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Producing interpretive panels

Before you design and produce it, you must make sure that a panel really is the best solution for your interpretation objectives. Well produced and sited panels can be extremely effective but badly produced and wrongly sited panels are often counterproductive.

Good interpretive panels use an imaginative combination of text and visuals to tell a story about an object or place. Contrast this with an information panel which only contains instructions or directions.

Keep it simple

The best panels are often the simplest. A single panel should communicate one or two main messages. Panels that try to do too much will be ignored. As a guide, you should aim for a maximum of 200 words per panel, and a simple and attractive design.

Layer your message

Layering makes your message more accessible to everyone. Research shows that people look at adverts (and panels) in the following order:

1. The headline (use minimum 12mm, 60-72 point text size)

2. The main picture

3. Sub headings (use minimum 8mm, 48-60 point text size) 

4. Bullet points

5. Further illustrations (use minimum 5mm, 24 point text size)

6. The main text (use minimum 5mm, 24 point text size)

Good practice tips

Follow these simple steps to producing better interpretive panels.


  • People decide in seconds whether they will read your panel so it must look attractive and be accessible at a glance.
  • Write in a lively and conversational style in short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Avoid jargon and technical terms.
  • Relate to your audience by by referring to them as 'you'.
  • Use active rather than passive verbs (e.g. 'we manage' is far better than 'this site is managed by').
  • Use metaphors, analogies and comparisons Use humour, poetry and prose.
  • Show your text to someone who doesn't know the subject to see whether your message is coming across loud and clear.


  • Visuals can be photographs, drawings or illustrations. They have important roles in communicating with your audience.
  • Visuals should illustrate something the visitor can't already see for themselves.
  • Drawings are often better at illustrating something than photos.
  • All illustrations should have a clear relationship with the text.
  • All illustrations should be clearly labelled or annotated.
  • Allow sufficient time and money to research and source visuals. Commission drawings if necessary and pay copyright fees.


  • If a map is needed on an interpretive panel it must be clear and easily understood.
  • Make sure you have copyright clearance for the map.
  • Only include information that is really necessary.
  • Make sure the map is large enough for the panel.
  • Make sure the design is clear and easily understood. Consider using an oblique '3-D' map if possible.

Design and production

  • Always involve your designer at the earliest stage and provide them with all relevant information about your panel such as why, who for, the site layout etc.
  • At an early stage you should decide what materials you want to use for the panel by considering what will best enhance the on-site experience and blend with the surroundings. 
  • A number of production techniques are available depending on your design, budget and desired lifespan of the panel. Most manufacturers can provide up-to-date technical advice on each technique they offer.
  • Make sure your panel is properly maintained by keeping its surfaces clean, tightening all fittings and cutting encroaching vegetation etc.

Last updated on Wednesday 2nd March 2016 at 10:05 AM. Click here to comment on this page