IDP Home Page About the Program How to Use the Program View Competencies F.A.Q. Contact Us About Us, IDP News, Updates, and More
IDP Home Page
Fulfilling the NPS Mission 101
Informal Visitor Contacts 102
Interpretive Talk 103
Conducted Activity 210
Interpretive Demonstration 220
Interpretive Writing 230
Curriculum-based Program 270
Planning Park Interpretation 310
Interpretive Media Development 311
Leaning Interpreters 330
Interpretive Research
Other Developmental Competencies


Planning Park Interpretation Curriculum-based Program Interpretive Writing Interp. Demonstration Conducted Activity Interpretive Talk Informal Visitor Contacts Fulfilling NPS Mission IDP Homepage Interp. Media Development Leading Interpreters Interp. Research Interpretive Writing Curriculum-based Program Planning Park Interpretation Interp. Media Development Leading Interpreters Interpretive Research Interp. Demonstration Conducted Activity Interpretive Talk Informal Visitor Contacts Fulfilling NPS Mission IDP Homepage





About the Module The Curriculum Certification Standard About Submission More Resources Anchor Products

Component for Module 311

Choosing Appropriate Media

Content Outline | Resources | Suggested Developmental Activities | Next

In this component interpreters will gain an understanding of how media is used to connect the meanings of the resource and the interests of the visitor. Interpreters will be able to select media based on strengths and weaknesses and potential linkages each creates between tangibles and intangibles. By applying this understanding to their knowledge of the resource and knowledge of the visitor, interpreters can choose an appropriate media mix, and advise supervisors and managers of media options.

At the completion of this component, the learner will able to:

  • Evaluate existing media treatments for their effectiveness;

  • Recommend the appropriate media to communicate interpretive messages, for park, HFC, or contracted projects;

  • Participate as part of a media development team.

In Module 101 of the Interpretive Curriculum, the "Interpretive Equation" identifies the importance of balancing audience, resource, and techniques. Interpretive media provides an opportunity to address diverse learning styles, provide uniform information, and reach more people. Successful interpretive media arrange sometimes complex and sophisticated elements (i.e., text, graphics, objects, space, site resources) into relationships that facilitate connections to the meanings of the resource. Evaluating these complex relationships through assessment of existing media is critical to both teaching and learning the concepts in this component.

Return to the Top

Content Outline

I. Universal factors in selecting media

A. Environmental
B. Desired interpretive outcomes
C. Potential links between materials and meanings
D. Maintenance needs and abilities
E. Fiscal
F. Management constraints
G. Accessibility
H. Compliance
I. Staff abilities and numbers

II. Publications

A. Site bulletins
B. Newspapers
C. Magazines and books
D. Rack cards
E. Brochures
F. Posters
G. Newsletters
H. Advantages of publications

1. portable
2. depth of subject
3. detailed reference information
4. different languages
5. present sequential or complex material
6. visitor reads at own pace
7. income source
8. revise at a reasonable cost
9. souvenir value
10. used before, during, after park visit
11. treat the same subject for different audiences
12. may be appropriate for stories lacking supporting artifacts or photographs

I. Limitations of publications

1. discourage audience participation with lengthy and/or complex texts
2. generally require that user be literate
3. require periodic revision to remain current and accurate
4. can be a source of litter
5. may require facilities and maintenance (such as dispensers)

J. Interpretive potential of publications

1. tangible, intangible, universal linkages

K. Typical uses of publications

1. orientation and route information
2. mail-out for pre-site planning
3. quickly changing resource information
4. seasonal information
5. marketing
6. safety and activity information
7. self-guided walks/tours

III. Waysides

A. Orientation panels at trailheads
B. Safety and resource management trailside panels to interpret buildings, locations, features
C. Advantages of waysides

1. available 24 hours a day
2. use real objects and features in their own setting
3. can be designed to blend with the site environment
4. provide on-site interpretation of specific sites and stories
5. can depict a place as it appeared many years before
6. can show a feature from a view unattainable by visitors
7. can illustrate phenomena that invisibly affect a resource
8. establish a park identity at remote, un staffed locations
9. alert visitor to safety or resource management issues at the point of danger or environmental impact
10. some media can be replaced relatively quickly and inexpensively

D. Disadvantages of waysides

1. limited amount of text and graphics per panel
2. may not work well for complex subject matter
3. to some degree intrude on a park's visual landscape
4. information can become obsolete
5. material can be relatively expensive to replace
6. may not be practical at sites with climatic or environmental extremes
7. susceptible to vandalism
8. expensive site preparation may be needed at some locations

E. Interpretive potential of waysides

1. tangible, intangible, universal linkages

F. Typical uses of waysides

1. along walking routes in historic areas
2. trailside areas to point out particular features
3. trailheads
4. boat ramps and picnic areas
5. in combination with bulletin boards

G. Exhibits

1. multimedia
2. interactive
3. dioramas
4. panels
5. models
6. relief maps
7. object cases
8. advantages of exhibits

a. multimedia format reaches multiple learning styles and interests
b. viewed at visitor's own pace
c. designed in all shapes, sizes, colors and textures
d. display objects associated with the site
e. incorporate artifacts, resource features, or mixed media to produce desired atmosphere and effects
f. transcend language and cultural barriers
g. promote visitor participation
h. designed for both indoor and outdoor applications
i. well suited for ideas which can be illustrated graphically
j. permanent exhibits can be grouped with rotating or seasonal temporary displays to provide a sense of change
k. provide experiences of varying complexity, allowing visitors to select the depth of their involvement with the information

