Web Design Worldview (Part 6): A Christian Web Design Manifesto

May 21st, 2008 in Web Design Worldview

by: Matthew Griffin

Just exactly how does a Christian worldview shape a web designer? Should it change the way he or she approaches ethics, style, or even layout? We've journeyed through a maze of worldviews in the last five articles rounding out our discussion with a look at the Christian worldview. But now we've come to the point. In this final article, the focus will be narrowed to the vocation of web design. In , I listed and explained basic Christian design principles derived from classic Christian thinking. In this article I'll build a practical model of a Christian web designer with those principles as the foundation. To start out, though, we need to define and discuss web design itself. That is where I'll begin.

Creative Convergence: The Paradox of Web Design

Web design truly is the cosmopolitan medium of creativity. Never have we seen a vocation reliant on such a diverse set of skills. This diversity is a paradox to the modern mind forcing it to break out of the function/form, left-brain/right-brain, math/art paradigm. The quintessential web designer looks and acts more like a product of the renaissance than post-modernism. You will catch him/her talking about Photoshop in one breath, and PHP in the next. Graphic design, layout, typography, literature, data, programming, music, video, animation, philosophy, sociology, and business are all the domain of the web designer. Categories that have been perceived as contradictory for over one hundred years are blurred in the web designer.

This concept is huge. As a culture, we may not realize what a monumental thought shift this is for another fifty years. But it's important for Christian web designers to recognize it now and see the opportunity that has been given to us. Classic Christianity has always seen the individual human being as a whole person—capable of learning, growing, and changing. We recognize that God has endowed each of us with specific talents. But as Christians we are to pursue sanctification of every part of our being—to be well-rounded. There should be no such thing as a "right-brained" or "left-brained" Christian per se.

A Picture of a Christian Web Designer

I wanted to insert a section here about analyzing web design through the Christian worldview lens, but it would have made the article entirely too long; so I'll be posting that part as a separate article in the next few weeks. Right now, I'm going to move on to a practical manifesto of Christian web design. What defines Christian web design?

A. Purpose Oriented

Web designers develop each website to accomplish a specific task, and for the Christian web designer, the legitimacy of the task is determined by our understanding of God's principles and purpose for life. Purpose is the core of Christian web design. As we hold fast to legitimate purpose as described by God, all style, layout, and spatial composition fall in line—all of these are subordinate to purpose.

B. Personal and Relational

I'm sure you noticed that, unlike modernism and post-modernism, I explained the Christian worldview through a narrative with personal and relational aspects. Christianity is personal. And because it is, so is our view of design and humanity. Fallen as we may be, all humans have the image of God stamped on their being and are the recipients of his common grace. The people in our "target audience" are not bits of matter to be manipulated. They are people.

C. Ethical

When we see web design as personal and relational, the road is naturally paved for web design as ethical. We have obligations to God and to his creation, and the foundation of these obligations is described in God's word in the form of moral law. The Christian designer should never act in a way that defames the name of God, and should never lend his/her talent to an immoral enterprise.

D. Excellent

Mediocrity has no place in the work of the Christian web designer. This is not to say that Christian designers should wait for perfection before attempting to enter the design market; only that there is no excuse for laziness and deliberately sloppy web design work. Ideally, our work should raise the standard of excellence in our industry.

E. Balanced

Balance is an integral part of the Christian worldview in every area of life. In his book The Micah Mandate, George Grant perfectly summarizes the concept of Christian balance when he says:

Biblical balance is more practical than pragmatism. It is more thoughtful than rationalism. It is more experienced than existentialism and more romantic than sentimentalism. It is more stable than conservatism and more progressive than liberalism.

A balanced web designer is one who doesn't let any one principle rule his/her work. Just as life is complex, web design is complex. The Christian worldview provides a complex (not complicated) grid of principles for making decisions, and allows for an almost infinite number of legitimate styles and approaches by which a purpose may be accomplished.

F. Progressive

Sanctification is the process given by God through which we are conformed to his revealed will and fulfill his purpose for the fullness of time. This process is seen in the life of the individual and in God's people as a whole as we move through history. As web designers, we are to continually improve our own skills by aligning them with best standards and practices in our vocation. At the same time we are to work to improve our vocation itself by proposing better and more effective best standards and practices. Since our eyes are on God's plan for all time, we make decisions and implement plans with proceeding generations in mind rather than only considering our own short stint on the Earth.


