In the pretty, harbourside town of Orzola in Lanzarote I came across one of the biggest interpretation panels I have ever seen. There was no missing this monster. And yes everybody passing stopped to look at it, but they didn't stop to read it.
This must have cost a small fortune and no doubt had an important message to convey but there were a few fundamental things that hadn't been thought through with the design.
For a designer to be given a brief with marine life as a theme and all that space would be wonderful. Everyone loves photos of fish, turtles, reefs and seabirds. One or two really bold photos of a creature that immediately draws attention, preferably one that makes people smile, could have been the focal point of the design. Most people will just look at the photos and read the captions so these are your key opportunities to get a simple message across.
This panel had the challenge of having to put the text in both Spanish and English so there is a lot of text, but it is tiny. There is plenty of space here to put in a few bold 'pull quotes'. An eye-catching quote in a bold font is a great way to get a key fact or message across to the casual reader.
I am an interpretation panel nerd and will usually read them right through but this one was written like a management report, the gist of it was that following a partnership project a particular marine area had been designated as a Natura 2000 site. A wonderful achievement but this bit of information was well tucked away in the dense text.
When writing a panel, always keep your audience in mind. This will usually be the general public. Most of the passing public won't have your degree of knowledge on the subject. Keep it simple, keep sentences short and keep the text concise. Always get someone from your target audience to read it and listen to their feedback even if it means going back and doing some serious rewriting or editing.
Make good use of weblinks and QR codes for the more detailed information. There is no need to load the panel with all the background of a project. Let the nerds find the information online and the rest of the public can enjoy the photos of wonderful wildlife and benefit from the feel good factor of having learnt that another piece of our special planet has now got a better level of environmental protection.
Have you got a interpretation panel project in mind? Please get in touch and we will happily talk through the options with you. We can help with copywriting, design, imagery and print. www.alibeckettdesign.co.uk