Andrew Hochradel: Getting REAL with Church Design




Andrew Hochradel is a Lead Designer at Sandals Church in Riverside, CA. Sandals Church recently went through a cutting-edge "de-brand" that got people talking. The concept was to depict their simple mission of being REAL with ourselves, God, and others. You can see what we mean here on Brand New's featured article about Sandals

Andrew also teaches Design & Photography History at California Baptist University and runs a freelance design and creative consulting business in his spare time. Check out his work at or follow @andrewhochradel on Instagram.

Q: Who are your biggest influences when you need inspiration?

I often try to look outside of design for inspiration. Some of my favorite creatives are Jesse Draxler (Artist), Cameron Carpenter (Organist), Dan Cassaro (Designer), & Stephen Sondheim.


Q: Did you always know you wanted to design in a church setting?

When I was growing up, I didn’t want to be an astronaut or anything like that. I would tell people that “I want to make a living being creative.” I was a theatre nerd growing up and thought I may be an actor, I experimented with writing and thought I’d be a poet at some point, but eventually, I landed into design. The fact that I work at a church doing design is because of the love the church showed me. I would have never thought that I would have gone into ministry, but with the love the church showed me, I wanted to give back with my gifts and skills.


Q: Since you work within a church, you offer a unique perspective! What does being a “Christian graphic designer” mean to you?

Being a Christian Graphic Designer dictates why I design, not how or what I design. God is the greatest creator. He created everything and he created it ‘good’. So should we. I take that as a sort of challenge. Almost as if God gave me a bunch of ingredients and said, “Let’s see what you can do.” With that said, I try to never let being a Christian impact what or how I design. Just because I’m a christian designer doesn’t mean that I have to use a certain aesthetic when addressing certain subject manner. 


Q: Is it a Christian graphic designer’s duty to design for the church?

No. Well, at least not exclusively. I certainly don’t focus on designing only for the church and the people in the church. My focus when I design is to draw people into our vision at Sandals Church, being real with ourselves, God & others. I design mostly for people outside of the church, to compete for the attention of every person who is not currently living a life that is real with themselves, God & others. My competition isn’t other churches, I am competing against Disney, Nike and any other brand that is telling people that they need to be something or someone other than who God wants them to be. I am not trying to keep people in the church by catering to them and their aesthetic preferences. 


Q: In that respect, do you think that Churches almost have a harder time “competing” in the design field?

I think it’s harder for most churches to compete because we are usually communicating the same stories and ideas that we have communicated hundreds of times before. In a more product driven company, there is always something new and exciting. With the church, the stories we tell don’t ever change. We ‘sell’ the same ‘product’ again and again and have to come up with different and interesting ways to do it. Also, in my opinion, I feel that there are a lot of traditions and creative baggage within the church that fights against an open market of creativity.


Q: Has growing up in a Christian setting influenced your drive to design for the church?

I think growing up in a Christian setting hasn’t had a huge effect on me designing for the church. If anything, I think as I developed a passion for telling stories and challenging the norm, I saw that a good portion of the church looked and felt the same as I grew up. Easter was always Gotham, flowers and pastels. Christmas Eve was always sparkle, candles and hand lettering. As I studied and figured out how to create feeling and emotion through design, I realized that I could challenge that and really try to fight again the church having one collective voice and tone when it comes to design. 


Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle in designing for the church?

There is no way that things should be. Churches need to start thinking about how things could be. In a broader sense, the issue is cognitive barriers. This is the idea that when you talk about a topic, people think that it HAS to be done a certain way or approached with a certain style. If I tell you think I need a chair, you have a preconceived cognitive barrier that it needs to have a seat and a back and four legs. But what if it was a singular pole that was molded to have one leg, no back & just an indent for you to sit? It’s still a chair, just in a way we haven’t seen before. This concept is plaguing church design. We have been telling the same stories hundreds of times before, this makes it very hard for us to challenge the barriers that people have. I can’t begin to count how many Kid’s Ministries brands that are paint blotches or people jumping in a field. If we continued to be only inspired by other churches, we will lose relevance. The church needs to stop chasing relevance and start defining it.


