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Resolving the Park Folder

As parks have expanded and visitors have increased over recent years, the National Park Service has faced a corresponding demand for increased folder supplies. To deal with this growth, the NPS is adopting a new folder graphics system that promises to reduce production costs and improve folder usefulness throughout the program. Paper sizes, formats, typefaces, cover treatments, and the use of color will be highly standardized. In this graphics system, both the park and Harpers Ferry Center have important but different roles in the development of a new folder. This Project Planner defines these tasks and provides schedules for recording the progress of the folder work.

What is a park folder, anyway, and how will it be used when printed? These questions, central to sound solutions, face the park staff and project team tackling a new publication. A park folder is a compact guide printed by the National Park Service to provide text, map, and pictorial information to help visitors use and understand a park. It is especially useful in parks where personal guides are not available.

The folder Is but one of many accommodations the National Park Service extends to the public, but unlike museums, films, wayside exhibits, and visitor centers, it is portable. it can be sent by mail before a trip, carried throughout the park, and taken home afterwards as a souvenir.

Serving as an officially printed statement about a park, the folder welcomes visitors to the site and briefly interprets its resources. It offers general information to make their stay safe and enjoyable, and it supplies a good map to help them get around the park and explore on their own. In short, it is a handy field reference.

What steps, then, must be taken to organize and develop a new park folder? There is no single approach or easy formula, but two needs must be met as the project begins.

The park staff must first consider the visitor's expectations for information. Visitors want a quick understanding of the park's features and values and information about accommodations and other essentials. The park staff, charged with the management of the site, must next consider its own operational needs. Each park has its own restrictions, and the folder can be used to promote such regulations and safety warnings, as well as visitor activities. The staff can also use the folder to handle one of its greatest chores: the telling and retellIng of the park story without straining the staff or the visitor's interest. The folder, providing ready, dependable, on-the-spot information, is a hard-working management tool.

The superintendent requesting a new folder should therefore weigh its intended use in the context of the park's total management plan. Brief suggestions are indicated here to help the park staff refine folder objectives, prepare base materials, and actively participate in the folder's development.


Initial Park Planning

The first step in the development of an official NPS site folder is the superintendent's official request for action. The letter is sent through the Regional Office to the Chief, Division of Publications, HFC, summing up the park's position, defining problems, and suggesting how these might best be approached. It describes the audience, folder distribution methods, map considerations, and supportive interpretive and informational services. It indicates the information wanted and how this might be presented in the folder.

After the park superintendent has submitted a request for an official folder to HFC, a Publications Division editor will telephone the park superintendent or his representative to discuss the folder's probable application, its essential components, and roughly determine its size and format. From this discussion the park should have a good idea how much space will be allotted to informational and interpretive texts, to a map, and to photographs. Then the park staff can prepare background materials to send to the Division. These packages of texts, maps and pictures provide a base from which the Division will begin work.

At this point, the park helps set up a realistic schedule and decides whether or not a planning session with HFC publications personnel is needed either at the park or at Harpers Ferry.

Text Package

The texts for both interpretive and informational sections of folders are the collaborative work of the Division of Publications and the park. The writing assignments should be determined by the park and the Division after interpretive goals and basic visitor needs are specified. Who writes the text, whether a park interpreter, a HFC staff writer, or an outside authority, and how the writer is to treat the text must be considered and established.

Before work starts on a folder, the park staff should have firmly in mind what it wants the folder to accomplish. The text should please as well as inform and it should engage the visitor's interests. The text must be appealing to read, lucid, free of cant, trivia, and misplaced specialization. Most park visitors are on vacation. They are not looking for history or natural history courses.

The new NPS graphics system will help park staffs organize texts in that future folders will be structured to highlight a park's interpretive theme, certain features of the park, and basic travel information.

A thematic essay about the park's meaning is perhaps the most important part of the folder. It sets the tone for the folder and should be reinforced with suitable visual material. This essay might deal with the park's significance in American history, its scenic and wildlife values or its opportunities for recreational use.

Folder layouts often allow space for one or two features on notably park subjects. The park and HFC should work together to resolve how these will be treated in layout and text.

For natural history and recreational parks, the need for practical information is paramount. Each park must ask itself what visitors really need to know to go camping or backpacking, to find accommodations, or to visit major points of interest.

