The interpretive aspect of media development involves
the integration of complex elements and layers that
make conceptualizing, planning, and organizing much
more complicated than for personal services presentations.
While the core of concept development is the same for
any interpretive product, the added and overlapping
components of a media project require an additional
level of knowledge about the interpretive function and
structure of media. In addition, since visitors cannot
"ask" an exhibit or brochure for clarification
of a concept, it becomes imperative that intent is focused
so interpretive opportunities are successfully conveyed.
Upon completing this component, learners will be able
an understanding of the difference between the function
of personal vs. non-personal (media) services in
in an effective, systematic approach to interpretive
concept development for assigned media projects;
the interpretive structure of media for application
to concept and design development;
an interpretive vision for an assigned media project
to media advisors, designers, producers, and other
Interpreters must understand the potential uses of media
compared to personal services to make wise recommendations
and decisions about new media development. The advantages
and disadvantages must be considered in light of budget/time
constraints, as well as intended interpretive purpose
and need. Once the choice to use media has been made,
an understanding of media function and structure can
facilitate the process of determining interpretive focus
and concept development.
This component introduces a suggested interpretive
concept development phase of media planning. This interpretive
element is often overlooked when a park embarks on a
new media project, but represents the best chance for
a completed product to communicate a meaningful message
to its audience. The elements identified in this process
can provide a bridge between the overall project definition
planning phase (component: Project
Definition and Planning) and the beginning of the
design phase (component: Principles of Design). Interpreters
who participate in this process will be able to apply
a specific vision for the product's purpose and concept
to its in-house development, or effectively communicate
that vision to media advisors, designers, producers
and other contractors.
Through this concept development process, the interpretive
need is connected to the broad subject-matter content.
This in turn, is distilled down to the most significant
and meaningful elements, which are linked to universal
concepts for effective interpretation for the intended
audience. The process then leads naturally to the development
of meaningful themes and objectives to creatively guide
both content and design development. Determining the
interpretive focus for a product must also take into
consideration the general interpretive structure of
media, as expressed in the tenets for media concept
Interpretive function - media characteristics compared
to personal services
A. Advantages and limitations of personal services
1. real person experience
a. the audience can ask questions
b. the interpreter's personality can enhance or
2. adjustable experience
a. the interpreter can tailor the experience
to each audience
b. can personally engage individuals within the
3. Linear presentation of concepts
a. the audience must follow along the linear
path the interpreter presents
b. interpreter has more control over direction
of audience thinking and experience
B. Advantages and limitations of media (overview
- see also the component: Choosing Appropriate Media)
1. audience has control of experience
2. greater freedom to choose own level of participation
3. visitors/audience select what they will focus
on and when/how/if they will interact
4. greater opportunity to appeal to different learning
styles and attention spans
5. increased options for interpretive effectiveness
6. greatly increases the complexity
7. multi-dimensional and multi-directional access
to the concepts presented
8. can provide access to unseen time and space
9. much more complex to develop because of integrated
elements, overlapping layers, and audience options
10. not easily adjustable
(The following is a suggested method to identify and
focus interpretive content and intent, in order to choose
the most appropriate type of media for an identified
interpretive need, and to most effectively provide interpretive
A. List the primary subject matter areas or information
concepts related to the identified interpretive need
(see component: Project Definition and Planning)
B. Are the primary information concepts simple or
complex, concrete or abstract, or mixed?
C. Are there multiple perspectives to convey?
D. What types of known resources/materials (tangible
resources) are available (i.e. objects/artifacts)?
E. Brainstorm and list all the intangible meanings
and universal concepts which can be linked to these
relevant tangible resources (see Module 101)
F. What possible thematic concepts emerge from the
step this list?
G. Identify one or two potential overall themes for
the product and sub-themes as appropriate.
H. Articulate/distill the potential objectives that
emerge as the interpretive "so what" is
defined in steps E, F and G
I. Determine what type of media product could most
effectively convey selected thematic concepts and
objectives (see component: Choosing Appropriate Media)
Interpretive structure of media - tenets for concept
A. An effective media product is an organized framework
of smaller tangible/intangible links that support
more meaningful tangible/intangible links and universal
concepts, to facilitate connections between visitors/audience
and park resources.
B. Interpretive media development involves effectively
creating, altering and/or manipulating a physical
space or environment in order to facilitate connections
between visitors/audience and park resources.