This brief manifesto has been carefully, prayerfully, and painstakingly assembled. But it is in no way the final word. I fully expect to make corrections and additions in the future, and would appreciate input from other Christian designers as to what those changes and additions should be. I will be keeping the most up-to-date version posted on the Worldview Center page from now on.

Again, I must give credit where credit is due. I didn't pull this list out of thin air. I'd like to cite The Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken, Total Truth by Nancy Pearcy, The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton, He is There and He is not Silent by Francis Schaeffer, A History of Graphic Design by Phillip Meggs, and Paradise Restored by David Chilton. Thank you to everyone who has stuck it out from the beginning of this series. I thank God for your perseverance and I believe that in him, truth will be made clear. To God alone be the glory.



Posted By: womens cufflinks on 05/21/08

"Mediocrity has no place in the work of the Christian web designer" I agree, it shouldn't be a deterent to someone that wants to give it a go.

Posted By: on 05/21/08

Disagreements aside, I can't praise this series enough for its resolve. Your conclusions, while to me are kind of like "duh, of course", are absolutely paramount in terms of availablility to your audience. You've done a good job and I'm sure you'll affect many.

Posted By: aliotsy on 05/21/08

This has been an excellent series. Thank you.

Posted By: on 05/21/08

Absolutely, aliotsy. Thanks for the great review on your site.

Posted By: on 05/21/08

M.joshua, thanks for sticking it out. I hope to expand on these concepts in the future.

Posted By: mike on 05/21/08

I read all articles, and I have to say they are very interesting. But I don't see the purpose of articles very clearly. Isn't the designer meant to be just somebody intermediate between client and end user, eliminating all his/hers personal believes? Incorporating Christianity design is personal (except if it suits the needs).

Posted By: on 05/21/08

mike, you raise a good question. The first step to solving this secular/sacred dilemma is rejecting the secular/sacred split altogether. When I talk about "Christian design" I'm not talking about design with religious content (although that could be Christian design as well); I'm talking about design that springs up out of a Christian worldview. Christian design doesn't necessarily preach the gospel explicitly. Rather it conforms to reality as described by God. The second step to solving the secular/sacred dilemma is realizing that there is no such thing as a designer who doesn't bring his/her beliefs to the design table. Even the belief that beliefs should be left at home is itself a belief (that's not confusing). Finite beings must assume. The very fact that we have a beginning requires it.

Posted By: Robert Burton on 05/22/08

Checkout this local Christain website: Http://messianicart.com

Posted By: mike on 05/22/08

Well, I understand what you mean with secular/sacred. Of course you can apply Christianity design to whatever you wish, and not just to religious content. What I was wondering was if it is always appropriate to apply Christianity design (in your case because of your believe)�for example, if you are designing a website for a worldwide company, which is hired by other companies. In that case you shouldn't design it like it has a personal feeling. Applying mostly modernistic design (which is more impersonal than Christianity design) is better, isn't it? Or if you are designing an international English website for a traditional Chinese poet�than you should incorporate at least partly Chinese worldview, to implicitly show visitors poet's worldview. In that example it is also not appropriate to apply Christianity design, and I am sure there are many more cases. I don't think working that way is designing with agnostic worldwiew, bringing agnostic beliefs to the design table. It's just applying what is the most appropriate in specific situation. (Thank you for your articles and I'm sorry for my English)

Posted By: on 05/22/08

Mike, okay, I understand. I think you are confusing style with worldview. A Christian may employ any style to accomplish a particular design objective (As long as that style doesn't in some way break God's moral law). For example, modernist design uses rational styles that are orderly and concise. There is no disagreement between this style and the Christian worldview. But when a Christian designer uses this style he/she does so as a reflection of God's Unity and order. The modernist uses it because he/she sees humans and mere machines. This disparity seems minute at first glance. But as the worldviews are worked out, the difference becomes more and more apparent, launching modernist design into absurdity while the Christian design remains balanced and appropriate�grounded in reality.

