Why this is one of my all-time favourite interpretation panels

I am a nerd. Not a techie nerd, or a social media nerd, or even a gadget nerd.  I am a panel nerd. I can’t resist them.  I am constantly looking to find, and create, really good ones.

Panels are rather like gadgets, actually.  There are loads out there. Some are just plain useless and are not worth the time of day.  A lot are based on a really good idea but are tragically flawed. A few are solid gold and life-enhancing and when you find one of those, celebrate. This post is part of an occasional series celebrating great panels.

Great panels often have beautiful simplicity. This panel in Mount Leseur National Park exemplifies that.

Great panels often have beautiful simplicity. This panel in Mount Leseur National Park exemplifies that.

It’s one thing to describe what makes a really good panel. But what does one look like?

Probably unique – just as my sat nav. does not look like my bean slicer (to pick two gadgets that I love). You recognise a great panel because it does its job so well.

So why do I call this a great panel?

First look at the pictures – what do they say? Brown and white hands mirroring each other, reaching towards each other, surrounded by natural beauty. One of the cliches I cannot abide in nature conservation management and, especially, interpretation is ‘a place for people and wildlife’. Look at how much more vivid, profound, alluring this is.

Moreover, this picture speaks of two nations, two perspectives and of joint custodianship – a theme that runs consistently (although often less powerfully) though all the interpretation here. This is a bold, political graphic – it shows two sets of hands on the land. This is Western Australia where land rights have been and are bitterly contested.

Then look at the title – what does it say? Probably, if you come from a cultural background like mine, you don’t know. You don’t understand.  There is mystery here. A tension.  Depth. This is not straightforward.

I’m not going to start on the text yet. Let’s look at the context; it always matters.

Peter P2 125

Mount Leseur National Park, Western Australia

Kangaroo Paw

Kangaroo Paw

This panel is on a lookout at the exit of a global Biodiversity hotspot.  Mount Leseur is one of the richest places botanically in the world. It is stunningly, utterly glorious.

This lookout is a place for reflection. The seat (another highly important interpretive intervention – none of this happens by accident) invites that. It will be a magnet for Sensualist visitors. The people who choose to sit here are those who are least likely to want to be told a load of stuff.  Even the presence of a panel is likely to be challenging.

This panel is an interruption. It’s okay to interrupt, if what you have to say is really important, or if it adds to the conversation. I think this is a great interruption.

Let’s go back to the words.

35 words and every one pulling its weight. One big huge idea clearly and simply put. That is interpretive writing at its best.

35 words and every one pulling its weight. One big huge idea clearly and simply put. That is interpretive writing at its best.

I love this as a piece of efficient, message- , location-, audience- and experience- focused writing.

Those few words:

  • Relate directly to the experience of this spot, physically and psychologically
  • Carry a powerful ‘love’ message  inviting us to cherish our experience of the natural world (see here for a reminder of why love messages matter for nature conservation)
  • Emphasise the dual cultures and custodianship
  • Create an excellent ‘parting shot’ encouraging people to remember their experience
  • Convey a call to action

That’s a shedload of good interpretive best practice in action.

It has taken me almost 20 times as many words to describe what this panel does. That’s how good it is.

And, yes, they could have ‘fitted more onto the panel’.  Maybe the greatest achievement here is that they didn’t.

If you want to know how to produce panels that are as good as this, come on one of my training courses such as ‘How to write words that people will want to read’  or ‘If you’ve only got 50 words make everyone count’.  Look at the training and mentoring pages on our Telltale website to find out more.

All photographs thanks to Peter Phillipson, TellTale.  Follow Peter @ TellTalePeter on Twitter.

Click here to find out more about  TellTale and our work.