C. Media concept development applies the requirements
of the "Interpretive
Equation" (see Module 101) in two equally
important integrated layers to create interpretive
1. content - info/graphics/objects/resources (tangibles);
meanings, significance and universal concepts (intangibles);
themes and objectives; interpretive hierarchy; conceptual
2. space/environment - basic design elements; flow/direction;
interactive design; organization and structure (hierarchy
and layers); interrelationships; use/presentation
of tangibles; physical and conceptual accessibility
A. Understand the difference between interpretive
opportunities and interpretive outcomes (see Module
101 component: How
B. Using evaluation to increase interpretive effectiveness
1. front-end evaluation - before a project gets
under way in detail
2. formative evaluation - during development and
3. summative evaluation - after completion of the
Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach. Beverly Serrell.
AltaMira Press/AASLH, 1996.
Harpers Ferry Center, publication of Harpers Ferry
The Interpreter's Handbook, Russell K. Grater, 1976.
Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. Chapters
6 and 9.
Interpreting the Environment, Grant W. Sharpe, John
Wiley and Sons, 1976. Chapter 5, 13, and 16.
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
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.
Matching Media and Need, Interpretive Skills II, Lesson
Plan 2, L. Young and N. Dickey, 1992.
User Friendly: Hands-On Exhibits That Work. Jeff Kennedy.
Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1990.
Visitor Surveys: A User's Manual. Randi Korn and Laurie
Sowd. American Association of Museums, 1990.
1. Choose a major subject-matter theme at your park
that is presented to visitors through both personal
and non-personal interpretive services. Determine which
format seems to most effectively convey the meanings/significance
associated with the subject information. Make a list
of the advantages and disadvantages of media that apply
in this situation.
2. Ask your supervisor if you can facilitate a brainstorming
discussion at your next division staff meeting to generate
new theme and objective ideas for interpreting one or
more park resources. Follow the proposed interpretive
concept development steps presented in Section II, E-H,
of the component outline above. Be prepared to assist
staff members in defining the terms "tangible,"
"intangible," and "universal concept."
3. Choose a panel or section of an existing interpretive
exhibit or page from an interpretive publication in
your park and analyze its interpretive structure, based
on the tenets outlined in Section III of the component
outline above. How have the space and content of the
panel/page been structured/arranged to maximize interpretive
effectiveness? Identify all the tangible/intangible
links and universal concepts that are presented and
if/how they are arranged in a hierarchy to maximize
interpretive effectiveness. Apply the elements of the
Interpretive Equation - how is knowledge of the audience
and knowledge of the resource reflected in the spatial
and content structure of the product? Are identifiable
interpretive techniques a part of the structure? How
could the spatial and content structure be made more
4. Use the assessment rubric from this competency module
to evaluate several media products in your park. Invite
co-workers to participate and volunteer to lead a group
discussion. Help participants articulate how the elements
of each media product did or did not "work together
to create opportunities for the audience to form their
own intellectual and emotional connections with the
meanings/significance inherent" in the park resources
5. Use the attachment "Critical Appraisal Checklist
for Exhibits" to practice evaluating exhibit media
in your park or at another site. Determine how these
appraisal elements contribute to the interpretive effectiveness
of each exhibit you appraise.
___ Is there a label telling what the exhibition is
___ Is the label short?
___ Is the message clear?
___ Is the label placed in a location where it will
Physical Orientation and Circulation
___ Is it clear how visitors are expected to circulate
through the exhibition?
___ Are there choice points that confuse the visitor
or create a chaotic flow?
___ Are the text labels short (50-75 words)?
___ Do labels fall easily within the visitor's line
___ Do label titles stimulate thought and interest?
___ Is there adequate lighting? No glare?
___ Are letter sizes adequate?
___ Is there good contrast between letters and background?
___ Is the layout of labels consistent? (same type of
information in the same place from one label to another).
___ Are labels in a location where one can look at the
object and read at the same time?
___ Are labels written in a friendly, lively style?
___ Do labels help focus visitor attention on important
aspects of objects?
___ Can labels be easily understood?
Factors within Exhibit Displays
___ Are the goals of the exhibit display obvious? Do
they get across to the visitor?
___ Is it easy to understand the organization of the
___ Is the focus of the exhibit appropriate? (focus
produced by design, lighting, layout, etc.)
___ Can the message be communicated in a brief period
___ Do the exhibit elements work together to accomplish
the goals of the exhibit?
___ Are hands-on elements effective? (visibility, feedback,
conceptual model, minds-on, etc.)
Factors between Exhibit Displays
___ Do exhibit displays compete for attention with
___ Is it clear how the exhibit displays are organized?
___ Is it clear where one exhibit ends and another begins?