For historical parks, the folder should convey the essential framework effects in a simple and direct way. Yet, "facts" alone are not enough. The text should also give insight to the event or events commemorated and, together with other on-site services, help visitors relate events to particular places. This can sometimes be done by positioning text references around the park map and offering visitors a sequential tour.

Folders in the new formats will be fully illustrated with photographs diagrams, and other artwork. Extended captions to many of these illustrations are another mode of conveying essential information.

Map Package

At most parks, maps are so much a part of operations that finding good base materials presents no difficulty for those preparing a site folder. Master plans, land acquisition records, Geological Survey maps, and local highway maps are all useful references in preparing a map for a folder and should be included in the map package.

Sits maps are produced by Harpers Ferry Center as part of a folder's overall design concept. Map making is time consuming and costly, so the more completely a park's needs are defined, the more expeditiously the cartographers can prepare materials. In this work the park staff must take the lead in defining land forms, boundaries, and the level of detailed information required on the map. The positioning of map entries causes more problems than any other part of folder work, so the park staff must take great care in specifying its requirements.

Maps must serve as accurate and easy references for park visitors. The project team at Harpers Ferry Center must therefore strike a balance between highly detailed or technical maps and those that are overly simplified. Map entries should consist of basic information useful to a large number of people. The park staff should not insist on a map which covers every contingency. It is all too easy for a map to become so cluttered with entries that it has little value.

When historic maps and documents are called for, the site staff must spell out requirements and locate sources and materials. Historic maps are especially useful for folders dealing with early settlement, regional history, and military campaigns. Photocopies or other evidence of valuable original map art should be sent to Harpers Ferry. More refined versions can be acquired as the work progresses.

Picture Package

Strong pictorial images are indispensable to successful site folders. The National Park Service, with its many scenic and historic wonderlands, should have ready access to top qualify photographs. Yet most photographs submitted for park folders are not suitable for reproduction. Rarely does the Division of Publications receive black-and-white photos that are adequately composed, exposed, and printed. Most are essentially snapshots, and not of publication qualify. Color photographs, though somewhat better, seldom represent serious craftsmanship. For really rich effects, the Division prefers the flat film sizes rather than 35 mm slides, which can be difficult to handle.

The park superintendent must discuss the use of color with HFC early in the project, because how color will be used in printing determines whether black-white or full color photographs are called for. To resolve this question, the two offices must consider how map art is prepared, how pictorial purposes are served, and finally how folder quantities equate with costs.

Even though standards of photography vary, a distinct difference exists between the professional work of Ansel Adams, for example, and the somewhat haphazard materials usually submitted for folders. A look at national magazines shows what leading photographers are doing. If site photos do not measure up, hire a professional. Harpers Ferry Center cannot undertake location photography for parks throughout the system. Superintendents must support professional photo assignments on behalf of their own folder projects. The pictures produced in suck assignments can generally be used for purposes beyond the folder.

Park employees gathering pictures or natural history and recreational area folders are encouraged to collect seasonal and weather photos. Such scenes reflect the many moods and changing conditions of an area and give vitality to a publication. Wildlife views, particularly close-ups, enliven a folder. Camping, hiking, and special activity shots also lend visual appeal and support park-use policies as well.

For historic sites, another photographic discipline prevails. Studio set-ups are needed to properly record art and museum specimens. Despite claims to the contrary good architectural studies are not normally made with a 35 mm camera. This is a photographic speciality requiring a swing-type lens mount, tripod, appropriate lighting equipment, and considerable skill. It is not advisable to undertake such work with part-time photographers. Locate a professional whose performance is known.



NPS folders are moved from the printer to the park via a common carrier assigned by the Government Printing Office's Traffic section on the Government Bill of Lading. This document originates at HFC according to instructions from the park indicating delivery requirements. When the shipment arrives at the park, it is unloaded, inspected, and the receiving officer signs delivery papers. If everything is in order, the carrier bills the regional office for charges and the region pays the bill out of site funds which it administers.

When a folder order is sent to the printer, the Division of PublIcatIons sends the park a Notification of Shipment Form. When the folders arrive at the park, the staff fills out this form—noting the condition of shipment, its date of arrival, and park's initial reactions—and returns it to HFC. In the event the shipment is damaged, the park should determine if the carrier or the printer is at fault. If the damage has taken place in transit, the park must submit a claim to the carrier through the region. The region can then delay payment. Should the damage take place because of faulty packing by the printer, a claim must be made to the Division of Publications, which in turn will route the problem to GPO.


