What Makes a Good Interpretive Display?

Mark Woolmer

Interpretive display panels serve various purposes but are primarily there to convey important information and offer visitors context and definitions about the site they are visiting or the attraction or building they are navigating.

A well-designed and professionally manufactured interpretive display panel can influence visitor perceptions and experiences and improve education and respect for the space while adhering to your branding or key messaging.

Fitzpatrick Woolmer explains some of the design principles we incorporate when creating any new interpretive display and highlights some of the features that ensure your signage stands out.

Design Standards in Interpretive Signage

Great interpretation panels should be attractive, clear and concise, using layout, colour, illustration and text fonts that are engaging, and encourage visitors to stop and look or read the information provided.

Mixing graphics with text is ideal, meeting the expectations of visitors of all ages, reducing the volume of text needed to explain a point, bringing attention to a feature, and aiding enjoyment for children and other visitors who may, for example, speak a different language.

Interpretation Board Foxley

Balancing Text vs Graphics

While some text is normally necessary, keeping this content concise makes an interpretation panel easier to digest, supplemented with graphic illustrations. The general rule is called three/thirty/three, which means that:

  • The most important information should be accessible by looking at the interpretation design for three seconds – think ‘you are here’ notices on creative mapping, directional arrows, or images of rare native species within an outdoor centre.
  • More in-depth content should be digested within thirty seconds, allowing visitors to stop for a brief period and extract all the information they need. These pieces of content could be explanatory or add context to the historical relevance of a part of the landscape or building.
  • A visitor with greater interest or seeking information on something should be able to extract this depth of understanding within three minutes, using short sentences, good grammar and brevity to convey messages, ideas and stories without requiring a protracted pause during a visit.

There are numerous techniques and approaches that can achieve this level of accessibility, such as using illustrations to minimise text, bold headings and subheadings to summarise the most impactful points, or introducing graphic design, such as maps with arrows.

Interpretation Panel Country Park

Effective Messaging Through Interpretive Display Panels

The focus for attractions, visitor centres and outdoor areas should be to provide the maximum reward, in the form of information, for minimal effort – the time a visitor spends consuming the information displayed.

It is normal for some visitors to have a special interest in certain aspects of a site, such as wanting more information about the species present on a nature reserve during certain months of the year. In contrast, others may wish to add context to what they are looking at without necessarily wanting to spend more than a few seconds reading a display panel.

As a first step in the design process, the Fitzpatrick Woolmer signage consultants ask clients a few essential priorities, such as:

  • What is the core point or message you wish to convey?
  • What is the main demographic or age group of visitors?
  • Is the site a leisure activity, business facility, sports centre or other premise?

Once we have some background information, we can provide more tailored recommendations about the right blend of content, photography and images to communicate, using thematic design and colour consistent with your branding or site aesthetic.

Making Interpretation Signage Engaging

The greater the engagement you achieve, the more value your interpretive signage gives your visitors, showing that the information displayed is informative, useful, educational and enjoyable.

Among the potential ways to augment engagement, you may wish to:

  • Use short quotes and facts to draw interest, such as the date the site was first opened, the most interesting facts about the history of the building, or a quote from a historical figure or famous visitor.
  • Phrasing information to feel welcoming and inclusive, using words like you, us and we.
  • Encouraging visitors to be proactive about their experience by following a route, looking for a specific focal point, or guessing the answers to questions.

Graphic and imagery design is also influential and can determine the level of engagement your interpretive displays generate. Photography and illustrations should be of a suitable resolution to ensure that, once printed onto weather-resistant outdoor panels, the graphics remain clear, crisp and sharp without losing focus or becoming pixelated.

Bright colours, beautiful illustrations or creative mapping are excellent ways to convey a great deal of information that visitors can absorb very quickly while being something people will wish to stop and look at.

Choosing Interpretive Display Panel Sizing

There are several practicalities that impact the success of your interpretive display, where panels should be of an appropriate size to be visible from the relevant distance. For example, an interpretation sign on one side of a footpath should be large enough to be legible from the other side of the route.

Likewise, if you are installing information boards in visitor attractions that are often visited by children, catering to that audience through careful choice of language, images, and colour will ensure that all demographics can extract information from your displays.

Large-scale fonts, bold headers and eye-catching graphics can be ideal for accessible sites, with contrasting colours that are easy to read from a pushchair, wheelchair or mobility-assistance vehicle.

It is also important that interpretive displays are correctly installed, with sufficient anchor points or foundations to keep the board stable and safe during inclement weather. Fitzpatrick Woolmer provides a comprehensive design, production and fitting service and can organise a site visit at your convenience to advise on the best-suited installation placements.

Following these tips, design principles, and standards will ensure your interpretive display works well and provides all the information and context visitors need while being accessible, educational and immersive.

For more advice about designing your interpretive displays or creating high-quality professional signage to improve the visitor experience and engagement within your attraction, premise, or facility, please get in touch at any time.

Mark Woolmer

Mark Woolmer

With a strong background in art and design, Mark is passionate about the capacity for excellent design as a communication tool, leading the Fitzpatrick Woolmer company and focusing on strategy, business development and continual improvement.

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