Analyzing Web Design Through the Christian Worldview Lens

July 2nd, 2008 in Web Design Worldview

by: Matthew Griffin

Is there really a Christian way to analyze design? Can non-religious works of creativity still be considered Christian? What makes a design good or bad? If you're a Christian designer and you haven't considered these questions, you probably aren't analyzing design from a Christian worldview. More importantly, you're probably consenting to a broken worldview without realizing it. It's imperative that we understand the answers to these questions and apply historical Christian principles consistently and relentlessly to our design critiques. We do our creator a disservice when we allow ourselves to be ignorant of the unique and realistic view he has provided for us.

Breaking Out of One-Dimensional Thought

This is a trick question because it doesn't allow for the complex nature of design.

In most cases we are presented with a false dilemma when critiquing design. We are asked (or ask ourselves), "Is this design good or bad?" This is a trick question because it doesn't allow for the complex nature of design. There are multiple layers that must be taken into account when considering a work of design. And each of these aspects can be subdivided into an almost infinite number of sub-aspects. To further complicate the matter, the legitimacy of each aspect may hinge on some property of another aspect. This makes for a wonderfully complex rating matrix that is far beyond the scope of mathematical evaluation. Which aspect is most important? How should the aspects relate to each other? In reality, any human attempt at absolute precision in answering these questions is arrogant; but that doesn't mean we are left to complete relativism. Lack of absolute precision is not the same as absolute chaos.

The Big Three

Technical Merit

God's revelation of himself (the Bible) provides no specific guide to analyzing the technical merit of design. It does, however, tell us that God has gifted craftsmen with skills to produce technically excellent design. For example, in preparation for the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai, Moses explains that God has graced craftsmen with skills to perform the tasks necessary for the design of the articles prescribed by God. This narrative demonstrates  that design talent is the gift of God. But the lack of detailed directions shows us that the design community has been left to develop it's own set of technical markers (stemming from a biblical view of order and diversity, of course). When analyzing design for technical merit, we should look to the standards of the design community for guidance.


The effectiveness of a design can be determined by starting with the designer's original purpose. The question we should ask is, "Does this design effectively accomplish what it was meant to accomplish." Style, content, layout, and information architecture all play a role in the effectiveness of a design. A work may be technically excellent and at the same time completely inappropriate with regard to effectiveness. For example, a dazzling Flash-based home page would be out of place on Even if the design was exceptional from a technical perspective, it would fail the effectiveness test.

Moral Quality

I cringe every time I hear of a Christian designer applauding creative work simply because it's "Christian".

The moral quality of a design is perhaps the most important quality we, as Christians, should observe and analyze. Moral quality has a way of supporting or eroding the other two aspects of design. A designer with no sense of moral quality will more easily slip and slide in the areas of technical merit and effectiveness. Still, the moral quality of a work should be separated out and analyzed apart from these aspects. A work may be both technically excellent and effective but completely immoral. On the other hand, a work may be moral but technically lacking and completely ineffective. I cringe every time I hear of a Christian designer applauding creative work simply because it's "Christian". Mediocrity is not Christian. These undeserved kudos perpetuate mediocrity in Christian designers and completely miss the other aspects of creativity ordained by God.

Our analysis of the moral quality of a design can be summed up in two questions:  Will this design, or the means by which it is created, cause or entice someone to sin? And does this design proceed from a biblical worldview? These are tricky questions (especially the first one), which is why it's important that Christian designers have a well-developed, biblical understanding of reality and creativity.

Preparing to Critique

It's not enough to know what the three basic aspects of design are. If you want to analyze design correctly, you must continually expand your knowledge of these aspects. Start out with solid worldview training. Once you have a clear, cohesive, Christian worldview, you will be able to intelligently discuss the moral quality of just about any creative work. Growing up, my parents made a point of discussing the worldview of the creative works our family consumed. From movies, to books, to songs; worldview was always out on the table for discussion. As a result, my siblings and I developed a confidence in God and the ability of Christianity to answer any question that was thrown our way. My children will enjoy the same discussions. If you're interested in pursuing worldview study, you can go to the Worldview Center page on this site and start with the list of articles at the bottom of the page.

Next, you need to be versed in the technical aspects of design. Know your grids and your guides, your typography and your tracking; and know the history of your craft. I think I've recommended Phillip Megg's A History of Graphic Design before, but I'll do it again. It's a great place to start. Don't settle for "That looks good to me." Unguided self-expression is the pathway to nothingness. You should know your stuff.

