions, and I’d love to see some of your examples in the comments!
Dale McBroom is a freelance Graphic Designer from Knoxville, Tennessee. He has been happily married for almost 6 years, has 2 kids, and currently serves as the Multimedia Director for First Apostolic Church of Maryville.