Posted By: mike on 05/23/08

OK, I see what you mean, and I didn't get this tiny difference, but now you explained it. Whole discussion was very interesting. Although you discussed only two additional worldviews :)

Posted By: Office 2007 training on 06/04/08

Its a surprise for me that christian worldview can be applied to web-design. Cognitive!

Posted By: Jon on 09/06/08

Matthew I just read the series straight through and it's great, really helped me to clarify and nail down a lot of things which we're disjointed in my understanding. Keep up the writing, I'll definitely check back in for your future posts :)

Posted By: Matthew Grffin on 09/16/08

Thanks, Jon. I'm glad you found it useful.

Posted By: Susan Moor on 09/22/08

This is a really interesting and helpful article and discussion, Matthew. Particularly as here in Britain Christians tend to be much more reticent and low-key. I'm a designer and a Christian. I'm studying for a masters degree, and one of my tutors has suggested I write an essay on design and religious belief. I'm intrigued by your comment in point A that all style, layout and spatial composition are subordinate to purpose. I rather feel that style, layout and spatial composition should come first, but be informed by the designer's worldview. Also I wonder if I could ask a couple of questions about how your beliefs affect your choice of work. Have you ever decided that you had to turn down a job because you felt it was wrong? And if a client approached you to do design work directly involving another faith, would you feel able to do it? I'll volunteer that I have turned down doing a logo design for a film whose message I disliked, and I'm not sure whether I'd feel qualified to do work on behalf of another faith.

Posted By: Matthew Grffin on 09/23/08

Thanks for the post, Susan. You bring up some interesting questions and I'll do the best I can to answer them adequately. Your first question about purpose is probably the most important so I'll start there. There are actually several levels of purpose. The highest level of purpose is general purpose and has to do with our view of the destiny of mankind as a whole and our personal role to play in that destiny. In reality, every action we take is in some way derived from this view. This is true for the atheist and the Christian alike. For example, If I believe that humans have no overarching purpose and nothing is left but the will to power, I will act differently than if I believe otherwise. This assumed purpose informs design as well. It is the a priori belief that makes all action possible. Granted, some designers shuck their view of purpose when they put on their designer hat, preferring instead a more practical approach that will keep putting food on the table. But, in my opinion, this is just further proof that their view of purpose is contrary to reality. The second level of purpose is the specific purpose of a work of design. For example, I receive a specific purpose when a client comes to me and says that he or she would like to reach an online audience with a message about a product. In order to effectively achieve this purpose, I will produce a website design that utilizes appropriate style, layout, and spatial composition. All of these elements are subordinate to the purpose of the design. In other words, a poor choice of style may result in a failure to fulfill the specific purpose of the design. Now since, I've already shown how all action is subordinate to some view the general purpose/destiny of mankind, you can see that specific purpose is actually subordinate to general purpose. This is a perfect intersection into the answer for your final question. If we are to live with a truly consistent and holistic Christian worldview, we should never agree to assist the accomplishment of a specific goal that is in conflict with our view of general purpose. So, to answer your question: Yes, I have rejected more than a few projects that would have forced me be inconsistent with my Christian worldview.

Posted By: Stephen Olmstead on 09/25/08

"...there is no such thing as a designer who doesn't bring his/her beliefs to the design table..." Well said- this is so incredibly true! We make judgements, choices, and actions all day long that are affected by our worldview. I really believe that a person's deviation to accept this concept is due to the fact that society has turned the term 'Christianity' into a brand name and not a way of life (worldview). Well said Matt!

Posted By: Doug C. on 06/09/09

If you want to work in the design field and adhere to the Word of God then you'll have to pick your clients accordingly. Otherwise you'll just be working for the man as with any other secular job.

Posted By: software programmer from Texas on 06/30/09

Web development services usually oriented on the people's needs - how to improve their life and provide them with new informational abilities. Internet is human-oriented network and that's why follows man's sins and virtues. One can create the web site like a church, but too few people can follow this idea. Usually web design services give the customers opportunity to become more successful in their material life, not transcended.

Posted By: Bill McEntee on 12/02/09

Thank you for tackling this subject. You brought many things into focus that I have been feeling on the subject. The Book of Kells and the Gutenberg Press both have a great deal in common with us at this hour. Civilization is thrust into a sea change by the new medium of the web, and there are people called to meet the new challenges in a pivotal manner.

Post Your Comment

Comments are closed.