Finally, it's important that we are able to read and understand our present culture. That's the only way we will be able to rightly assess the effectiveness of a design. I'm not in any way denying the existence of a human condition that transcends time; I'm only pointing to the fact that each generation develops new and different ways to communicate this condition.

Presenting the Critique

When discussing or analyzing a design, we shouldn't neglect any of the three aspects of design. We have a tendency to focus on what we consider the secular aspects and leave the the moral aspect at home (or vice versa in the presence of Christian friends). By doing this, we are admitting that our Christian worldview has no place in the world at large. Keep yourself from falling back into the one-dimensional trap by avoiding sweeping generalizations like "Ooo! That's just bad!" Take the time go through the big three. Do it consistently. As I mentioned in the section about moral quality, we must be equally vigilant to guard technical excellence and effectiveness. It's just as wrong to give praise without a caveat to a design that's technically lacking as it is to one that's immoral.



Posted By: CK on 07/02/08

Your comment in "technical merit" state: "...we should look to the standards of the design community for guidance." What are some examples of standards you are referring to?

Posted By: Timothy Long on 07/02/08

Nobody else is writing this kind of stuff. Keep it up!

Posted By: Matthew Grffin on 07/02/08

Thanks, Timothy. Great website, by the way. CK, I have quite a few blogs and other resources on the "Resources and Study" page that I would consider web design industry leaders. A List Apart and Happy Cog especially seem to be at the forefront of what's happening in web design. For design in general, I like to look at the design that has stood the test of time. It's easy to get sucked int ephemeral design styles and forget the historical principles of design. I've said it before but Phillip Megg's History of Graphic Design is a great guide to the development of design. As with all of my suggestions, though, it's important to keep an eye on the overall worldview of any leader you are following so you can separate the legitimate technical advice from the spin.

Posted By: J on 07/03/08

I'm curious, do you practice what you preach? Can you tell me in details, how your site is "moral?"

Posted By: Jason Cochran on 07/03/08

Perception of Reality and Reality are two totally different things. The same thing can be said of one's own understanding of their worldview. How do you know for certain that your worldview is correct and in alignment with your own beliefs (not just you, but in general)? Belief requires that you believe. How do you know an act is truly good or evil when in reality it is not (either or neither or both); when an act can certainly can be either skillful or unskillful without exception. The human mind can never fully realize reality; and God for that matter. It is a good thing that we have religious works such as the Bible for without them there would no way of understanding. I think this is because God is beyond thought. Does moral obligation not come from your own self preservation and not solely from the divine? "Don't do on to others..." is the correct translation.

Posted By: Matthew Griffin on 07/03/08

J, good question. I'm glad you asked. For the sake of space, I'll start by assuming morality as God defines it in his word. Moving on from that, there are two primary aspects of this site that can be evaluated for moral quality. The first and easiest is its explicit content�the writing. The explicit content on Mirificam Press assists web designers in fulfilling their vocation�a God-ordained activity�in a way that conforms to the principles of morality and reality described by God. The implicit content on the site�the design, layout, etc.�is a little trickier because you must consider the intent of the designer. My intent in the design Mirificam Press is to use the tension of unity and diversity to organize the explicit content of the website in a way that clarifies and beautifies. Paradoxically, an exact replica of this site intended for (or proceeding from) ungodly purposes would be considered immoral. In the same way, a jumbled and discombobulated design that is intended to show how diversity without unity is chaos, could be considered moral. In all cases, intent is the key. Technical merit and effectiveness must be considered separately.

Posted By: Matthew Griffin on 07/03/08

Jason, I'm about a centimeter away from agreeing with you.

Posted By: Chad on 07/04/08

Great piece. I've never laid out such an explicit thought on how my work glorifies God, when as a Christian, that should be how I do everything. As if I were doing it unto Christ. Thanks for the food for thought.

Posted By: rizzi on 07/05/08

:) man, this is some text, really food for thought. Am kinda agnostical, but nonetheless, good article

Posted By: Jermayn on 07/10/08

I think most Christians fail in one main things when they design graphics or websites etc. Who is the TA (Target Audience)? Is the TA church goers or is the TA non-church goers (sinners, the lost or whatever you want to call them).

Posted By: Seo Yarismasi on 04/27/09

Great piece.

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