10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Developing an Interpretive Program

Written by Watershed staff

Budget Interpretive signage by The Watershed Company

In a time of tight budgets, interpretation can feel like a luxury – yet it remains an important tool to educate and connect with visitors. Even if you don't have a large budget, you can save still have an engaging interpretive program by being strategic in your planning.

Get the most interpretative design for your buck with these ten strategies.

 

1. Design more than one sign (or product) at a time

For every project, whether one sign or ten, the graphic designer develops a visual look, including color scheme, fonts, and background. The time it takes for the designer to develop that custom style doesn’t decrease for a single sign, nor increase for multiple signs.

Likewise, if your interpretive program incorporates interpretive signs and a brochure, it will be more efficient to create them at the same time, using the same style. Designing more signs at once lowers the cost-per-sign.

At Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, we developed interpretive signs, a trail map, and a brochure at the same time. See a breakdown of the design process for this project.

At Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, we developed interpretive signs, a trail map, and a brochure at the same time. See a breakdown of the design process for this project.

 

2. Take the time to solidify your goals upfront

Changing graphics or writing new text for interpretive signs after they’re mostly developed can use up budgets quickly. Make sure you’re happy with your interpretive themes and messages before design begins. You don’t want to waste budget having the consultant create illustrations that you don’t use.

 

3. Develop the interpretive themes and text yourself

As the client and sponsor of the interpretive program, you are already familiar with your area and topic. By writing the draft content yourself, you can save consultant time.

 

4. Develop location-independent signs

Designing interpretive signs is more expensive than printing them. If you have a large area to cover with many examples of the same feature, designers can create a “generic” topical sign that you can print multiple copies of and display at multiple locations.

We did this for green stormwater features in Kitsap County – their public works department was creating many rain gardens across the county, so we created a standard rain garden sign that they could use at all of those projects.

On the left is the location-specific sign; on the right is the generic-location sign. Since the generic location sign will be placed independently (whereas the location-specific sign was placed near another sign), it needed to contain both topical information and overall program information, which we covered using a new sidebar. The content on the sign also changed slightly.

On the left is the location-specific sign; on the right is the generic-location sign. Since the generic location sign will be placed independently (whereas the location-specific sign was placed near another sign), it needed to contain both topical information and overall program information, which we covered using a new sidebar. The content on the sign also changed slightly.

 

5. Make sure designers are on the same page

Supply examples of interpretive signs and materials that you do and don’t like (especially if you’re very opinionated). This way, you can avoid false starts during the design development phase, and are more likely to wind up with a product that you love.

A rain garden graphic was adapted to illustrate different messages on two interpretive signs for Clemson University's Carolina Clear education campaign.

A rain garden graphic was adapted to illustrate different messages on two interpretive signs for Clemson University's Carolina Clear education campaign.

 

6. Use fewer review stages

You need to trust your designers for this to work – choose a designer whose past work you like, and be clear about your preferences upfront. You will need to be open-minded about how the signs look.  However, if you have strong opinions, this may not be a money-saving step.

 

7. Reduce or reuse custom graphics

Developing custom graphics is time-intensive. It is often cheaper to create a single large graphic for each sign, and use photographs or very simple graphics to illustrate less important points. We also reduce time by modifying base graphics for each sign.

By using digital graphics, an illustration of a rain garden can easily be adapted to an illustration of a stormwater pond; in comparison, painting or drawing by hand would require each image to be created entirely from scratch.

 
Smaller interpretive sign about trees. Interpretive design by The Watershed Company.

8. Create slightly smaller signs

We recommend 18" x 24" rather than 24" x 36". Not only will smaller signs be cheaper to design, they'll be more focused and contain an easily digestible amount of information. This size is perfect for one main topic, illustrated by a single large graphic, whereas larger signs have a tendency to get filled with multiple topics.

 

9. Minimize the number of stakeholders and designate one person in your organization as the final say

As you resolve differences of opinion over graphic styles, interpretive content, and text wording, having many reviewers for an interpretive product can complicate the design process. You also run the risk of diluting your interpretive messages as each stakeholder has a different take or different priorities.

Coordinating many (busy) reviewers also takes time and can slow down the review process. If you have multiple stakeholders, designate one person to make the final decisions when issues arise, keeping the project’s goals in mind.

 

10. Set realistic timelines and keep them short

Working with an achievable, but short deadline makes everyone more efficient. Set realistic timeline goals and keep them. Dragging out the process costs more consultant time and can dilute the creative process.


With strategic decisions, it is possible to reduce the cost of interpretive design

Ready to begin your project? Contact us to talk through your goals and get a free quote.