Web Design Worldview (Part 1): Why Worry About Worldview?

April 16th, 2008 in Web Design Worldview

by: Matthew Griffin

Most of us have no idea where we stand in the marketplace of worldviews. Our sense of purpose and direction is like a convoluted cafeteria tray of ideas and opinions picked from an all-you-can eat buffet. In the case of the designer, this is especially unfortunate as worldview can be a major factor in our design decisions. In my recent article Function vs. Form: Rescuing Design from Insanity I lightly touched on the issue of worldview development, but a topic this important deserves a much more detailed treatment. This article is the first in a six part series explaining and developing the concept of worldview—specifically worldview as it informs the practice of design. By the time I'm finished, you will be able to make much more deliberate design decisions stemming from a unified overarching worldview.

What Is a Worldview?

Ultimately, I'm headed for an explanation of a Christian worldview applied to design (even more specifically, web design). But design is a cog on in a complex machine. We may study the cog, discuss its shape, count its teeth, measure its diameter. But apart from the machine, the cog is absurd. We need context. What is worldview?—its history, its components, common modern worldviews. I'll assume nothing and start at the beginning.


A worldview is the totality of a person's perspectives on the spheres of life. It's not about ethics, or vocation, or philosophy, or science—it's the whole thing. When everything is added up, it's the sum of the parts. This sum forms a giant grid through which all a person's decisions are made. This grid isn't necessarily a cohesive unit. A person with a disjointed worldview may borrow grid pieces from a variety of contradictory sources and apply them to different situations. But all well-developed worldviews begin by answering three foundational questions. How did we get here? What's wrong with us? And how can we fix it? Once these questions are answered, the rest of the worldview follows.


For example, Karl Marx would set up his worldview by saying that we got here through the process of material evolution. We messed up when private property entered the scene. And we can fix it by revolting against capitalist governments and ridding ourselves of the evil of private property. Everything else follows the leader (no pun intended).

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, also begins with biological and social Darwinism. She equates the rise of Christian morality with the fall of man. And she finds the antidote in sexual liberation.

Examples like these could fill a book but this should give you a sufficient starting point for worldview recognition. Don't think you have a worldview? Just because you haven't (or refuse to) answer the three worldview questions doesn't mean you don't have a worldview. It just means you'll be reaching into someone else's worldview toolbox when it's time to make decisions—someone who has answered the questions.

The History of Worldviews

Worldviews throughout various historical periods and cultures have been divided into two parts, labeled by Francis Schaeffer the upper story and lower story. The upper story holds answers to the mystical side of humanity (art, music, beauty, love). The lower story holds the rational side of humanity (function, math, science, logic). Pure worldviews attempt to either unite the two stories or demolish one of them (We'll explore two pure worldviews in the next two parts of this series). Broken worldviews, on the other hand, make an irrational leap from upper to lower story and vice versa depending on the situation. We will discuss this in the fourth part of the series analyzing the most common worldview of the day—the hybrid worldview.

How Is a Cohesive Worldview Developed?

Developing a mature, cohesive worldview is a lifelong process, and one well worth enduring. Answering the three worldview questions and understanding the upper/lower story split is just the first necessary step. The challenge then becomes extrapolating that overarching worldview to cover the diverse spheres of life and all the complex questions they present. Design happens to be the sphere we are most concerned with here, but in reality worldview affects every sphere. Whole books (in fact whole series of books) have been written on developing worldview. I barely have enough room in a six part series to discuss worldview in design, but if you're interested in developing worldview in all spheres, I recommend reading Nancy Pearcy's Total Truth or anything by Francis Schaeffer.

How a Worldview Affects Design

Analyzing and developing worldview in design is actually pretty easy because it's one of the most philosophically expressive acts of creativity—second only to fine art in my opinion. Its leading practitioners have always been aware of their ideologies, and religious about applying them to their work. This relieves us of the difficult process of tracking down and extracting basic worldview premises from the work of the design movements we will be discussing. One thing is for sure, designers and design movements that know their worldview and act on it are world changers. They have a unified target at which to aim their efforts and they fly like an arrow for a bullseye.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Again, with our ultimate goal being the development of a Christian worldview in design, we will start by analyzing three other common modern worldviews. First we will take a look at modernism and postmodernism—two important philosophies gone worldview that have dramatically affected design in the modern era. We'll dissect them and take a look at the pros and cons of the application of those systems in various design disciplines. Then we'll move on to the hybrid modern/postmodern worldview. And finally, we'll get to the full-fledged Christian worldview.

Before we proceed, though, I want to be clear (and I will stress this several times throughout this series) that I am in no way claiming that Christians are the only real designers, or even the best designers (though we should strive to be). God's common grace has allowed all of humanity to participate in creative acts. Many times effective, beautiful design comes from designers and design movements with a broken or problematic worldview. We have to learn to recognize the worldview and then separate that from the work so we may appreciate its admirable qualities.



Posted By: Wes P on 04/16/08

Thanks Matt. I'm really looking forward to the rest of this series. You have me intrigued as does that book by Nancy Pearcy.

Posted By: on 04/16/08

Glad, you're finding it useful, Wes. I'll be posting the rest of the articles every Wednesday for the next five weeks.

Posted By: E. I. Sanchez on 04/18/08

Matt, This is an interesting concept, sort of the 1 ton gorilla in the room. We all have our worldview and it affects everything we do - including design. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. Edgar.

Posted By: Matthew Griffin on 04/18/08

Thanks, Edgar.

Posted By: on 04/18/08

Bonus! I'm amazed that I find another designer blogging about this subject; especially in a predominantly "professional" forum. As a fellow student of pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern worldviews, I eat this stuff up. Similarly, I'm always seeking for ways to communicate this message in a compelling and fruitful way (I find that this is part of the "sex" category in the "sex vs. cash" feud). I blog about hot-button topics that I barely care about and I get a million comments. I blog about things that really matter to me like this and nobody comments. Nevermind that we'll possibly disagree as I come from a Messianic Jewish background, I'm now officially subscribed and I look forward to discussing more with you..

Posted By: Matthew Griffin on 04/18/08

Thanks. Glad to have you here, M.joshua.

Posted By: Joshua Clanton - Design for the WEB on 04/23/08

Looks like this will be a pretty interesting series. I'm sure I will disagree with some of it, since I tend to look at things from a Catholic rather than Reformed perspective. But I'm definitely interested in seeing what you have to say.

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