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Tips for Planning your Interpretive Sign Project

Developing an effective message and suggestions for organizing content for your interpretive signs

1. Plan to express your message visually. Photos, illustrations, graphics and symbols are more effective than words. Strive for a high Reward / Effort ratio. Reward your visitor with information for minimal effort.

2. Consider the 3-30-3 rule. Visitors are willing to spend varying amounts of time reading / viewing an interpretive panel. Research suggests that the average length of time viewing an interpretive panel is just 45 seconds. Provide something to be gained by visitors who are willing to spend 3 seconds, 30 seconds and 3 minutes of their time on an interpretive panel. An effective title and central photo or drawing can communicate something in 3 seconds. Subtitles and side bars can provide additional information in 30 seconds. Paragraphs and additional photographs / illustrations can provide further detail to be acquired in 3 minutes.

3. Establish your communication goals and determine the most effective means of achieving them – – – most often some combination of copy, photographs and/or illustrations.
Engaging your visitors by posing questions and using words like “you”, “your”, “we”, “ours” and “us”.
Using quotations to help personalize a message.
Enticing your visitors to be active visitors by looking for something at the site or in the landscape.

4. Keep your message concise and easy to read. Limit copy to 250 words or less. Studies suggest that few people are willing to read beyond 250 words on an interpretive panel. Photos, illustrations, diagrams and other visuals are most effective.

5. While selecting / acquiring photos, illustrations and other graphics to be included in the panel layout, consider the quality and resolution of a potential image. The recommended resolution for a placed image is 150-250 PPI (pixels per inch) as it is placed in the layout. A raster image placed at less than 150 ppi will appear pixelated and of poor quality. Double check the resolution of your images at the size you anticipate them being placed in the layout. You can determine the resolution of an image with a photo editing program like Photoshop. An image placed at 4”x8” will require a higher resolution than if placed at 2”x4”. To be safe, when acquiring/purchasing images, select the largest file size available. When scanning images, utilize the custom settings to scan at high resolution.

6. Gather and provide appropriate resources to serve as a reference for any desired illustration services. If you want some kind of an illustration or diagram included in your panel design, it’s important to provide the illustrator / designer with sufficient information and resources to serve as a reference. It’s important to remember that your designer is not necessarily familiar with your particular subject matter, improvement project, or site and can be “flying blind” without sufficient resources to reference. For infrastructure related projects, we often find that a drawing from the engineer project plans can serve as a good resource. With this kind of resource, we can often recreate / enhance the drawing by adding color and eliminating unnecessary construction detail, resulting in an effective and visually pleasing illustration.

7. Determine an appropriate panel size. Common standard sized interpretive panels for angle mount are 18”x24” and 24”x36”. Larger panels (3’x4’ and 4’x4’) are typically mounted upright. The size of a sign panel is typically determined by the amount of content to be communicated, and the distance from which the panel will be viewed. In an angle mounted interpretive panel, body copy is typically placed at a minimum of 24 point, with captions placed at a minimum of 18 point.

When submitting material for panels we will be designing, please consider the following checklist:
Ensure that all of your content has been carefully reviewed, edited, and approved by any and all of the stake holders in the project.
Organize material by sign panel. Provide a file folder for each sign panel layout, and name the file folder with the sign panel title.
Provide all panel copy / text (panel title, subtitles, paragraph copy, photo captions, photo credits, etc.) in a word doc.
Check images for proper resolution / file size. To ensure the placement of high quality images, consider the size at which an image will likely be placed in the sign panel layout. Provide images in the largest file size possible and save them with a meaningful file name.
Provide any agency/organization logos in vector (lines and curves as opposed to an image file) saved as an Illustrator, EPS or PDF file. This file type can likely be acquired from the department that produces your agency’s communication materials.
Place all images, logos, illustrations to be placed in a sign panel layout in an “images” sub-folder saved in the respective sign panel file folder.

9. Sign panel material and mount style selection should be based on communication goals, nature and character of the sign location, vandal resistance / durability demands, and budget. Please see our product catalog for the available options. Also, look for a future post on this topic.

Questions?  Feel free to call or email with any questions as you plan your project.