New considerations come into play once a folder has been delivered to a park, stored in a suitable place, and put into circulation. The major question is, how long will the supply last?

Twice a year each park is asked to report on folder supplies. This is done on NPS Form 10-80 supplied by the Washington office. The Division of Publications uses this information to schedule future folder printings and for the many accountings called for by the Department of the interior and Congress. Drastic changes in folder supply needs should be communicated to the Chief, Division of Publications, HFC.

Any errors, inconsistencies, and omissions that occur with the printing of a folder should be documented, and requests for changes should be sent to the Division when inventory Reports are submitted. Minor changes usually can be made without difficulty, but substantial revisions, especially on maps, may require months. On the average, a reprint with no changes takes three months from submittal of request to receipt of folders in the park. Minor revisions take five to six months. A new folder takes at least a year.


Controls over Government printing are legion. When appropriated funds are used, printing must conform to the rules laid down by the Joint Committee on Printing. These are described in the booklet, Government Printing and Binding Regulations. The Government Printing Office is is authorized to supervise all official printing, including NPS folders. Additionally, the Department of the Interior's Printing and Publications Office controls ordering and overseas production. Each bureau's printing must comply with policies of these two organizations.

Requests made to any office, or area, for large quantities of folders must be dealt with according to JCP regulations. For a private organization needing a large supply of a specific NPS folder, the least expensive approach is for the organization to get reproducible films and print the folder for the particular need. Call or write the Division of Publications, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia 25425, and the staff will arrange to have the films duplicated. Charges for the films, as well as method of payment, must be arranged between the organization requesting the film and the private firm processing it. The Division of Publications does not loan original art, film, or mechanical assemblies.


Besides the official informational folder, most parks have other interpretive publications. Many of these tour guides, newspapers, and sales booklets are financed by the park's cooperating association.

Associations, besides producing separate publications, have long assisted NPS programs by providing funds to make an additional printing of the park's official folder, to purchase a manuscript for a booklet, to hire a freelance photographer, and, often to purchase an inexpensive version of the park map for use at information desks.

The production of these working tools by associations is a positive, expanding, enterprise at the site level, and nationally. The advent of the National Book Store and its NPS Mali Order Catalog have opened the market for association sales beyond local outlets. A similar laudable movement seeks to support NPS interpretation through improved writing, design, and production in association publishing. Publications issued jointly with the National Park Service should be carefully produced, and ideally, conform to standards of the National Park Service's broader print program.


The National Park Service centralized its curatorial services and interpretive production facilities at Harpers Ferry Center in 1970, bringIng together a staff of specialists working in related fields. This consolidation took place so that participants using modern techniques could develop better interpretive materials for the 300 sites in the National Park System. The focus of Harpers Ferry Center is the Interpretive Design Building, a series of shops, studios, and offices planned for the production of films, exhibits, and publications. The building's location on the Mather Training Center Campus encourages an exchange of ideas between the HFC staff and personnel from the parks.

The Division of Publications, a unit in this studio complex, is responsible for producing the informational folders that parks give visitors—a program with origins in the earliest part of the century when parks were patrolled by troops of cavalry. Today, this publications work is part of a broad NPS interpretive commitment, with the folders reflecting the multiple disciplines related to natural, historical, archeological, and recreational areas. As urban life makes parklands increasingly more inviting, NPS folders must capture the esthetic overtones and convey the meaning of the 300 sites that make the National Park System this Nation's most diversified outdoor attraction.

For the publications staff at the Harpers Ferry Center, the creative challenge is to spark life the adventures each park offers through compelling concepts and presentations. The staff must focus on how to present a compressed version of the park's larger story, whether it be an appeal to robust, lung-filled joys of mountain peaks or an appeal to sterner emotions of a battle long ago. It must synthesize and translate this sense of place and purpose, whether tangible or elusive.

With that objective in mind, the Division brings editorial, cartographic, and design skills to a new folder project. Its task is to refine materials supplied by a park, or others, into a printed folder. In this program, the project editor serves as the coordinating officer between the park and Harpers Ferry Center. He initiates meetings, follows schedules, and handles communications between the two offices. It is his duty to represent the park and the visitor throughout the folder's developmental stages.

