How to get excited about rocks: Designing environmental interpretation that inspires and motivates visitors and enhances the visitor experience David Revell Imagemakers Interpretation Planning and Design, UK Introduction ‘Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.’ ——Freeman Tilden, Interpreting Our Heritage, 1957 Very few visitors get excited about collections of rock samples in glass cases. At least, this is our experience of designing geoheritage interpretation. So how else can we engage our audiences? This paper will examine the design challenges and media available in creating compelling geoheritage interpretation, with specific reference to our work at Knockan Crag in the West Highlands Geopark, Scotland, and the English Riviera Global Geopark gateway site at Berry Head, England. This paper is a companion to a paper by my colleague Graham Barrow Interpretation Planning and its Role in Sustainable Tourism and Visitor Management at Geoheritage Sites, published elsewhere in this journal and also presented at the 3rd International Forum on Geoheritage. Interpretation Interpretation is how we communicate the interest, significance, value and meaning of a natural or cultural heritage site to the public. Interpretation design is the process by which the interpretation themes or messages are communicated to visitors. Effective interpretation design is provocative, exciting, revealing, memorable and fun (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2009). To achieve this it must: • Provoke the visitors’ attention • Be pleasurable • Be interesting and meaningful • Be well organised and easy to understand • Have a clear idea or theme at its core e.g. what makes the site special or unique The visitor experience Geoparks are competing for visitors’ time and money with a wide range of other parks Author: David Revell BA (Hons) MA (RCA), Creative Lead, Imagemakers Interpretation Planning and Design Consultants. [email protected] www.igu-cog.org David Revell: How to get excited about rocks 61 and heritage attractions. In a competitive market, Geoparks must consider how to differentiate themselves and offer a quality experience that will remain in the minds of visitors. Positive visitor experiences become a self-reinforcing cycle. They generate revenue, ‘word-of-mouth’ recommendations and stronger, longer lasting relationships with visitors / customers. The visitor experience is the sum total of every single visitor interaction across a site, and includes welcome signage, car parking, orientation and wayfinding, café/refreshments, toilets, trails, viewpoints, guides or rangers, and interpretation. All these loci must be integrated so that, whilst they may be experienced individually, together they communicate the same underlying messages and sense of value for the site. Internet-based ‘pre-visit’ and ‘post visit’ experiences are now a critical component of the visitor experience, both at the point when people make a decision to visit, and afterwards where they can share their experiences with friends and others. Increasingly, decisions to visit are being made on the strength of ‘likes’ or feedback uploaded onto social media websites. Interpretation is an integral part of the visitor experience, and cannot be planned, designed and delivered without reference to this wider perspective. Indeed, interpretation plays a central role in creating successful visitor experiences by engaging, inspiring, motivating and entertaining visitors. Implementing the interpretation plan In his paper, Graham Barrow describes the benefits of interpretation and the process of planning interpretation. A detailed interpretation plan is the starting point for all effective interpretation design. Consistent with all good communication design, interpretation design must be conceived with the audience in mind, together with a thorough understanding of the content or stories that must be communicated. An interpretation plan will provide an insight into the people visiting the site. It will explore their reasons for visiting, the duration of their visit, their level of interest in the site, and what they are expected to do afterwards or how their behaviour can be changed. The key interpretive assets of the site will also be explored. For example, at Knockan Crag this was its important geological feature: the Moine Thrust and the ‘Rock Route’ – a trail with stopping points that provide a broader context to the geology of the site. The interpretive plan can also establish the ‘sense of place’ that must be implicit in all visitor communications. For sites such as Knochan Crag and Berry Head, this sense of what makes the sites special, distinctive or unique is the invisible thread or the ‘interpretive glue’ that unites all the designs and media selection. The significance of this cannot be underestimated as it should resonate throughout and link together all the points of communication mentioned above. It will inform a site wide ‘tone of voice’ for how the stories of the site are told through interpretative texts, and how specific aspects of the displays, such as graphic design, are formatted. Whilst the audience and the messages are the primary concerns in designing interpretation, other factors must be taken into consideration, such as the opportunities