Observations from the Unitarian Universalist website scan

Some notes from my quick survey of Unitarian Universalist websites. This speak to the broad middle in quality; I’ll be writing about the really amazing ones and some deeply problematic habits another time.

  • Unitarian Universalists sites make little use of web fonts, which is unfortunate as Google makes many families available free of charge. (This blog uses two.) Noteworthy exceptions:
  • And yet much too much Papyrus.
  • Congregation size (or influential pastor) is no guarantee of a high-quality site; some very small congregations punch above their weight (or some other sports metaphor.)
  • Unitarian Universalist sites are prone to be wordy — a shocker, right? — and many seem to value long lists of service and newsletter archives. On the front page. Why?
  • Many sites are not suited for mobile devices; I’ll keep harping on that one.
  • Lots of sites independently designed, I’m guessing locally; most of these are reasonably well designed.
  • There was an obvious shared effort in collaborative web development in past; will try to track down the initiators.
  • The “off center cross” appears on three Unitarian Universalist sites, all of Universalist origin:
  • Also, more use of the 2005 “flytrap chalice” than I would have guessed.
  • Lots of Weebly sites. Also some WordPress.com ones, but fewer Google sites that I would have anticipated. All, at a basic level, are free of charge.
  • Saw some Drupal installs — which will power the new UUA.org site — even for churches too small to make the best use of it. Surely hobbiest interest; been there myself — and turned back.
  • Installation photos seem to be a thing as a front page image.
  • Massachusetts sites tend to feature the prominant meeting-house photo, and also tend to be better designed overall. Those areas with fewer Unitarian Universalists, in my impression, have poorer sites overall. That deserves a rescan.
  • Mozilla style guide inspiring to read

    With all the recent talk about the new Unitarian Universalist Association visual standard, it was a pleasure to run across another way of approaching the task. Mozilla, who produces the popular Firefox browser, has its entire style guide available for review on its website. You can also download its open-source standard font, Open Sans. It’s full of interesting design choices, and it just makes me feel better about Firefox.

    The whole suite might inspire a design-forward congregation to adopt similar parts of a standard for its own branding. A cmmon font free to share would be a plus, and congregations would also benefit from templates for often-used documents.

    Double circle symbol for you to use

    OK, the flaming nectarine was a bit of fun, but here’s something that might be more useful. The linked, double circles are an older emblem of the Unitarian and Universalist consolidation, and deserve some attention, at least in “communion of the churches” settings. It uses the gradient standard of the new UUA visual identity.

    Double ring logo, CC-BY Scott Wells

    You are welcome to use, modify and share this symbol, even commercially, provided you acknowledge me. This licence applies to the ready-to-use PNG and the better-for-making-derivative works SVG, downloadable below.

    You may acknowledge me in words or by a link back to this particular post.

    If in words, and because it is a small symbol, the acknowledgment may be inconspicuous, on a colophon or acknowledgements page, or in an alt tag.

    Please use this form: CC-BY Scott Wells

    Creative Commons License
    Double ring symbol by Scott Wells is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
    Based on a work at http://boyinthebands.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/dual-rings_gradient.png.

    Creative Commons License
    Double ring symbol by Scott Wells is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
    Based on a work at http://boyinthebands.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/dual-rings_gradient.svg.

    This blog in five themes, on my phone

    So, continuing the thread about the “twenties” default WordPress themes, I thought I’d see what this blog would look like in an untouched version, Twenty Ten to Twenty Fourteen. (I’ve already tweeked Twenty Thirteen for this blog, and while I adore each of you, I’m not reverting it for this blog post.)

    I chose this blog so I wouldn’t be thought to be picking on (or praising) a particular congregation. Will pick up on what this may mean later.

    2014-02-22 17.39.08
    Mobile view of this blog in Twenty Fourteen
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    This blog in Twenty Twelve


    2014-02-22 17.37.41
    This blog in Twenty Eleven


    2014-02-22 17.36.46
    This blog in Twenty Ten, as it loaded
    2014-02-22 17.36.39
    This blog in Twenty Ten, pinched to make it readable
    2014-02-22 13.24.56
    The Twenty Thirteen theme, with some text sizing modifications

    Reviewing Unitarian Universalist websites

    For the last three days, I’ve made quick-and-dirty survey of all Unitarian Universalist congregational websites. Most are acceptable, if improvable. Some very good. But too many are homely, underpowered or just plain ugly. About 18 are down or broken, at least right now. Two or three have let their domains expire. And some congregations have no web presence at all. And what about mobile devices?

    As I go through the hundreds of websites — getting an impression of the front pages — I’m sorting some of them into the following categories:

    • The very basic (though not necessarily bad)
    • The shockingly ugly (though perhaps technologically serviceable)
    • Those which use very slightly altered WordPress default templates
    • Lost or non-loading sites

    In addition I’ve been taking notes; I’ve found three examples of the new UUA logo already in use, in case anyone was curious. One. Two. Three.

    Without embarrassing any particular congregation (but I might praise a couple) I’ll report on what I found later. An actionable step away our too-common culture of shabbiness.