Peter P2 106


About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Australia, Cultural difference, Culture, Environment, Interpretation, Tips and advice, Visit experience, Visitors, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why this is one of my all-time favourite interpretation panels

  1. Nethercoat, Ivan says:

    Hi Susan Love the post. A couple of things as I’m sat on the sofa with a whiskey (Irish). When I saw the panel on the previous post and in this one I thought it was interesting and looked forward to this one. It wasn’t until you described it that I noticed the ‘white’ hands. I just didn’t ‘see’ them, maybe it was the title that drew my eyes away but no doubt they are more obvious on the original.

    What the post prompted me to ask relates to the seat. We’ve had a chap working with us for the last year on accessibility issues. He’s been visiting sites and doing some assessment and ‘training’ on our guidelines and helping sites produce Access Statements in readiness for them being a VAQAS requirement.

    He said something to me that changed my thinking re seats. When we were talking about seating he commented on how poor some of our ‘rustic’ seating was. Many were new so I asked him why and he talked about the lack of arm rests to allow people to push on to stand up but he also said the lack of a back meant that people tend to sit forward, ie rest arms on legs, but with a back people sit back and relax more. He felt that if the purpose of the seat is to allow people to take in a view then they are better with a back. I’d never really thought of that before, despite being a seat taker and view appreciater of some years practice.

    So, seeing your post and the picture of the panel and seat, I wondered if you ever advised on the seat design as well as location. It was also ingesting that the panel was designed to be read standing and not from the seat. I’ve often thought there is potential for very low and discrete ‘panels’ on the ground, or close to it, that you can read from the seat but do not affect the view at all. I’ve never seen this done (but expect it’s a common technique) but wondered if you had much experience of these and whether you felt they work in practice.

    Have a ponder and you can tell me next time we meet.

    Have a great New Year, now where’s that Tullamore….

    Sent whilst out of the office, might be a little brief…

    • Hi Ivan, good to hear from you here and thanks for your interesting comments. I have poured myself a Tobermory, bought on Mull, just after seeing the White-tailed Eagle, in your honour. Cheers.

      Yes, interesting that about the white hands. Now you mention it, I recall that I didn’t notice then either at first glance. In fact I may not have noticed them until Peter pointed them out on the photograph. I wonder if there was a subconscious tentativeness or tension about them …

      I think you are right that there are discussions to be had about the location and design of the seat and the panel. I can imagine it was discussed whether the panel should be placed in the line of sight from the seat or not. I think there are good arguments both ways. I like your suggestion and although I can’t think of anywhere I have seen it, I think it would work. (Having said that the Forestry Commission Scotland hide near Strontian (which I think is marvellous) has beautiful carvings and engraved texts under the window slots and no one looks at them … ) On balance, I quite liked the panel being off to the side so I could read it and then muse.

      Your access advisor’s comments make sense to me. I know some museums deliberately provide seating that are not comfortable enough to sit in for more than about 5 minutes (so no snoozing on the galleries – it could be tempting). In a place like this some people would argue for keeping the visual intrusion to a minimum but I think applying that line of argument strictly would have ruled out the panel. Also to give a bit more context that you can’t see from the photos, as I recall this was about a 50m flat walk from a car park so there is no argument that someone with limited mobility couldn’t get here. People with lots of mobility have oodles of choice here – frankly there was no one for miles around and views to choose from – not like the UK. So it’s a toss-up between aesthetics and access (again) and if push comes to shove I think I have to go for access. It would be interesting to know what Peter with his landscape design background and stronger visual sense (he saw the white hands straight away) would say. I’ll ask him when he returns.

      Need another whisky. Here’s to a good New Year to you too.

      Sent while drinking whisky – may not be brief enough.

  2. Just a minor point, but a seat with a back and arm rests is a chair, this seat is not a chair, it is something to sit on quite a different thing – a chair would look silly here.

    • Hello David, thank you for that comment. I think the big question is whether looking a little bit silly is fair price for allowing more people to have the experience? Or whether the sitting device could be moved to place where the silliness mattered less. And maybe even this panel that I like so much actually looks a bit silly in this big wide landscape. All good things to think about.

  3. Pingback: Sorry, QR code, it's not you .. it's me - TellTale

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