The Making of a Mormonad


If you’ve ever asked, “How do they come up with those Mormonads?” here’s your chance to find out.

Picture a boy in plaid shirt and jeans leaning against the sole of a sandal. A huge sandal—size two hundred and something. Sticking up in the air it’s as tall as the boy. The sandal is attached to a huge foot, with toenails the size of hubcaps. A slingshot dangles from the boy’s hand.

Now, think of a caption for this picture. Something like, “You can conquer giant problems.”

Next, imagine a vase of deep red perfect roses—with one sparkling white daisy in the middle. Let’s caption that one, oh, “Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful.”

Before you even finished reading the descriptions, you already knew the captions, right? They’re Mormonads. And you’ve seen them in the New Era, on seminary bulletin boards, and maybe on your own bedroom walls. Readers tell us the Mormonads are one of their favorite things in the magazine. Mormonads are also a favorite with the staff.

Why

—do we publish Mormonads? Because it has long been known that when you combine a powerful visual image with a catchy or memorable phrase, people take notice. Using techniques like this, commercial advertisers influence the choices people make in everything from pretzels to presidential candidates. So why not use some of the same techniques to promote righteous principles?

What

—makes a good Mormonad? In a way, a Mormonad is a parable in poster form. Just as parables often use everyday objects or situations to illustrate a gospel principle, Mormonads tend to do the same thing.

The best Mormonads can be read quickly. Their message comes across immediately. A picture of a young man who has painted himself into a corner combines with the text “there is a way out” to teach a powerful lesson on repentance. Gooey black sludge being passed from hand to hand becomes a metaphor for gossip (“Don’t pass it on”). A warm, inviting painting of the Savior with the text “You are never alone” makes an instantly powerful and comforting statement.

Where

—do Mormonad ideas come from? Many come from reader submissions. Others come from staff members. Some Mormonads start with a picture. For example, someone spotted a magazine ad showing a ballerina wearing clunky boots instead of slippers. That’s an interesting visual, we thought. How could it be applied to a gospel principle? At the time, no one could quite agree on an application. Finally, several years after we first saw the ad, a brainstorming session led to the Mormonad that appeared in September of ’94—feet in ballet shoes tiptoeing a narrow path.

Other Mormonads begin with a phrase—especially plays on words, or new twists on common phrases. The November 1995 Mormonad “Idle Worship” began when a staff member came up with the phrase out of the blue. But, once again, it took many months of occasional discussion before we developed a visual to illustrate the phrase.

How

—are Mormonads developed? Every month the editor in charge of Mormonads calls a meeting of designers and editors, and then the fun begins. The first question is: “Anybody got any ideas?” We usually discuss the contents of the issue we are working on to see if there is a special theme we should focus on. While we are doing that, the designer in charge of this month’s Mormonad is leafing through a big file of ideas submitted by readers. Pretty soon editors and designers are tossing ideas around and there’s a big, wild brainstorm in progress. Then, one idea will seem to catch, and everyone focuses on it, turning it this way and that, experimenting with captions and visuals, seeing what will work together. Often, it turns out to be a dead end—at least for the time being. So we backtrack. Or, suddenly, someone blurts out an entirely different idea and we chase that one for a while.

Sometimes the meeting just grinds to a halt without any results that we can all agree on. So we set another meeting time. This gives us time to think and pray. It allows time for the Spirit to work on us, and time for our own creative subconscious selves to work over the problem.

One lesson we’ve learned from this process is the importance of teamwork and respect for the contributions each can make. Editors tend to be word people. Designers focus on the visual aspects. But sometimes an editor comes up with a great idea for a visual. And sometimes a designer comes up with just the right word or phrase. If editors or designers wanted to protect “turf,” or if we didn’t have respect for each other, the end product would suffer. To paraphrase scripture, “The editor cannot say to the designer, I have no need of thee.” (See 1 Cor. 12:21.)

When

—is a Mormonad ready for publication? Sometimes an idea arrives in the mail—or in a brainstorming meeting—and everybody says, Yes! Everything just seems to fall into place. Both the headline and the picture are there, and it’s just a matter of putting it into production. But, usually, the creative process takes time. Sometimes an idea takes months or even years to germinate; it can sit in the file for a long time. We look at it and discuss it every so often. Then, suddenly, the time seems to be right, and everything comes together.

Who

—is the focus? This is the most important principle of all. And it applies to more than just Mormonads. First, we all have testimonies of Jesus Christ and his gospel. Second, we care about every New Era reader. So we constantly ask ourselves, what is the gospel principle we are trying to illustrate, and how can we help our readers understand it better? By staying focused on our testimony of Christ and on our assigned responsibilities, we remain united. And that helps us be more receptive to the influence of the Spirit. It’s a principle that applies as much in a Laurel class or priests quorum as it does at the New Era.

So now you know a little more about why and how we do the Mormonads. They may be one of the more challenging things we do, but they are also one of the most rewarding. Let’s see. Greater challenge, greater reward. … You know, there may be a Mormonad in there somewhere.

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen

[photos] Take one photo of a man’s feet wearing real Middle Eastern sandals, add a picture of a boy holding a real sling, mix them in a computer, and there you have it.

[photo] No one quite remembers now what the black gunk was that we put on the models’ hands, but it did have things like cotton batting in it to make it even thicker and goopier. What a great analogy for gossip—nasty and hard to get rid of.

[photos] Both “Stay on Your Toes” and “Idle Worship” came from ideas that had been hanging around the office for a few years, waiting for the right approach. Then, suddenly, it was there.

[photo] At first someone suggested putting a lily among the roses. But no, a lily is too elegant. A daisy! That was the touch needed to show the beauty in the seemingly ordinary.

[photo] From an editor seeking just the right word for a title, to the photographer making sure everything in the photo is just so, everyone’s talents are needed—including yours.