Another interpretation panel I like

It’s hard to be a perfect blogger. Or a perfect
interpretation panel writer. I had imagined writing a ‘panel of the
month’ post, every month this year.  There was one
in January
and now here’s another.  (At this rate
there’ll be three ‘panels of the month’ this year.) So, I am not
perfect. Neither is this panel. But I still like it a lot.
 Our team produced it a few years back and it was a bit of a
watershed for us. It illustrates a couple of important turning


Panel at Five Knolls
Scheduled Ancient Monument on Dunstable Downs (National
Trust/Bedfordshire County Council)

Context matters. This
panel is on a very popular countryside site on the edge of the
Luton/Dunstable conurbation.

People go to the Dunstable
Downs to walk, play, exercise, breathe fresh air, unwind.

In the midst of all this there is this place with a bloody past.
And a panel about it. Once again, and as is usually the case, the
impact of this panel comes down to the pictures and the words.
The pictures come first.  This
panel marks the point where we said ‘For crying out loud!
We’ve had a enough of ‘making do’ on the image front. It doesn’t
work. We are going to insist on commissioning really good
 Happily, the
client agreed and, happier still, we found Kelvin
Wilson the illustrator
who produced these images.

Picture 1People in workshops have
told me they find these images ‘scary’, ‘dark’ and ‘disturbing’.
That’s good. Entirely appropriate to what went on here.

Kelvin has commented
‘ the heightened drama in the images is indeed there
to make the viewer stop in his or her tracks, and to take in what
those otherwise illegible fragments of past life might have meant –
hence the composition that puts viewers into the scene as if they
too were there, or the rotten weather making them glad they weren’t

illustrator as interpreter, I like that.  I also like the fact
that although the images draw the viewer in, they are indistinct
The drama is evident but the action is unclear, confusing even.
That’s unsettling too.

This panel needed words to pin this
down and to explain what we know. Those
were written by TellTale team menber, Margi
Bryant, archaeologist turned journalist, turned interpreter (and
now researcher).

words have no frills. They do not dramatise, or dress up, they tell
simply and clearly what we know. They are a great contrast and foil
to the image.

I love
that first short punchy (as in knocks the wind out of you)
sentence. No messing. Great message, well put.

The words also interest me because they
illustrate a neat idea suggested to me by Lucy Trench,
interpretation editor and writer at the Victoria and Albert Museum
in London.  At about the same time as Margi was
writing this, but quite independently,  Lucy and I were
 producing Text writing guidelines for that excellent museum.
We therefore spent many pleasurable hours together discussing use
of language and how to encourage good writing.

At one point Lucy suggested to me that
when working with a word limit of 150 words, as we were, for many
good reasons, the text often seems to fall naturally into three
paragraphs or sections. I think she’s spot on (she is a rather
brilliant woman).  Since then I have noticed it a

This panel, which
has rather more than 150 fits that three part pattern. Moreover the
first paragraph introduces two tightly linked ideas each of which
is then explored in a separate section. That often happens

I suggest you
don’t go off and try to write like that. Don’t force writing.
 But don’t be surprised if ,when you are working on crafting
150 or so words that hold your interpretive message well, it ends
up in three sections.

Of course the graphic designer, our
friend and close associate John Conibear of CDA, made the most of
both the brilliance of the illustration and the structure of the
text.  He is good at his job too and that helped the panel
work.  So is Peter Phillipson, my partner in TellTale, who project
managed this panel and all the other interpretive work we did at
Chilterns Gateway.  I never (ever) said producing a good panel
was simple. Three cheers for all of them.

And me? Oh, I just wrote the
interpretation plan, probably made some tea – and, at the end of
the day, recognised that it was good.

you want to hear me go into even more detail on the tricks, thrills
and techniques of interpretive writing, do NOT come on the Interpretation Now
course I am running with James Carter at the end of May (but if you
do want to know about it, follow the link and read this post).
 Instead, do book yourself onto the amazingly brilliant, tried
and tested, “A Way with
” course, again starring me and James, and wait,
with mounting anticipation, until next

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 Interpretation, Tips and advice, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Another interpretation panel I like

  1. ultan cowley says:

    Very effective. The illustrations and the text both rightly dramatise the events but respect the facts by not embellishing them.

  2. Kit Reid says:

    I’d agree. Very nice design and good quality content both emotionally and intellectually.

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

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