9. limitations of exhibits

a. are sensitive to agents of deterioration
b. require security and maintenance
c. must be housed in adequate facilities
d. visitor interest is not always linear
e. are limited by the artifacts and materials of which they are made
f. exhibit materials may have high commercial value, making them targets for theft
g. curatorial standards for exhibit of collection items must be met
h. can be very expensive
i. inexpensive may look amateurish
j. technology and materials can overwhelm the message
k. can compete with park resources for the visitor's time and attention

10. interpretive potential of exhibits

a. tangible, intangible, universal linkages

11. typical uses of exhibits

a. visitor centers
b. museums
c. galleries
d. contact stations
e. nature centers
f. environmental education centers
g. traveling/off-site

H. Audiovisual and electronic media

1. slide programs
2. CD-ROMs
3. movies
4. oral history tapes
5. video projection
6. interactive computer displays
7. World Wide Web pages

I. Advantages of audiovisual and electronic media

1. capture realism and provide emotional impact
2. reach many visitors at one time
3. well suited to the presentation of chronological and sequential material
4. provides opportunities for dramatization
5. portable for off-site use
6. provides views of places, animals, plants, and seasons otherwise unavailable or inaccessible
7. create a mood or atmosphere
8. adaptable can be adapted to provide service for physically impaired visitors
9. illustrate before-and-after affects
10. produce in different languages
11. excellent educational outreach tool
12. potential sales item

J. Limitations of audiovisual and electronic media

1. cannot be used everywhere
2. require back-up equipment, periodic maintenance, and regular monitoring
3. may be visual or auditory intrusion
4. offer little opportunity for visitors to browse or study an item in depth
5. repetitious sound tracks can stress staff
6. production and maintenance costs can be expensive
7. people usually have high expectations of audiovisual media; low-budget products can fall short of expectations
8. can potentially compete with actual park experiences for visitor's time and attention
9. may be difficult to provide large amounts of information
10. difficult and expensive to update

K. Interpretive potential of audiovisual and electronic media

1. tangible, intangible, universal linkages

L. Typical uses of audiovisual and electronic media

1. visitor center auditoriums
2. orientation to a site
3. pre-site information and marketing
4. interactive exhibitry
5. information stations
6. exterior audio stations

Return to the Top


Choosing Appropriate Media, Attached as Supplemental Reading. Compiled, 1997.

Creating Environmental Publications, Jeffry Zehr, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman, UW-SP Foundation Press, Inc., 1991. More of a how-to, but valuable in the many examples provided.

Harpers Ferry Center, publication of Harpers Ferry Center, 1997.

The Interpreter's Handbook, Russell K. Grater, Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1976. 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 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.

Matching Media and Need, Interpretive Skills II, Lesson Plan 2, L. Young and N. Dickey, 1992.

National Park Service Publications Profile, Division of Publications, National Park Service, Interpretive Design Center, Harpers Ferry, WV.

Presenting Archaeology to the Public, John H. Jameson, Jr., ed, 1997. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA. Chapter 7-Sites Without Signs, by Karen Lee Davis

Signs, Trails and Wayside Exhibits, Suzanne Trapp, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman, 1994. UW-SP Foundation Press, Inc. More of a how-to, but valuable in the many examples provided.

Wayside Exhibits, Division of Wayside Exhibits, National Park Service, Interpretive Design Center, Harpers Ferry, WV, 1996.

World Wide Web
Waysite, Division of Wayside Exhibits web site,


Return to the Top

Suggested Developmental Activities
1. Identify an interpretive need that is not currently addressed by media in your park. Identify and analyze alternative media treatments for this message by addressing the following questions:

--How could your message be conveyed by two different types of interpretive media? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of using these media types to convey your message?
--What logistical constraints would influence your final interpretive medium choice (available funding, special legislation such as wilderness, compliance issues, safety, resource degradation, etc.)
--Choose your recommended medium and write a brief paragraph supporting your decision.

2. Interview someone who has participated on a media development team or has developed media in your park or in a nearby park or museum. Ask them how they selected their media. What did they learn about the selection process that provides you insights?

3. Check with your division chief or regional/support office interpretive specialist to find a park that is currently developing media. Ask to participate in planning and review meetings.

4. Use the attached Media Evaluation Form (Attachment A) to evaluate media at your park or some other site.

Return to the Top


Interpretive Media Evaluation Form

Name: ___________________________________

Type of Media: ___________________________________________________


Intended Audience:________________________________________________


Is the content relevant? Well written? Is the information current? Does the content reflect multiple points of view?


Does this product as a whole effectively link tangible resources with intangible meanings and/or universal concepts?


Is the medium appropriate for the message? Why? Why not?


Does the design contribute to the overall interpretive effectiveness? Why/why not?


Does the text communicate effectively? Does it provide intangible links and demonstrate good interpretive principles? Is it understandable to general audiences? Are sentences clear and concise?


Do the graphics complement the message that is communicated by the medium?


Assess the lifespan of the medium:
(What problems do you think may arise? Are there potential or preventable problems?)


Have accessibility issues (Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, Americans with Disabilities Act) been considered and addressed? How? Other comments or observations related to this evaluation:


Next Component

Principles of Design

Return to the Top


Editor: STMA Training Manager Interpretation

NPS Home l Privacy Notice l Disclaimer and Ownership
Visit ParkNet