Designing for Experience Blog Feature
Derek DeGroot

By: Derek DeGroot on August 01, 2013

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Designing for Experience

Church Design

So often it gets lost on us that everyone who enters our buildings—whether it's their very first time or their hundredth—has an experience that is either enhanced or diminished by their surroundings. Buildings aren't neutral; their alignment with your DNA (or lack thereof) impacts that experience.

So if we acknowledge this, how can we design for it?

1. Lock Stock and Barrel

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, is fond of saying "Retail is detail," which should be learned by churches as well. Buildings, in their aggregate, display an ethos. They give off a feeling. That ethos is created by the choices we make, from the building's materials and shapes to the types of furniture, and the colors, smells and patterns in between. It's a matter of intentionality, being mindful that every choice (no matter how small) we make impacts the experience of someone in our building. For churches, this helps us shape our priorities. Knowing what to cut out is just as valuable as knowing where to start.

2. Design Surprises

Sometimes, positive experiences revolve around seeing a memorable detail, something we haven't seen before, or something so clever we have to take a picture and share it. The responsibility is on the church to come up with something this unique. Is it an attention-generating landmark? Some community artwork? The latest technology? Is it something as small as the hand dryer or the soap dispenser? If we can get people to think, "I've never seen that before," then we've won the emotional game. That response will trigger positive emotions that will reinforce their experience in our place. Creativity always garners positive perception.

3. Leave Your Imprint

Here's the rub. All of the above can't be pretentious. It has to be an authentic representation of who you are. That's the most difficult part of creating experience, the inability to steal a desired look or feel from another source. Our DNA has to be expressed uniquely, and we have to let people feel "our community." People, especially young people, have a great distaste for what they deem incongruent or inauthentic. They want the church to be who they say they are, and the building is one tool to help them understand this. If we harbor the belief that we are a body of believers, that needs to be reflected in the built environment in which we gather. If we pride ourselves in community outreach, that needs to be understood upon entering the facility. That congruency builds trust, and trust always plays a positive role in experience.


About Derek DeGroot

Derek DeGroot is Vice President of Design and Integrated Services for Aspen Group. After graduating from University of Illinois-Chicago’s architecture program, Derek began his career in residential design. At the same time, his church was embarking on a building project. Derek quickly realized that churches needed to find a better way to build. Soon after, he discovered and joined Aspen Group in 2007.