Excommunication by Font

We wish you a Happy New Year and hope you have a joyous and fruitful 2018. Thanks for the comments and emails you sent us in 2017. Two of the emails were quite direct and are worth sharing. The first comment took us to task for the font on Bill’s email, but it made us think about the use of the words “Interpretive Design.” The second comment, by Jon Kohl, was full of constructive commentary and asked what we had to offer in the field of interpretation.

Bad Fonts + Confusing Terms = Don’t Contact to Me Again

Bad Fonts + Confusing Terms = Don’t Contact Me Again

“Anyone utilizing Comic Sans demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic principles of interpretive design. I'll take a pass on your website.”

- response to an email from EID coach, Bill Reynolds

Ouch…who knew Bill’s email font could reflect so poorly on EID? Here is Bill’s response to the comment:

“I have changed my email font away from Comic Sans so thanks for the heads-up and from now on I will refrain from using it. My background is not in graphic design but in designing visitor experiences and interpretive planning so that the building, landscape, exhibit, and graphic design professionals can work together reinforcing the essence of place based on heritage interpretive outcomes. Sharing one’s strengths across disciplines is what EID is trying to achieve for the benefit of the visitor and our heritage resources.”

Obviously, the author of the email considers himself or herself an interpretive designer. However, Bill and Lars and I do not think sign makers or exhibit builders or graphic designers or those who deliver interpretation are “Interpretive Designers.” Signs, exhibits, graphics and interpretive delivery are important, but not exactly the “big picture” approach we envisioned.

What’s this EID Stuff All About?

I decided to Google the words “Interpretive Design” and guess what? Three of the four websites are interpretive sign companies. That is why we chose Experiential Interpretive Design (EID) to create less confusion. Below is our vision of what experiential interpretive design can do:

  • It is a craft that helps produce a plan to enrich the leisure visitors’ experiences with places established for the public good. It ties together each building, path, hallway, sign, exhibit and interpretive offering into a dance of meaning and memory.

  • An experiential interpretive designer sits at the table from the very beginning of a project to ensure that all aspects are aligned with the mission and message of the site.

  • The process of experiential interpretive designing looks for ways to welcome, orient and guide the visitor, and to help develop experiences for the visitor’s head, heart, hands and hunger.

  • Experiential interpretive designers work with and coach staff members to provide an experience for visitor that feels organized, provides motivation, and achieves and reinforces the site’s goals. Then as a team we design ways to evaluate the visitor’s experience.

What is EID Trying to Do?

The constructive commentary email contained eight thoughtful points from our colleague Jon Kohl of the PUP Global Heritage Consortium

Below are three of his concerns and my responses.

“I am also not convinced that you should frame or try to position EID as a new field. Interpretation doesn’t need a new field, what it needs is to evolve.”

Good point. EID does not want to create a new field. We are espousing the creation of a new branch with some very different characteristics within the field of interpretation.

We are building on the work of Amos, Tilden, Ham, Cable, Beck, and others. However, our emphasis is an outcome driven structure and accelerated innovation to take us beyond the traditional communication model to an experiential model. Major changes on the delivery side (invitational interactions and catalytic coaching) are more likely to be the result of integrating the new EID principles since the design model is based on engagement and participation by the visitor with the place. I am not sure if our perspective will lead to a new “field”, but who knows?

Just as many classroom teachers have no interest in designing curriculum, we realize the professionals who deliver interpretation may be quite happy continuing their important task and do not want to become “designers.” It is our strong belief, however, that to remain true to the essence of a place, we hope some folks will want to shift their perspective and try this new path. If not we are in danger of losing our sites to synthetic designers and crass commercialism.

“You should have as a PRINCIPAL strategy the objective of marketing Steve’s (Van Matre) book. It is so depressing and frankly frustrating that a book so important is so poorly marketed and thus relatively unknown. I have touted it as one of the most important books in interp [sic] literature...”

I agree. For whatever reason, Interpretive Design and The Dance of Experience by Steve Van Matre is not widely known and it is at the core of our work at EID. Our plan is to post a book review and offer a special discount on the book. EID also incorporates the principles within the book when we coach and consult with sites, during our workshops, and when training those interested in becoming Experiential Interpretive Designers.

“You argue to create some kind of network of practitioners but in your email to me didn’t mention a single opportunity for others to become involved other than to read your posts…”

To that end, here are a few ways EID would like to become more involved with you....


EID can visit your site and assess the current visitor experience to help find ways to improve engagement and participation. Our analysis will point out your strengths, where improvements are appropriate, and what would be the next step. If desired we can then facilitate the strategic planning process.

We can develop a “coaching” plan for staff members who want to learn the craft of Experiential Interpretive Designing.

Later this year EID will offer a contest for preservation, collection, and historic recognition sites for free coaching time to implement a site project. We are always looking for innovative projects to share with others.

We do not want to be the experts that come in, produce a plan, and then leave; rather we want to work with sites to develop staff expertise on the EID principles and be coaches rather than consultants.

Site Specific Experiential Interpretive Design Sessions

These sessions vary in length depending on the needs of the site. With staff input we will propose the design “dance steps” necessary to facilitate integration of the EID principles. Some sites may want to focus on all 15 Steps in the design process. Others may focus on the Mission, Message, and Image, or how to better Welcome, Orient, and Guide the visitors. A site may need to develop deeper engagement for the Head, Heart, Hands and Hunger. EID will work with the staff and offer the appropriate coaching.



  • Experiential Interpretive Design Interest Session – this 60 to 90 minutes session will be a quick introduction to Experiential Interpretive Design and is meant to spark interest around this new perspective.
  • Experiential Interpretive Design Workshop – this one or two-day session will provide a broad overview of what Experiential Interpretive Design is and how it can be incorporated into site projects.


EID wants to encourage more comments on our posts and conversations when we link to articles. We are also going to introduce the “Design Challenge” and the “Interpretive Reverberation.” Some of these Challenges and Reverberations will be initiated by EID and others we will solicit from your site-specific experiences.

Training Experiential Interpretive Designers

By 2019 we plan to develop a training path for individuals who would like to become Experiential Interpretive Designers. This path will include workshops, webinars, extended course work, individual projects, and a close study of the Van Matre book Interpretive Design and the Dance of Experience.

We welcome your continued interest in our work and look forward to hearing from you. What elements do you think are missing in the interpretive field? What else is needed to help the field stay relevant and strengthen public support? And please, let us know how we can best support your efforts.