As the folder project moves through the studio process, the staff translates the park's objectives into design concepts, and finally into publishable materials. Whereas the project is first oriented to the park and creative concerns, attention then shifts to the mechanical problems of production. Creative and mechanical functions dovetail when the folder is first seen as a whole, with all parts in position. This first full visualization of the proposed folder demonstrates the appropriateness of the many components; how well they work together, and whether they should be challenged, or approved. Agreement on this early concept by all participants is crucial to the utility and quality of the final product.

The five steps in a folder's realization are described here to acquaint park staffs with the work sequence at Harpers Ferry Center. The methods of this program are governed, not by the requirements of a single park, but by the annual publications cycle of the Service at large.

The Division of Publications updates and prints more than 200 titles annually in quantities exceeding 25 million copies, an assignment in which the development of a new folder must fit. Each new folder takes about a year to plan, print, and deliver, a factor all parks must take into account. An even longer period may be needed for complex maps or pictorial matter.


Design Platform

With the park's text, map, and picture packages In hand, a team within the Publications Division meets to evaluate and plan the project. This meeting is commonly called the design conference. Its purpose is to resolve the design platform, or visual concept, of the folder.

If a folder is to be a sound, functional, and attractive reference, the project team must understand both the site and the folder's intended application. Much of this information will come from the superintendent's letter, conversations with park employees, and in some cases, a trip to the park.

In its analysis of the park situation, the project team must deal with four issues: 1. identify the folder's purpose. 2. Evolve an appropriate interpretive approach. 3. Define the practical or informational needs of visitors. 4. Decide on a suitable vehicle and arrangement for the components.

This is a time for ideas to be brought forward and tested, because at this stage no part of the plan is fixed. Every possibility—even unlikely ones—should be considered by the team as it approaches these four issues. The purpose, of course, is to isolate valid ideas so that the designer can begin organizing and visualizing the folder.

After establishing the major elements of the folder, the project team can use the new NPS graphics system as a base and quickly determine the design platform. The structural basis of the system readily provides for a proportional subdivision of elements. Its precise standards free the designer from a multitude of organizational and production schemes which may have little to do with purposeful folder solutions. The main advantage is the visual form that results. The folder, from the beginning, can be seen and developed as a whole. From this approach, both Park and HFC can deal with questions related to function and appearance before large investments are made in components.

Thumbnail Dummy

The designer now puts pencil to paper to make the thumbnail dummy—the first, rough visualization, or layout, for the projected folder. To create these small sketches, the designer uses many resources: design conference notes, editor's rough layouts, earlier folder, readily available elements, and his own ability to synthesize the many parts into a unified arrangement.

The thumbnail dummy should show the intended size of the folder, scale of the visuals, divisions of the text materials, and an approximation of the map. Parts should be proportioned to the larger, planned format using the standards of the NPS graphics system to arrive at a solution. When preparing these thumbnails, the designer will use the Unigrid formats, a graphic system which provides ten basic formats in two series. They are used for all folders in the National Park Service publications program.

The advantage of the thumbnail dummy is that it permits the designer to position known elements into a layout early with little cost so that teamwork can continue. The thumbnail dummy establishes a planning base from which changes and refinements can be made. The designed should not become beholden to the thumbnail but use it as a tool to open up further discussions, particularly with supervisors and editors and to move the project forward.

The project team now resolves the economics of the project. Decisions on size, colors, and quantity must be made in terms of available funds. Similar questions of scheduling and workload must be addressed.

The use of color must be determined in the thumbnail dummy stage. Full color is best, and it will be used if it serves a functional purpose, such as pictorial realism or map utility. Motion pictures, television, and magazines have long exploited the use of color to achieve realistic images, and the public has become accustomed to it. Black-and-white impressions, as a consequence, are too often faint abstractions devoid of compelling meaning. This influence also carries over into production. Today, most presses are either two or four-color units. Three-color printing costs as much as full color, so most folders are printed in either two or four colors.

