Interpretive panels are not simply information panels. Their purpose is to facilitate connections between the meanings in the resource and the interests of the visitor, provoking interest and effecting change in knowledge, attitude, and behavior.

There are three basic qualities of a “good” interpretive panel: attractiveness, brevity, and clarity. Attractiveness, as portrayed in appropriate colors, a striking layout, and legible typography, invites the visitor to read a sign. Visually appealing graphics serve to replace words, focus attention, and provide enjoyment.

Text brevity increases likeliness that a panel will be read. In addition, a message should be arranged in hierarchical form to reflect the “3-30-3 rule”, allowing the visitor to take in progressively deeper levels of information within three seconds, thirty seconds, or three minutes. The use of short sentences (20 words or fewer) and short paragraphs make reading a panel easy for the visitor.

Clarity also ensures that a thematic message is conveyed successfully. A theme-based title, followed by a provocative subheading and a main body of text with illustrations, complete sentences, and liberal use of metaphors, analogies, and familiar terms, will help interpret meaning regardless of the sequence in which the panels are read.

A treasure trove of photos of interpretive exhibits, signage, and interactive displays can be found at The Exhibit Designer website.

Photo credit: Christine Lefebvre, The Exhibit Designer

Source: Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Draft Interpretive Master Plan, March 2004

This post was originally published in November 2011 and has been updated for accuracy.