and constraints presented by the site. For example, Knockan Crag is situated on a highly 62 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GEOHERITAGE popular tourist route through the Highlands of Scotland and is internationally recognised as a key geological site. However, the weather conditions are extreme, much of the interpretation is external, and for some visitors physical access is challenging. Clearly, the constraints and opportunities identified in the plan will have a bearing on the approach to interpretation design. Ultimately, the interpretation plan can be seen as the brief to the interpretation designer, as it provides the aims, objectives, context and parameters that the designs must meet. Meeting the needs of the audience The process of designing effective interpretation must fundamentally consider the comfort of the visitors, and any potential physical and intellectual barriers to their engagement. This can include ensuring the interpretation is accessible to visitors with physical impairments, or simply making visitors feel ‘welcome’ at a Geopark. This would typically mean clear orientational and directional signage, as well as a friendly reception staff. The Visitor Bill of Rights (Rand, 1996) is a useful benchmark for designing interpretation experiences from the visitor’s point of view: 1. Comfort: “Meet my basic needs” Visitors need access food and refreshments, toilets, baby changing facilities, a place to sit down and full access to exhibits. 2. Orientation: “make it easy for me to find my way round”. Visitors need to make sense of their surroundings. Clear signage and well-planned spaces help them to know what to expect, where to go, how to get there and what it’s about. 3. Welcome/Belonging: “Make me feel welcome” Friendly, helpful staff ease visitor’s anxieties. If they see themselves reflected in the volunteers, staff, exhibits and guides, they will feel like they ‘belong’ here. 4. Enjoyment: “I want to have fun” Visitors want to have a good time. If they run into barriers (broken exhibits, intimidating text and labelling or interactives they can’t relate to) they will get frustrated, bored and confused. 5. Socialising: “I want to spend time with my family and friends” Visitors come for a social outing with family and friends. They expect to talk, interact, and share the experience. Interpretation design can encourage and facilitate these types of interactions. 6. Respect: “Accept me for who I am and what I know” Visitors want to be accepted at their own level of knowledge and interest. They don’t want to feel excluded by staff, interpretation displays or interactives. 7. Communication: “Help me understand and let me talk too” Visitors need honesty, accuracy, and clear communication from displays. They want to ask questions and hear and express different points of view. 8. Learning: “I want to learn something new” Visitors come to learn something new, but they learn in different ways, it’s important to understand the audience and access their knowledge and interests. Controlling distractions like noise and avoiding overloading them with will help create an environment in which to learn. 9. Choice and control “Let me choose, give me some control” Visitors need control, the freedom to choose and the ability to get close to whatever they can. 10. Challenge and confidence: “Give me a suitable challenge” Visitors want to succeed but an easy task bores them but if it’s too difficult they get frustrated. Pro- David Revell: How to get excited about rocks 63 viding a wide variety of experiences will match a wide range of skills. 11. Revitalisation: “Help me leave refreshed and restored” When visitors are fully engaged and enjoy themselves they leave in positive and refreshed frame of mind. Getting the content right If the content of the interpretation, the text, images, sounds and video etc, is inappropriate or ill conceived, the interpretation designs will fail to engage and connect with visitors. Some key guidelines on getting the content right are as follows (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2009): • Each piece of interpretation should communicate a single or limited number of themes or messages. • Outdoor interpretation should clearly and specifically relate to features, objects or events in its immediate surroundings. • Interpretation should encourage visitors to notice and explore the things around them and should draw attention to specific features that can be seen, touched, smelled or tasted. • Written interpretation should be as concise as possible whilst still conveying key themes. • Text should be written to relate to the audience by using non-technical language. Text can be given personality by including questions, poetry and quotations. • The content may include illustrations, photography and other graphic components such as diagrams. These should be clear and easy to understand, visually interesting, be consistent with the overall style of the interpretation design, and extend or compliment the text rather then simply duplicate what is written. Choosing the interpretation media – the story telling tools The choice of media will be a determining factor in whether visitors engage with the interpretation, and ultimately connect with the site and its stories. Media choice