Design vs. Development

8 comments | Posted: 19 December 05 in General, by Robert Evans

You may be thinking to yourself that this title, Design versus Development doesn’t make sense. You may be thinking that design and development are the same thing. After all, we as designers may consider ourselves as developers. However, I don’t think that churches adequately understand the difference between the two.

You may hear the familiar phrase “Wow! That website looks great!” A website may indeed look fantastic, but how does it function? Does it reach its intended audience? Is it cross browser supported? Is it accessible? Is the code semantically written for search engine optimization? Most importantly, how does the website fit the image of the church it is representing?


I feel too often churches look at websites and focus in on how it looks rather than how it functions for the church. To me, this doesn’t make much sense. Let me give you an analogy to better explain why I feel this way. When a church builds its physical building and designs its landscape, is it the sole focus of the church? Hardly. The real purpose of the church is not what you see from the outside, but what you hear on the inside, the Gospel Message being preached.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What type of work goes into effectively presenting the Gospel message each and every service? Are there microphones so that the audience can hear the message? Does the pastor prepare his sermon? Has the pastor been trained to preach? Does the pastor spend his time studying the Word of God and in prayer to effectively teach those who come to hear him speak?

How much of this is seen by the people who just take a glance at the church? Most likely these ‘behind the scenes’ preparations aren’t readily seen by the public. This is what I call the Development aspect. It is the preparation that goes into presenting the message of God effectively.

What does this have to do with web development? Everything. This simple analogy teaches us that what we don’t see, the preparation and the behind the scenes work that takes place is more important than the physical looks of the church itself. The Church lives and dies by the message, not the look of the building.


Now, let’s not get the wrong idea here. The design of the church and the landscape has their importance and place. The Design is what helps draw people to the church; it welcomes them in to attend the church and see what it is all about. I highly doubt that people would flock to a church, in America, that is beaten up and shows that no one takes care of it. The problem lies with the fact that we in America are driven by materialistic ideals. It is a fact that people, maybe not all, will judge a book by its cover, even without realizing it. I am not trying to condemn those who put an importance on the aesthetic appeal; rather I am taking the approach of being aware of the known, and using it to the church’s advantage.


The point that I am trying to make with this article is that design should never take priority over development and development without design doesn’t work either. A church should not simply look at a website that is created for them and say, “Wow! That looks great!” The church should respond by asking how does it function? Does it reach its intended audience? Is it cross browser supported? Is it accessible? Is the code semantically written for search engine optimization? Most importantly, how does the website fit the image of the church it is representing?

If a church’s website is:

—Then I say the website is a success!

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Natalie

    Awesome article as usual. You guys lead by example… great content first, then make it work, then make it look good. I imagine God created us in a similar way. We should be good at the core, then function to bring that goodness of Christ to the world. Then, as a bonus, God makes some people more appealing to certain eyes, but that doesn’t mean they’ve got good “content”. :D

  2. 2 Yannick

    Nice article Robert. I really wonder how many of the members of churches really ask the questions you mentioned? I think many are probably just happy they have a presence on the web and are not really concerned with some of the goals you mentioned like “reaching target audience”, “Accessible for all viewers including those who are disabled”.

  3. 3 Robert

    Thanks for the compliments all. It has bothered me that the Church sometimes seems to only notice the aesthetics of a website. Michael Boyink really got me thinking about more than just web standards for Church websites and to think about how it serves the Church and the community as well.

    So, Michael Boyink, thank you!

  4. 4 Andy Knight

    Having built a few websites for churches, I can tell you that most seemed more concerned with how it looked than how it worked. The conversations I have had with the decision-makers seemed to center more around what kind of colors and stock photos to pick than what vibe the actual text of the site was sending. Often, to keep costs down, they were willing to sacrifice having a site that was easily maintainable, but were more than willing to allow me to spend a few extra hours tweaking the design and colors. I wish they were more concerned over the copy and message of the actual text. Keeping a site fresh is critical. There is never a time when a site is “done.” It’s an ongoing communication tool. When you stop putting new content on the site, it communicates that you must no longer have anything worth saying. At which case you might as well pack it up and go home.

  5. 5 Brian Slezak

    Love this conversation, though I disagree a bit. I would site this article:

    How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility?

    The data showed that the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. For example, nearly half of all consumers (or 46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes.

    The study is dated, but still heavily referenced in boosting web site credibility. 10 tips are referenced here:

    In thinking over my own experiences, the look and feel of the site is first, and what it can do for me is second. I’ve worked site roll-outs, and can relate heavily to what Andy is saying. “Well yeah, we need to get functionality X working, but you need to line up that image and change that color right away.” ;)

    I’ve also seen some very un-functional sites with great designs – and the consumer loves it. Not what us programers want to hear, but we have to respect it.

  6. 6 Nathan Smith

    Brian: Hope you don’t mind, but I abbreviated the URL you posted, so that it doesn’t overflow the content width. By the way, here is a tutorial on how to make URLs into real links on Textpattern websites…

  7. 7 Paul Soucy

    This is an interesting article, as i continue on in my web development career it has hit me as truth; that as a whole, alot of what is discussed as theoretical musts as far as implementation and the balance between design and development on websites can only be practical realities when the clients involved understand them as well. People respond to what they see, not what is under the hood. Does the buyer of a Lexus care about how it runs? Hardly it is the sleek design and clever brand implementation that builds credibility in the mind of the buyer. Unfortunately this reality plays out in the world of web design and development as well. The almost universal assumption about webpages is that they function the same as print pages so when requests are made they are made with that assumption, and the continued use of tables and spacer gifs for several years cemented that assumption in the minds of everyone. The standards movement is reversing that trend, but it still has a long, long, friggin long way to go, it could get there if the most popular tools available FORCED you to design by using standards, but unfortunately that is not yet the case. The ultimate reality is that for the typical client they still think in terms of website appeal harking back to the days circa web 1990-2000, flash, spectacular imagery, etc… The trick is just to bite the bullet and find the line in the middle, the line Jeffery Zeldman takes in Designing with Web Standards is more suitable I think for reality. You must also take into consideration that there are deadlines and money involved, I have found that while on the long term standards save time and ultimately maintenance money they force clients to risk money up front by investing in your time for something that is hard for them to wrap their minds around. Its nice to get all preachy, and I love reading great articles about the how to’s and the musts we should be striving for, but I think for many, many web developers and designers out there in the trenches the hype is far from reality yet, due to circumstances far from their own control.

  8. 8 Michael

    Let me preface my comment with the simple fact that I’m much more designer than developer.

    First impressions are extremely important. Design must be well done, if it doesn’t look sharp it doesn’t feel sharp, my opinion of the company goes down, etc. Design, the look and feel of the site comes first…it is the first impression and sets the stage.

    Even the most beautiful site falls short if doesn’t do what I need it to do. Yes, I think it’s beautiful, I might even bookmark it, but I’ll probably rarely visit it.

    That’s why I split website creation in two, a designer designs and a developer develops it. I don’t want a builder to design my home, and don’t want an architect building my home.


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