Interpretive panels are hard to do well. In fact I think they are possibly the hardest interpretive medium to master. Panels need to be very carefully planned in order to get the best value from the couple of pictures and limited number of words they can carry.
These panels in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania are one of the best examples I have seen of how interpretive panels can be used in thematic interpretation. They demonstrate careful, thoughtful interpretive planning in practice.
Visiting Tasmania was one of the delights of my life. Peter and I love forest, so Tasmania was something of a pilgrimage. We had been told, emphatically, by someone who understood us, that we ‘MUST NOT MISS THE PANDANI’. He convinced us, and we went where he said, up a long, long mountain road, climbing all the way, without the remotest idea what pandani was.
The road was treat enough. A long drive through high forest with, every so often, a lay-by to park up and take a short stroll to a viewpoint. At each viewpoint was a panel, carefully sited, away from the road, where it would only be noticed by people who had chosen to stop to look more closely. Like I said, this is thoughtful interpretive planning.
There is doubtless bookloads of interesting stuff about these forests. Most of the forest is after all a World Heritage Site. So a tight, clear interpretive theme is vital; a simple idea for us to think and talk about, to help us make sense of this experience. Here it is, prominantly, centrally, expressed in words and graphics. Like I said, careful theming in practice.
Admittedly, the panel is maybe rather more wordy than usually recommended and it is not visually striking. But then this is not a jumping up and down ‘look at me, over here’ panel. It is not trying to stop me in my tracks, it knows I have already stopped. This is more of a voice in the ear for someone who wants to know a bit more. I was that person and this hit the button.
The panel content was always very directly related to where we were, and what we could see which is always important (and often missing). The forest was impenetrable here: that bottom graphic explained why.
But not everyone who comes by here is a naturalist who has dreamed of seeing the Tasmanian forests for more than half her life. Not everyone will relate to the forest through species and the way they change. That’s for Intellectual type visitors (see here).
Social visitors are more likely to warm to human stories. So nearby there is a panel about people in the forest. There’s more thoughtful, visitor focused interpretive planning.
This pattern of panel location and content was followed in all four forest zones. Nice.
And then … the pandani. We had been promised a knock out. It was. We had never seen anything like this. We probably never will again. So we read the interpretation and then looked, and touched, looked again from the other side, looked closer, looked from a distance. Peter took more photos than you can shake a stick at.
The Tasmanian forests were amazing (and thankfully still are but continue to need help to keep them that way). This well planned interpretation gave us more understanding and insight in a way that felt completely appropriate.
For me these panels demonstrate why, in the right hands, with sufficient thought, the interpretation panel is still an excellent, and sometimes the best, tool in the interpreter’s tool kit.
This is the third post in an occasional series on ‘Panels I like”. Previous posts were on a lookout panel in Mount Leseur National Park, Western Australia and an archaeological panel at Dunstable Downs, England.
I and the TellTale team can help you and your team to plan and produce the very best interpretation (panels or other media) for your site and visitors. Find out more by going to our website at www.telltale.eu.