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Component for Module 311

Principles of Design

Content Outline l Resources l Suggested Developmental Activities

Design is the "body language" of visual communication. Good design in any medium promotes the smooth and effective transfer or flow of ideas. It facilitates and enhances the interpretive experience. Incorporating good design principles allows the audience to easily navigate through the document, web site, exhibit, or other medium. Poor design is as bad as a mumbled oral presentation, destroying chances to convey interpretive messages. This component introduces some basic principles of design that should be applied to all visual communication. It also addresses the distinguishing needs/characteristics of interpretive design for NPS media products.

At the end of this component, learners will be able to:

  • Recognize and articulate the characteristics of good interpretive design for NPS media products;

  • Apply basic principles of design to a given medium.

Design for NPS media products involves integrating basic design principles with principles of NPS interpretation, for the ultimate goal of providing a variety of interpretive opportunities. Design is a tool for the interpreter to use to develop relationships between the "things" or information (tangibles) being presented and the ideas or meanings (intangibles) they represent. Proper design applied to the appropriate medium, therefore, offers the opportunity to facilitate both intellectual and emotional connections between park media audiences and park resources.

Design for NPS media also involves designing for the visual image continuity and recognition of media products that represent NPS standards. Just as the ranger uniform should represent the image of quality personal service throughout the Service, so should continuity of design support visual image quality standards for all non-personal services, from simple signs to elaborate publications, exhibits, and electronic media.

It is not the intent of this component to develop media design specialists. However, through exposure to basic elements of media design, along with the analysis of a wide variety of applied examples, this component sensitizes the learner to recognize why some designs are visually, functionally, and interpretively effective and why some are not.

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Content Outline

I. Design concepts

A. Definitions of design
B. Visual identity and continuity

1. within a park
2. throughout the NPS

C. Form follows function

1. intended use, function
2. visitor/audience "work load"

D. Hierarchy of information
E. Subject matter/content-based design and the interpretive message

1. design themes
2. message-enhancing "mood", atmosphere, tone

II. Basic design principles (see Glossary below)

A. Proximity
B. Alignment
C. Repetition
D. Contrast

III. Applications related to design elements

A. Text/typography

1. typefaces
2. readability/size
3. appropriateness
4. consistent application
5. use of fonts (text attributes)

B. Graphics

1. Line art/illustrations
2. photographs
3. quality
4. copyright

C. Special effects

1. bars/lines
2. boxes
3. pull quotes/side bars
4. shading

D. Color

1. advantages
2. disadvantages

E. Layout

1. use of grids
2. balance
3. white space

F. Three-dimensional design

1. objects/artifacts
2. spatial arrangements

G. Interactive design
H. Accessibility

1. visual elements
2. audio elements
3. mobility/spatial elements
4. conceptual

[Portions of this component are based on concepts presented in The Non-Designers' Design Book by Robin Williams. Learners will need to refer to it or a similar publication to understand some of the concepts presented.]

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Proximity: Place related things, such as headings and related text, close together. Grouping elements creates a visual unit and helps to organize the information and reduce clutter.

Alignment: Aligning various visual pieces of a document ties it together visually. Consider, for instance, how alignment is used in a unigrid folder.

Repetition: Establishing and then repeatedly using elements in a piece of media fosters a comfort level in the viewer. When someone turns a page in a publication or turns a corner in an exhibit, they find familiar design elements, typefaces, colors, and layout that allow immediate continuation of the experience without the need to reorient.

Contrast: If you're going to make something different, make it really different. Having an obvious hierarchy of type sizes, for instance, allows the audience to quickly scan topics and then, if interested, move to the next level. Don't make the audience wonder; make the hierarchy readily apparent.

[above 4 definitions taken from the Non-Designers' Design Book, Robin Williams]

Balance: Striving for equal portions of text, graphics, and white space. (Rule of Thirds)

White space: Not space left over; it is a planned element, a place that allows your eye to rest; helps to set text and graphics apart from each other; helps in the organization of elements within a space.

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All Visitors Welcome: Accessibility in State Park Interpretive Programs and Facilities. Erika R. Porter. California State Parks, 1994.

