Pimp my Panel

Pimp my Panel
Logo: ARC Creative

Firstly, know this: interpretation and education via ‘the panel method’ is not particularly effective. Being shown around a site by an enthusiastic, skilful guide is much, much better.

The continued popularity of panels is because they are a logical (and relatively cheap) way of plonking a lot of information close to where it is needed. This may sound a bit negative but it’s important to recognize the limitations of panels in order to design good ones. If it’s a good panel you will find what you need to know (main points of interest, where the toilets are, no camping etc). You will be educated with some fascinating facts and learn why you need to care about the site too......result!

Pimp my Panel
This panel (aimed at younger people) explains how a Biomass Boiler works and discusses associated environmental matters. A technical 3D cut away of the boiler with lots of annotation was tempting but we kept it simple.

Good panel - or a stinker?

Pimp my Panel
Panels are a great way of providing information close to where it is needed. This one has some nice images that help to bring the bandstand to life and (considering it's in two languages) there's not too much text.

Nowadays, panels are almost a standard requirement in a well-interpreted site. Imagine that you’ve just arrived by car at the site (why didn’t you cycle?!!) the first thing you look for is the welcome panel to tell you what’s what. Most visitors are not there primarily to be educated. Any learning that takes place will probably need to be a tease. If the panel is a bad-un (and many are) it will provide information about the sponsors, some stuff about history that you can’t relate to, a long list of plant species but few good
pictures. There will, however, be lots of meaningless logos. You will soon be bored and thinking about bushes nearby because they haven’t said where the toilets are!

Know your audience.

Visitors are believed to retain: 30% of what they read, 50% of what they see and 90% of what they do. This has implications for how we do our panels. In short, we need less text, lots of nice pictures, and suggested things to do.

Using ‘Tilden’s tips’ good panels should ‘provoke’ people to engage with the subject (use provocative titles like “Pimp my Panel”). Having captured their interest it is then important to continue with clear, stimulating ideas that they can ‘relate’ to.

For example: Rather than describing forge work as ‘hot’ one could say, “the intense heat from the blacksmith’s forge could be felt from the opposite side of the road”. A gun “as long as three buses” is easier to imagine than one “15 meters in length”. Pictures are even better!

It can also help people to identify with the information if a character narrator delivers it. This might be an historical figure speaking to us from the past. This works particularly well with children (and the child in all of us!)

Information must not be supplied but ‘revealed’ in response to genuine curiosity that is being generated.

Since visitors may retain 90% of what they do, we should also be encouraging them to, “see if they can spot a lizard” or “ smell the bluebells?” and “make a rubbing of that cast sign” and so on.

Lots more to say but I’ve only got 500 words. You get the idea don’t you?............ hope it wasn’t boring.

Philip Rutt is a designer, illustrator and a director at ARC Creative Design Ltd. Tel: 01303 259998

Logo: SDB Rutt

Updated information February 2017:

Philip Rutt is a partner of SDB Rutt Design Group and can be
contacted at: Tel:
01303 870187. He is also an associate of ARC Creative Design Ltd.


First published in CJS Focus on Environmental Education in association with The Field Studies Council on 24 November 2008