We’re venturing into my office life for this one …

The great thing about being the sole designer for an agency is that you frequently get a variety of projects in many different media. One that I find particularly interesting, especially all the research done on them, is interpretive signage. We have been working to provide interpretive signage for our state parks.

The process for these signs is fascinating to me. Some of our parks have long-term interpretive plans developed, and some don’t. The plans provide a topic for each sign, and if there is no plan, the superintendents are quizzed about issues for the park that could be addressed on a sign (e.g. trash or trail etiquette). They consider the history of the area (e.g. what did the park used to be), and what is there now that people might be curious about (e.g. flora and fauna, building remains).

Then comes the research and writing – then more concise writing and editing. And then they visit the state archives or a specialist for fact checking and images.

Finally it comes to my hands to design. In the beginning, we researched in interpretive design books, photographed examples of others’ signs and spoke with National Park Service interpretive experts about:

    font sizes
    (Did you know for large signs viewed from three-feet, 24 pt. is the smallest recommended point size? Think captions here.)

    font styles
    (There is some debate about serif versus san serif for these. Because the quantity of text is supposed to be limited for a sign we opted for san serif.)

    using imagery instead of text
    (Did you know there should be no more than 250 words per sign, including captions?)
    Photos, maps and illustrations can often show a topic much better than it can be explained.

    (Did you know white is a no-no on sign backgrounds because it can glare badly in the sunlight?)

    contrast testing
    (Did you know there are websites that can help you determine if you have enough contrast to ensure your text is readable?)

Here are some examples of the signs I’ve done. I certainly haven’t done all, or even the majority, of our parks signs, but I do find the process interesting. It’s been a nice chance to collaborate with others in the design world and receive their feedback.

One more fun fact for you about interpretive signs: Did you know that a poorly written or designed sign is much more likely to be vandalized than a well done sign? It definitely pays to invest time and effort into the production of these.

My designer takeaway: Being at least aware, if not involved in, the whole creative process of a piece can produce a better end product and a more enjoyable design process.

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