    The new (real) UUA logos are up

    Along with a (partial?) rollout of the new identity at UUA.org, you can download the new logos at the following page: http://uua.org/communications/art/uuachalice/index.shtml

    I wish the permitted usage was clearer. A copy of the identity standard would be helpful, too.

    Here’s a (there are others) monochrome version, in case you’re curious, scaled at 20%


    A Universalist reference to the flaming chalice?

    So, historic hashing of prior iterations and influences of the flaming chalice symbol has been going on on Facebook. No place to have a public conversation, so when the “it’s a Unitarian (not Universalist) thing” card got thrown, I knew I had to chime in and thus blog about it.

    I’m no fan of the flaming chalice symbol, and so I’ve kept this tidbit to myself. Years ago, back when I still lived in Georgia, the widow of a former Universalist minister sought me out to receive some of her husband’s collection of Universalist ephemera.

    In it was this Lenten meditation manual from 1948.

    2014-02-17 15.06.24_a

    In case you don’t recognize the author’s name and want proof of its Universalist provenance.

    2014-02-17 15.06.37a

    Oh, and lookie there, as I read on. No copyright notice. It’s fallen into the public domain. Might have to do something with that.

    Parallel efforts and the UUA new identity

    As it happens, another national Unitarian entity went through a similar branding process a few years ago, and we might learn from their experience. I’m referring to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, commonly known as the British Unitarians.

    Back in 2007, the British Unitarians adopted a common visual identity, along with a new national website. That website (archived link), for reasons best known to them, seemed to treat the color palate as a challenge rather than a set of options: even now it makes my head hurt. It has since been replaced, and so I thought the branding exercise was a failure.

    But it wasn’t, surely due in large part to DUWIT — “Development of Unitarian websites and IT” — whose DIY web management system has some of the design elements baked in. To riff on an old Unitarian joke, these sites have one color theme at most; also, their revised chalice logo was a much less radical change from those popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Most British Unitarian sites use this system, which makes appropriately-scaled brochureware (opposite of interactive) sites. But even custom sites often contain the logo or tag/strapline, and most stay on message. Two good examples of this later case are the Cheltenham & Gloucester Unitarians and the Brighton Unitarians.

    So where can you find out more about this standard?  Download this PDF.

    And I expect — or rather, hope — the UUA will release an identity standard of comparable scope, of which the logo is a part. (If so, I think making the color palate, typography and wordmark the teaser would have been less, um, shocking.)

    As it happens, I’ve been following denominational identity standards for years and you can look at the British Methodists (290,000 members) and the Mennonite Church USA (110,000 members) for comparison, by communions of the same scale.

    I’m not saying that particular Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups should follow a common standard, but — like a style guide — each congregation should have a standard. Write one, subject to your congregation’s decision-making systems. (The UUA should, of course, follow its own.) That would go far to keep every change on the church site from being an exercize in head-scratching and complaint, and improve the appearance and usability of your print and web communications.

    Color and the UUA new identity

    This is the second in a short series of blog posts about the new UUA identity and branding plan: the theme is color.

    While I’m expecting a full visual identity and an color palette, I thought I would look at the released image of the new UUA logo to approximate what the colors options would be. On the side, I’ve put a vertical slice of the new logo so you can follow along.

    I’m not a designer but we see the gradient running from coral at the bottom to a muted orange at the top. (Well, not all of us: several percent of men have a form of color-blindness that will make the coral a caramel or gray color.)

    If I had to make a prediction, I think the greatest lasting legacy of this campaign — maybe for several years, possibly longer — is the color scheme. It’s the most obvious part that corresponds to the affirming cries of warmth and beauty. I look forward to the full treatment, to be released.


    And of the colors, I think the deep coral at the base (and perhaps in the lettering; it’s unclear) is the winner and the least problematic.

    The orange at the top of the flame is dangerously close to Crayola flesh (read: “lightly-tanned Caucasian”) if you’re old enough to remember that, and isn’t contrasty enough from the Standing on the Side of Love goldenrod to make an impact alone.

    The various shades of tomato red that follow are attractive, but if you’ve ever had to buy a red shirt or sweater, you know how hard it is to match this color. Especially in Target, when you’re confused for the floor staff and kept getting interrupted while buying cleaning supplies.

    The color right below it reads as Marketing to Women pink, tints of which sell yogurt, wholesome cereals and probiotics. Use it alone and you’d might as well say “shove off, guys.”

    And a single color is important, for real world, not-on-the-web uses. It’s a lot easier to pick a single color, whether it’s t-shirts for a church outing; running orders of service on an old, taxed printer; finding cloth for a banner or what have you.

    And the deep coral is beautiful. It’s also distinctive, less gendered and less likely to look bad on a range of human skin tones.

    I’m guessing it’s at or near hex f3354f or RGB 243, 53, 79.

    Correction: it’s hex cc243a or RGB 238, 46, 90.

    And it can be expanded: if you add varying amounts of white, black or gray: scroll down at this page to see options (corrected).

    (I’ll update this post when and if the color scheme is formally released.)

    A thought. Someone who wants to identify or coordinate with a visual identity plan, but not use the logo (because they have their own, or they just don’t like it) might adopt Futura or a near-enough type and some variant of the coral color. 

    On the other hand, it’s not a meaty issue. We’re getting to the harder stuff…