will also be informed by the content (the theme or message), and who the interpretation is for. Media choice will also be determined by the budget and the cost of creating and maintaining the interpretation. There are many different media available to interpretive designers, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2009). These media include: • Graphic panels and graphic displays • Guided walks, tours and demonstrations • Performances and theatrical events • Publications including leaflets, booklets and guidebooks • Activity packs for families and children, including paper based games, quizzes and crayon rubbings • Low-tech interactive displays, including jigsaws, basic models for building, lift flaps that reveal a message underneath and ‘revealer’ wheels that visitors turn to re- 64 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GEOHERITAGE veal messages through a window in the wheel. • Dioramas that recreate specific settings, landscapes, scenes and events • High-tech interactive displays including working models and mechanical apparatus. • Audio media including listening posts, speakers, handheld wands and headphones • Tactile media such as 3D models and textured surfaces • Labels and plaques, usually with short pieces of text and / or simple images • Audio-visual media including films and video, either projected or shown on screens • Computer-based games and interactives, usually accessed through a touchscreen • Websites • Artistic media including sculpture, mosaics, murals and other forms of public art • Archive and reference materials, usually provided with space to sit and learn quietly • Objects for handling or dressing up, including touch trays, original and replica artefacts, and clothes and costumes We made use of many of these media in our interpretation of Berry Head and its wonderful geology. Examples from this project can be seen in the accompanying photographs. ‘Moodboarding’ and establishing an overall ‘look and feel’ At the outset of an interpretation design project, it is essential to define the look and feel of the interpretation. At the outset of an interpretation design project we will typically create a series of moodboards in response to the aims and objectives defined in the interpretation plan. The moodboards allow us to present a vision for all aspects of the interpretation experience. The boards will include recommendations for structural materials, three dimensional design, lighting effects (if indoors), graphic design, and artistic interventions. The moodboard is an effective way of presenting an overall view of the visitor experience to the client team. Agreement of the general look and feel in these early stages will allow the interpretation designer to embark confidently into the detailed design development stage – with the moodboards to benchmark against. Design challenge - learning styles The interpretation plan will identify the types of people that will visit the site, but these people will not interact with interpretation in the same way – they will have different learning styles. The choice of media and the interpretive design must therefore also take into account the different learning styles of visitors. The way visitors engage with interpretation can be described in three categories: visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic (Cable and Beck, 2011). Visual learners like to take in information visually, and tend to prefer visually stimulating three-dimensional display and graphics. These visitors will not only read short piece of text, but also diagrams, photography and moving images. David Revell: How to get excited about rocks Figure 1 65 The layered geology of Berry Head on the English Riviera Geopark was the inspiration for a design style reflected through the signage and interpretation. Auditory learners prefer verbal communication and conversation. Interactive screens, oral histories, live interpretation, and story telling stimulate them. Face-toface interpretation delivered by guides, wardens or park rangers is particularly effective for auditory learners. Kinaesthetic learners are ‘hands-on’ and prefer to learn through interaction. For these visitors, traditional object displays in glass cases are not interesting. They prefer tactile experiences, opportunities to hold objects and to physically ‘play’ with displays both through digital and analogue interactivity 66 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GEOHERITAGE Figure 2 The visitor centre displays at Berry Head make use of a range of interpretation media, such as graphic panels, computer interactives, audio points and a geology touchtable, appealing to people with different learning styles. The content is also ‘layered’ to meet the needs of visitors with different levels of understanding and interest in the subject. Design challenge - ‘layering’ Interpretation design must also accommodate the different levels of understanding about the subject amongst the audience. The extent to which the content on an interpretation display must be layered will be determined by the audience analysis in the interpretation plan. For example, the interpretation at the Geopark gateway site at Berry Head was designed to appeal to families and children with little knowledge of geology and the