Creating Environmental Publications. Jeffrey Zehr, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman, UW-SP Foundation Press, Inc., Stevens Point, WI, 1992. Ch. 3.

Design Guidelines for Accessibility. Harpers Ferry Center.

Designing With Type. James Craig, Watson-Gulphill, New York, NY, 1971.

Everyone's Welcome: Universal Access in Museums. Video. American Association of Museums, 1996.

Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach. Beverly Serrell. AltaMira Press/AASLH, 1996.

Harpers Ferry Center Exhibit Planning and Design Standards,

Harpers Ferry Center Planning and Design Database,….

Help for the Small Museum. Arminta Neal. Pruett Publishing, second edition, 1987.

Information Design: Tools and Techniques for Park-Produced Publications. National Park Service. 1998. Proceedings based on the workshop of the same name that was held in December, 1995 at Cuyahoga Valley NRA. The Non-Designers' Design Book is included as part of the package. Copies of this book were distributed to every park and central office in 1998. Additional copies may be ordered from the Association for Partnerships on Public Lands (APPL).

Interpretive Centers: The History, Design and Development of Nature and Visitor Centers, Michael Gross and Ron Zimmerman, The Interpreter’s Handbook Series, 2002. This book contains more than 650 full-color photos and graphics, and case studies featuring 125 interpretive centers.

The Interpretive Process Model, 2002. The Interpretive Process Model furnishes a sequence of activities with which an interpreter can develop opportunities for their audiences to make emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource as well as cohesively develop an idea or ideas that are relevant to the resource and the audience.

Interpretive Skills II; Lesson Plan 3, Mark Wagner, 1/92.

Looking Good In Print. 3rd ed. Roger Parker, Chapel Hill, NC, Chapters 1-6.

The Non-Designers' Design Book. Robin Williams. Peachpit Press, Berkeley, CA, 1994.

Pocket Pal: A Graphic Arts Production Handbook. International Paper, 1992.

Site Bulletin Folder. National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center, 1985.

Unigrid Folder. National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center, 1985.

User Friendly: Hands-On Exhibits That Work, Jeff Kennedy, Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1990.

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Suggested Developmental Activities
1. Study The Non-Designers' Design Book and the other materials available in the packet from the Information Design: Tools and Techniques for Park-Produced Publications workshop. Do one or two of the exercises suggested in the book such as: Select an advertisement in your local newspaper or phone book and, with tracing paper and pencil, trace the elements in the ad one at a time and reorganize the design to create a more effective advertisement.

2. Look at a Harpers Ferry-produced Unigrid park folder and determine where and how each design principle was applied, and, perhaps, where the principles were intentionally not applied for effect.

3. Collect a number of rack cards or other print media from a local tourism center and analyze their effectiveness in getting your attention. Determine if they are effective and whether the designer effectively targeted the audience and applied the principles of good design.

4. Analyze media in your park or at a local museum to determine how well "form follows function." On a scale of 1-5 rate the visitor/audience "work load" -- how difficult is it and how much effort/time must the visitor invest to "get the message."

5. Analyze a variety of media examples for content-based design influences which facilitate/enhance the interpretive message, i.e., an exhibit or brochure about a historic structure that uses the architectural style elements of the building as the unifying design theme. Do the design themes and style elements set a message-enhancing mood or tone?

6. Analyze the accessibility of various media for audiences of different ages, cultural backgrounds, physical disabilities, etc. How could the media be designed to communicate more effectively to a broader audience?

7. Identify how the design of an existing park brochure or exhibit organizes the information into a hierarchy using typefaces, colors, graphic elements, etc.

8. Start a collection of effective publications or photographs of other media (waysides, exhibits, etc.) that you can use for future reference.

9. Visit a local or regional museum/exhibit and, using an example of existing media there, use a sketch, tracing, or photo of the medium as a starting point, rework the design based on what you have learned in this component.

10. Adopt the park bulletin board. Rework the design and rearrange of items using good design principles. An internal (administrative, lunchroom, etc.) bulletin board may be substituted if park does not have a visitor bulletin board. Evaluate whether this has made a difference in the effectiveness of the bulletin board. Search the Internet and the World Wide Web and identify several web sites/pages and evaluate why they attract you. Do they use good design or just gimmicks?

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Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation

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