Comprehensive Dummy

The third step of visualization is a full-scale mock-up of the design plan, or comprehensive dummy. It reflects, as much as possible, what the printed version of the folder will actually look like. Though there is conjecture in this step, too, it puts the folder together in all its parts so that the designer, the editor, and the park staff can understand the concept in its entirety. Comprehensive art is both fragile and expensive, so slides of the work are sent to the park for review.

All elements in the comprehensive dummy are dealt with on a one-to one basis. Text is laid down in place with proofs from another job reflecting preferred type size and text density. Maps are shown in their proper size, with main elements indicated and the color scheme shown. Illustration is suggested through photographs, photostats, clips of like picture materials, or sketch art. The designer in every way seeks a likeness of the visual effects he is planning and through trial and error tests a range of visual possibilities for the proposed folder.

Because all components have been positioned in the comprehensive dummy as though it were the real folder, the piece is ready for review and criticism by all participants. While changes in approach are still possible, an attempt must be made to give the job its "set." Now is the time to agree on components and arrangements, and to begin the mechanical stages. In many studios, this more complex dummy is not used; the designer moves from thumbnails into the mechanical stages. In the National Park Service, the comprehensive dummy is a tool for obtaining the necessary approvals and reducing misunderstanding.

The approved comprehensive dummy then becomes the graphic designer's blueprint for the job. It should be detailed enough that another designer can complete the project. With it in hand, work can begin on the more expensive final art elements. Type can be ordered. Work can begin on maps. Art and photography can be commissioned. The folder is on its way.

Mechanical Art

The mechanical art is a custom-made model of the folder, a precision assembly of the job's many parts. This art, when transferred to the printer, will be photographed and its images etched on printing plates. The press can then make an unvarying infinitude of copies.

The mechanicals carry the job's fixed type entries and line art. They indicate positions for the job's loose elements such as half-tone illustrations and maps. They carry instructions for color separation work and printing specifications.

The Division elevates the mechanical to the level of a rather permanent article. Because a folder may be used for many years, being revised and printed as required, the mechanical must lend itself to alteration at reasonable cost.

The mechanical art stage has many variables. Type, for example, can be produced by a typewriter, by traditional methods of metal composition, or by a million dollar computer-film installation. The recent explosion of new materials and processes has introduced an element of confusion from the range of options that have come to studio work. While new technology brings opportunity, costs rise dramatically unless the designer chooses carefully. This program attempts to achieve the maximum return from the offset process through proven methods.

Paper mechanicals and proofs are used for line work to facilitate frequent modification of text. Film assemblies are used for map materials because the cartographer produces the map on film. The aim is to get into film as early as possible so that images can be transferred to offset plates with a minimum lose of detail.

With the completion of the mechanical art, the folder can be sent to the printer. Proofing should now take place at every level, for changes beyond this point are both expensive and time-consuming. After these reviews have been made, mass production can begin.

The Government Printing Office administers NPS printing through a series of yearly programs that have improved folder quality, speeded production schedules, and maintained reasonable costs. Most importantly these contracts have opened lines of communication between the Division and the private firms doing the work. The Division of Publications deals directly with the printers, making press inspections as required. It also exercises influence on production schedules through a system of priority classifications.

Once the printer has the job, he puts it through a series of steps leading to printing plates. Mechanical art is examined for instructions, and the planning schedule is established for the entire job. Then, by photographing all materials, the printer combines layers of film to attain the graphic images first expressed in the Division's comprehensive dummy. To assure that these images are in proper sequence and complete, the printer duplicates his work and turns the proofs over to the Division for approval.

Proofs are not the stage to make additions and deletions. They are for checking purposes only. The one exception is maps. Because of their complexity, maps may have to be reviewed in the proofing stage for a last-minute details. Should map changes occur in number, a second set of proofs will be called for. Charges for alterations at this late stage are excessive. The cost of such work quickly reduces the number of folders than can be printed, so all sides must view this as a time for only the most considered changes.

Printing being something of a guessing game, the need for supervision continues into the printing plant. At long last the plates are readied. Yet, not until the press is running, and sheets flying, is it clear what final results will be. Time on a press is contracted, so shutdowns are both difficult and expensive, and every effort is made to keep the press running. When a job has been run, and work approved by the Division, the trucking company shown on the Bill of Lading loads the folders and hauls them off.

National Park Service
Informational Folder Program

Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

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Last Updated: 09-Jun-2012