Q: How do you face that challenge every day?

Marian Bantjes has a great Ted Talk where she says, “Inspiration is cross pollinating.” Something a doctor publishes can inspire a biochemist which in turn can inspire a structural engineer, which can then inspire a photographer. I try to challenge cognitive barriers by looking outside the church for inspiration. I try to take in inspiration constantly. When searching for that, I usually only look for things that make me feel something. Sure I mark a ‘pretty’ image now and then, but pretty doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have meaning behind it. I try to build a creative pantry as I search for inspiration. I pick apart images I find to figure out why they make me feel sad or happy. I figure out what elements are needed to convey anguish. I try to build a visual pantry of every ingredient so that when the time comes, I can go to the pantry and know what ingredients I needs to build an emotion for an experience. From there, I can add unique touches so that it is new and unique to that project. Be inspired by everything & let inspiration carry you away. You may be surprised where you end up. (i.e. Lucian Bernhard being inspired by the Glaspalast Exhibition)


Q: Is the church original when it comes to design?

I think it’s hard to speak as a whole. Some are and some aren’t. The ones that really interest me are the churches that tackle traditional stories in original ways.  If we tell the same stories and concepts over and over with the same elements and in the same way, it looses it’s impact. I think if a church isn’t original when it comes to design, they must quickly learn that creative problems call for creative solutions. 


Q: You mentioned in your video Why Design Matters that the church used to be THE place for art and quality work. What do you think holds churches back from that today?

I don’t actually have a really good answer for this. It really depends on each church individually, but I think there is something to be said about the influence of the intended audience. There is such a stigma now about offending people or making them uncomfortable and I think that at some point, churches are losing that battle. There seems to be a fear of the unknown and different. There seems to be a growing division between art and the church. There is some art that is ‘allowed’ to overlap, but most art is reserved for a gallery, instead of the church. In the past, the church was the gallery.


Q: In what ways do you feel you are living out your “calling” as a graphic designer?

My ‘call’ as a designer is to challenge the way people perceive the world around them. I want to challenge them to process and possibly see things a little differently than they had before. I ask them to suspend their reality and step into mine. I had to discover early that this call isn’t to any specific application. In my years working in ministry, this has bled into every aspect of our church. From design to photography to in service elements to music. Don’t limit your creative calling to only one application. For me, I live out my calling by asking “What if…”  as often as possible. I force myself to not be afraid of making people happy. I figure out what the goal emotion is that we need to convey and fight to the death to keep that at the core of the idea. I think there is a problem with designers wanting people to feel good, meaning a happy emotion, instead of making them feel good, meaning any intense emotion. Why try to make them feel happy when they need to feel anguish or confusion. I force myself to take a stand and even some criticism to live out my calling. To say “I know you want to feel happy about this and leave this experience smiling, but we need to cry for a minute. I’m here to grieve with you, but I’m going to challenge you to really feel.” God gave us a broad spectrum of human emotion, it would be a waste to only explore a few of them.


Q: Spire was founded on the idea that designers are called to be creators for the creator. Does the concept that you were made in the image of a creator influence how you approach your work?

There is an amazing musical called ‘Sunday in the Park with George”. In this show, there is a song called ‘Move On’. Listen to it. It has a few lines that I think tie in to this concept really well. George is struggling and says, “There’s nothing to say, well, nothing that’s not bee said.” His partner responds with, “Said by you though George.” I think there is something special about that exchange. God has made each of us in his image, but unique with skills and a voice that is unique to us and the experiences he has given us. I remember that God has made me unique and that every approach I take will be new and unique because he has made me new and unique.


Q: In your opinion, should there be a difference when a believer approaches their work vs someone who does not?

There should not be a difference in the quality of work. Being a believer should dictate why you design, not what or how you design. If we make a separation between believer designers and non-believer designers, it segments us and removes us from the design community as a whole. Remember why you design, don’t let your belief dictate what or how you design.