Cynthia Wisehart • Photos by Edward McGowan" />

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Meet PlainJoe

Jan 8, 2014 4:12 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart • Photos by Edward McGowan

A design studio changes the equation for churches

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Mariners Church

PlainJoe Studios understands mission. Most of the principals and staff are tightly involved in their churches as community members, leaders, and pastors. They also understand communication and how graphic design, websites, and environmental design work together to tell stories. They are experts at creating impressions, drawing audiences in, making them comfortable, and keeping them engaged.

The studio successfully does this for big clients including Infiniti, Nissan, high-end shopping malls and spas, as well as doing work for Hasbro and Fox, among others. At the same time, the client roster includes at least as many churches and ministries, who pay a fraction of what commercial clients pay. For that they get PlainJoe’s expertise—and heart.

Elevation Church in Matthews, N.C, describe its beliefs as “conservative” and its church as “anything but traditional.”

Elevation Church in Matthews, N.C, describe its beliefs as “conservative” and its church as “anything but traditional.”

This is important for two reasons. First, says co-founder and principal Peter McGowan, PlainJoe has balanced secular and sacred work from a business standpoint. It’s been sustainable. Beyond that, churches do not just need affordable websites and environmental design. They need communication that really works for their current congregation and their outreach goals. To do that, they need quality collateral and, from McGowan’s viewpoint, they need to take a risk on the elements of surprise and delight.

PlainJoe Studios operates largely out of a group of typical California houses on a spacious, upscale tract development in unincorporated Riverside County within the city of Corona, Calif. The headquarters look like a chic postproduction boutique or ad agency, themed around travel (PlainJoe believes in themes). The designers work in areas called “concourse” and “flight deck.” Just inside the front door in the common area, a tableful of design awards greets the visitor—as does every single staff member who passes through.

Eastside Christian Church

Eastside Christian Church

PlainJoe comes by its affection for theming honestly. Co-founder Mel McGowan (Peter’s brother) is ex-Walt Disney Imagineering (10 years) and many of PlainJoe’s designs exude theme park whimsy, rendered as high-end design. Brother Ed is a photographer with an edgy portfolio that recalls the great California landscape photographer Richard Misrach, high fashion and fine art.

Peter McGowan, who came from an IT and big corporate background (IBM and Johnson & Johnson) leads the studio with Blake Ryan, and a shared goal to serve causes and projects that have a socially positive impact.

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