Designing Experiences With Fewer Obstacles

Just because something must be functional does not mean it cannot be well designed. Design comes in many forms, and can be applied where and when you least expect it. Often it is just a small tweak to an existing design that can improve the ease of use. Seek out opportunities to better design an experience for your congregation and visitors. Here is an observation of two trash bins at fast food restaurants and how we can apply those lessons to a church website.

The Problem

I enjoy road trips. I like listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and music. Regardless of what is playing on my stereo, one thing is a given while on the road; fast food. I try to eat healthy most of the time, but I let those rules slide when I am on a road trip. During a recent trip, I stopped at two fast food chains; Taco Bell and McDonald's. Each had garbage bins designed to solve one specific problem. They did not want people to throw away the food trays. I do not know how many people do this, but regardless they wanted it stopped.

The Difference in the Solutions

They solved this problem by making the receptacle opening smaller than the tray. The elegance of the better design is what caught me. Below is a photograph of the two bins. In case you are wondering, yes I stood in a fast food restaurant and took photos of the trash bins.

The trash bin for McDonald's was quite awkward to use. Much of the trash I attempted to dump into the bin ended up on top rather than inside. Based on the shape, I assumed the best place to put the tray was in the middle. This left a wide gap beneath that was not used. Plus it left very little space on top for trash to enter. Wrappers on the far left or right of the tray did not have enough space to enter. Thus a lot of trash ended up on top of the unit. Plus, with the correct angle and a little shove, the tray could still fall into the bin! It was frustrating and ineffective.

Taco Bell's design had two major differences. It used a circular cutout instead of an oval. This may seem less useful because it is less obvious how to hold the tray when dumping trash. Yet the second design element makes that completely irrelevant. The black metal piece has a downward slope. Any refuse dropped into the bin that land on the black metal space goes right in. Not one single piece of trash had to be knocked in with my hand. Plus the round opening was at least an inch smaller than the tray. It was effective and helpful design.

So what?

Right about now you are probably asking, "That's interesting, but how does this apply to my church's digital assets?" Three content areas come to mind. All have the potential to have a good design that have flaws baked into them.


What information are you asking for, and is it essential? Do you really need to know someone's street address when they sign up for an email newsletter? Is the tab order correct so users can easily tab to the next item. Design and code the form so it is as easy to use as possible. Then design the form so it asks only the most essential information.


Design your content with your reader in mind. Lay out text on the page so it is easy to read. This means not cramming everything onto one page, or worse, at the very top. Tell a story. Avoid looking like the fast talking person at the end of a commercial. Your content will be more effective and your users will be happier.


How can you design your content for mobile experiences? You should not hide large blocks of content such as your tenants of faith. Yet displaying a large flat list of your beliefs is not the best approach. Take a cue from the web's premiere content producer, Wikipedia. Their mobile experience turns walls of content into collapsible sections of headings and subheadings. It is easy to scan, and easy to dig down deeper.

Action Item

Never stop looking for inspiration. I found it in two garbage bins. See how design influences how something is used. Then take that principle and apply it to your digital ministries. The more you look, the more you will see. Pray over those observations and share your thoughts with your team.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Earle

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.