Less Is More

I’m sure everyone reading this has heard the saying “Less is more”. For many of you, our stage designs may seem grandiose and complex, but believe it or not the concept of “less is more” is at the core of everything we do. We apply this concept in two main ways to our production design.

First is our physical stage and lighting design. Several years ago, my approach to set design was to look at the design as one big piece. All elements existed to work with each other to create one cohesive look. Many elements were there for a functional purpose, to light someone or something, but adding no real artistic element to the overall look. The end result was a design that had the capability of doing one look very well but was lacking in real dynamics.

We changed that by no longer looking at a set design as one cohesive look but rather designing it with a collection of simpler elements that look great on their own and can work with other elements to create bigger looks. This also meant doing away with some strictly functional elements in exchange for elements that serve both the function and the form. This is most noticeable in our lack of traditional backlight during worship.

Our umbrella lights are a great example of a design element capable of standing on its own but also adding to a larger look. On several occasions we’ve done entire songs with nothing but these and it was stunning and powerful. This concept is by no means exclusive to custom fixtures. If you have standard LED or conventional fixtures to work with, it could mean that instead of laying them out based on what you are trying to use them to light, you lay them out in such a way to create a new visual element. A couple of examples could be a single line across the width of your stage or a balanced asymmetric layout mixed in with your band. Use your lighting to accent existing characteristics of your room. If you have a wide stage, then use wide visual elements to highlight this. If you have an especially tall room, then use vertical lines to bring out that height.

What we discovered was that simple elements that have great care put into their visual design have far more impact than complex “busy” lighting looks. This is a concept that is heavily used in other areas of design as well, such as graphic, industrial, and architectural. If you want an element to have impact, then take away everything else that is not absolutely needed.

The second way we apply “less is more” is in our programming. My biggest pet peeve when watching someone else’s programming is finding myself asking “why did the lights just change?”. Lighting cues that have no obvious correlation to the music or actions of the event can create a disconnect between the message coming from the stage and what we see visually. I’m sure I’ll step on a few toes with this next comment but it needs to be said: Just because you understand lighting from a technical standpoint doesn’t mean you have the artistic capacity to make choices that affect the feel of your service. Even if you do, it’s still possible to get tunnel vision from constantly looking at your service from a strict lighting viewpoint and not from the viewpoint of what best serves the overall message your team is trying to convey.

For every cue I write, I ask myself “Is this necessary? If I don’t change the lighting here, will it feel weird?” If the answer is “no” to either, then the cue doesn’t get written. Just as with the physical design, cutting out any unnecessary cues makes the ones that you do write have that much more impact. It also ensures that your lighting is supporting what is being done from the stage and not distracting from it. Your lighting design exists to help your worship leaders and pastors in the story they are telling. One of the best ways to do this is to be sure that each moment has truly earned the cue you are writing for it.

A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de St-Exupery

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