geomorphology. However, visitors with specialist geological knowledge were also catered for by more complex and detailed content accessed through screen based digital media. The concept of layering can also be applied to the layout of text on graphic panels and interactive screens. In this way text can be delivered in headlines, introductory paragraphs and body copy. Some visitors will simply read short, sharp headline that communicate the theme of the display, others will dwell longer and read the introductory paragraph that explains the theme, while some visitors will engage on a deeper level by reading all of the written content which explores the theme and related topics and stories in greater detail. This type of layering can also be used to reflect the length of a visit e.g. people with limited time will still assimilate and understand the main themes of the interpretation from just reading the headlines. Design challenge - graphic design The graphic design of interpretation such as an outdoor panel or an indoor display determines the ‘look and feel’ of the interpretation. Typically, graphics will work on a number of levels; these levels correspond to the layering of content, referred to above. Graphic design elements include typography, colour palette, the use of imagery including illustrations, photography and diagrams. David Revell: How to get excited about rocks 67 The way in which these elements are laid out or arranged on panels and interpretation displays involves a balance of visual impact, distinctiveness, practical accessibility to the content being designed, and visual navigation from one part of the content to another. Hughes (2010) asserts that graphics are rarely ‘read’ in a linear fashion, in fact most visitors will see a title and skim the text until their attention is caught. In addition, most visitors will look at a display or interactive element before looking at a label or explanatory text. This behaviour must be reflected in the graphic design. Design challenge - spatial design and visitor flow In restricted indoor spaces, such as a Geopark visitor centre or geology museum, the physical layout of the interpretation is critical in controlling the order in which content is received by visitors. Planning the circulation involves avoiding ‘pinch points’ where the space between displays is too narrow or where visitors are liable to start queuing around a popular display. The positions of the displays must also take in account access and the numbers of visitors that may be passing through at any one time. Depending on the size of the space, it may be possible to plan different routes through the displays for different visitor numbers at ‘peak times’ and during quieter periods. Outdoors, interpretation can help manage visitors by encouraging visits along specific trails and to particular viewpoints, and enhance the visitor experience by telling a story about the landscape and its features. It is very important that whatever is being interpreted can be seen from the location of the panel or other interpretive installation. Figure 3 This viewpoint interpretation panel at Berry Head has been carefully located to tell the story of geological features that can be seen from here. Note the small round plaque on the left of the panel marks this a s stopping point on an audio tour of the site. Design challenge - play and learning Most visitors to geoheritage sites are making a recreational visit. This means many will want to be stimulated and entertained, and will want to play with something, to interact or participate in an activity. The interpretation design should therefore con- 68 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GEOHERITAGE sider including play and interactivity, not least because we learn better and engage more when we do so. A playful approach also makes the interpretation less daunting for some visitors because it is less about formal education and more about discovery and revelation. Other visitors, however, will want to learn and will prefer a more didactic, learning orientated experience. Again, the principle is to consider the needs of the audience and design a range of interpretation experiences that meet these. Design challenge - accessibility and universal design Good interpretation is accessible interpretation. Accessible interpretation can be created through adherence to the principles of ‘Universal Design’, which are intended to create buildings, products and environments that are equally accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. Taking a universal design approach, good interpretation design does not separate or stigmatise disabled visitors, but ensures that everyone enjoys the same experience as far as possible. Design challenge - lighting for indoor interpretation Indoors, lighting is both a practical consideration and medium to be used creatively by interpretation designers. Lighting must be carefully considered, as it will have an impact on the way visitors perceive the space in which the interpretation is being displayed. There is often a balance to be struck in that some of the interpretation media, such as projections or screen-based displays, require low light levels to work effectively. However, low light levels and dark corners might not suit an interpretation space