• Part of a roofline shows from one building. Trees with fall color leaves on them fill most of the photo. A lamp-post is near center of the photo.

    Harpers Ferry Center

Using a Design System

Over the years the National Park Service has had to change how it presents information as the subject matter being interpreted has become more complex and readers have become more visually sophisticated and aware. They are less patient with massive quantities of text used to communicate information and concepts. A good design system allows creative problem solving and good communication. The way a message is presented determines whether the reader’s attention is captured or not. The site bulletin system has a good track record of meeting the needs of our visitors. See "NPS Design Ethic" (Information Design, p. 15).

Good design creates order out of chaos and leads the reader through the page. There is a greater emphasis now on the integration of visual material with text, and on the informational quality of the photos or art. Publications can suffer from visual overload in their quest to be all things to all people. Generally speaking the simpler the solution, the better. When done well, a publication will "excavate invisible truths" that will enrich, enlighten, and educate.

The beauty of a design system is that it not only serves as a tool for the designer but can quickly educate the audience, once they become accustomed to the style, providing them with a reassuring sense of familiarity and ease in finding information. One of the most noticeable examples is the interstate highway sign system, where similarly sized signs, with similar style and size type, in the same color combinations, appear on highways across the country.

The site bulletin design system offers two criteria by which to evaluate our publications: consistency and appropriateness. Consistency means that publications should speak the same graphic language and present a strong visual identity. Like the NPS uniform, the publications stand out in a crowd, speak with authority, and add up to a whole entity, rather than remaining as separate, isolated units. Consistency within a design system avoids arbitrary changes, allowing the truly important visual clues to stand out in clear relief. Appropriateness refers to making each publication right for its particular message.

The concept of the system, and its strength, is to make the visual elements reflect the content and to organize the text to be accessible and understandable. On a practical level, it establishes order out of chaos and gets a project done without endless hours of work and debate. While maintaining a park service identity you can also preserve an individuality and exuberance that is entirely your park’s own.

Browse the Harpers Ferry Center:

Browse the National Park Service: