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Producing interpretive panels

Make interpretation panels attractive and accessible at first glance. People may decide in seconds whether or not to read them.

High quality interpretation panels in the right setting can be very effective. But they can be counterproductive if badly made or sited.

Good interpretation panels use text and visuals creatively to tell a story about a natural heritage feature or site. An information panel only directs or instructs.

Simple is often best

People will walk past panels that are too busy or complex. Limit each panel to no more than 200 words, and opt for a simple but appealing design.

Make an impact where it counts

Research tells us that adverts (and panels) are read in this order:

  1. Headline
  2. Main image
  3. Subheadings
  4. Bullet points
  5. Other imagery
  6. Main text

Put your main points in your headline, main image and subheadings. This is called ‘layering’ your interpretation. It helps to get your message across however much text people are willing to read.

Text

Learn about writing effective interpretation.

Visuals

The text shouldn’t do all the work. Visuals should also feature on panels as another way to engage with your audience.

Visuals can be:

  • photos
  • drawings
  • graphics

All visuals should:

  • clearly relate to the text
  • show the visitor something they can’t see for themselves
  • have a label and/or annotations

Budget enough time and money to source suitable visuals. You may need to commission drawings or pay to use images under licence.

Drawings give you complete freedom to show your audience exactly what you wish, so are often more useful than photos.

Maps

Use a map on a panel only if:

  • necessary to do so
  • it’s clear and easy to understand
  • you have permission to reuse the map
  • it is big enough for the panel

A three-dimensional (3D) map may be a better option, where feasible.

Design and production

Ask your designer to be involved early on. It’s vital that the designer is aware of the panel’s purpose and intended audience as well as where it will go.

To decide on the most suitable materials for the panel, consider:

  • what will make for the best visitor experience
  • how the panel can blend in with its surroundings

Panels may be produced in a number of ways: manufacturers can provide technical advice on the techniques they offer. The design, budget and how long you wish the panel to last will help you to narrow down the choices.

Consider long-term panel maintenance at the outset, when you plan an interpretation panel.