which is intended to be light, open and encourage participation and conversation. Penny Ritchie Calder (2006) defines the three aims of exhibition lighting as (1) ensuring the safety of visitors, (2) to provide lighting suitable for the materials on display, and (3) to create an appropriate atmosphere. Recently the drive for sustainable energy consumption has led to more importance being placed on the use of natural daylight in exhibitions and displays. It is also thought that the use of daylight has positive psychological benefits for visitors – ultimately contributing to how comfortable they feel which will in turn impact on their desire to engage and participate with the interpretation. Digital media and the digital audience Digital media and experiences, including websites, smartphones, tablet computers and social media, offer tremendous opportunities for interpretation design. Websites are a key component in the interpretation of Geoparks and geology museums. Not only do they start to tell the geology story, they help to market and promote the site and provide essential visitor information. Websites also enable geoheritage sites to have an on-going dialogue with visitors, and to provide up to date information and links through social media channels. For audiences who are already digitally engaged, the use of mobile digital equipment makes it possible for us to provide high impact multi-media experiences. An outdoor graphic panel can now include a QR code, which visitors with a smartphone can scan to David Revell: How to get excited about rocks Figure 4 69 This website for Berry Head provides essential visitor information about the Geopark and is starting to interpret its geology. access additional digital content including photography, video, computer generated imagery and text that deepen and extend the story. Smartphone and tablet ‘apps’ enable geoheritage sites and Geoparks to provide multi-media trail experiences, leading visitors through a journey of discovery and engaging them with interactive experiences and games. Social media connections allow visitors to tell their friends and family about what they are doing, and to share their experiences with other visitors. Game based exploration of geoheritage sites can enable visitors to compete with each other to achieve the most points or discover the most secret aspects of the geology – and competition is a powerful motivator. Many smartphones, such as the iPhone and Google Nexus, are also location aware through their satellite location system. This means that the digital material accessed through the phone can include a site map with a live satellite connection that shows the visitor exactly where they are and where to go - a really useful orientation aid. Smartphones and tablets also allow interpretation designers to create ‘augmented reality’ experiences, where digital content overlays or ‘augments’ a real-world view. This technology uses the phone’s camera, satellite location and internal compass to trigger content, such as a recreated animation of the formation of a landscape. This content is viewed against the actual landscape or geological feature, allowing visitors to appreciate the geoheritage in an entirely new and compelling way. Photographic or illustrative overlays can be geotagged around the landscape can also allow visitors to ‘see’ historic or cultural artefacts or buildings that no longer exist. Although digital media offer great opportunities, they are only part of a balanced approach to interpreting geoheritage. Not everyone has a smartphone, or wants to use it to explore the place they are visiting. Visitors who are not already digitally engaged cannot be 70 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GEOHERITAGE expected to use digital media, and therefore the many other traditional media remain an essential part of the Interpretation designer's toolkit. Conclusions The development of effective interpretation of geoheritage is a creative process. The starting point in this process is an interpretation plan that articulates the themes and objectives and identifies the audiences and their characteristics. Interpretation designers have a wide array of media at their disposal, and a range of design techniques and issues to consider in their application. Geoparks offer great potential for interpretation, and a creative approach is needed to effectively engage visitors with the meaning and significance of geoheritage - a subject that few people have much knowledge of but whose inherent fascination can be used to connect, inspire and entertain. References Cable, T and Beck, L (2011) The Gifts of Interpretation, Fifteen Guiding Principles for Interpreting Nature and Culture, Third Edition, Sagamore Publishing, Illinois. Heritage Lottery Fund (2009) Thinking About Interpretation www.hlf.org.uk/preApril2013/furtherresources/Documents/Thinking_about_interpretation.pdf Hughes, P (2010) Exhibition Design, Laurence King. Rand, J (1996) The 227-Mile Museum, or, Why We Need a Visitors’ Bill of Rights, Visitor Studies Association. Richie Calder, P (2006) Lighting the Way: Principles of good lighting design, Museum Practice 36. Tilden, F (1957) Interpeting Our Heritage, University of North Carolina Press.
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