To build a great interp centre, first gather, then cull and clarify
By Claire Heath
When Econnect develops an interpretive centre, we start with understanding the story the client wants to tell. That clarifies our scope.
Then we research, gathering words, images, videos, audio, and people to interview. Themes begin to come into focus.
We collaborate with the client and the graphic designers so that we know how much space we have to work with, and which raw materials the client wants to use. It’s not just about what is used: we must allow space for all the elements to “breathe” so the centre is an engaging place to visit.
The elements may include a wall-sized photo, groups of small images ranged around the displays, specimens to be mounted, and hand-on tasks or learning games. We always end up with far more material than we can use.
Now the task is to distil the material into the most salient points, plus a few “wow” facts to foster a sense of wonder. We want the language (whether words or images) to hang together, with the same tone, degree of complexity and level of formality. This means changing scientific or humanities language into the ordinary language of people conversing. It must be something that school children and adults can understand.
To me, improving focus isn’t dumbing down: it’s distilling and clarifying.
Next, we edit the whole text, including captions and words on interactive elements, cutting and changing to ensure it is seamless.
In the final stage, all the elements are laid out in the design, and we see how well it works together and what parts are still too long. More clarifying and culling!
Sure, a lot of interesting and important material ends up being excluded, but sometimes we can include QR codes to expand on the information presented. If people are intrigued by what they see, they’ll seek out more information.