Embarking on an interpretation project is a journey for you, your organisation and ultimately your visitors. Travelling through uncharted territory can be nerve-wracking!

Developing interpretation design can be an amazingly exciting part of that interpretation journey and should always be flexible enough to evolve and change with the project. However, from the word go it’s important to recognise that all processes should also have parameters. Being clear about what the milestones of the creative approach are helps to avoid going round in circles, getting stuck or developing ideas which misfire because they lack a clear collaborative brief.

To this end it is important to set up a ‘staircase to agreement’ way of working. This method helps to distil the core ideas of interpretive design, builds the rationale for a piece of design and gives clear concise elements to sign-off. In a nutshell, clarity sustains a shared vision which can grow and create positive momentum.

Design development begins in tandem with interpretation planning when finding common ground between the past and present helps us become more receptive to knowing, understanding and engaging with wider perspectives. At this point, developing a ‘Big idea’ can be a useful way of keeping focus and direction if not already conceived at the start of the project.


At Tricolor we work closely with clients through creative workshops to identify the ‘hook’, the ‘big idea’ that can carry interpretation and design together to create a clear, meaningful take-home message for visitors. This may be linked to people or events connected to a place, the collections or some other USP.


Setting up some agreed design principles gives a foundation for the design concept to be developed (and principles that are in turn based on that ‘big idea’). These could be inspired by location or materials in the environment where the interpretation is going to sit, or capture a particular key emotion or expression.

Linked to this individual design springboard are principles for accessible and universal design. This checklist for sensitive, flexible and appropriate people minded design ensures planning is always suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

With a tone and shape set, concept design can take a step forward.

To help structure design project management Tricolor works to the RIBA Plan of Work. Developed for architectural projects the stages outline the planning, design and building process, from conception to completion. Since many heritage interpretation projects will often involve capital works elements, RIBA stages form a helpful structure to demonstrate how different strands of a wider project dovetail together.


This stage starts to weave together the discussion so far. Here mood boards might be created to help visualise key ideas, themes and approaches. It’s the time to explore possibilities, while being mindful of the original brief!  This stage can help unleash new ways of sensing how the ‘interpretation’ might be experienced emotionally by the visitor. At Tricolor we find this stage is best delivered through a programme of interactive workshops where design presentations can trigger discussion, debate and stakeholder shaping.

Concept designs visualise initial proposals for the design specification which can then be used to source initial costing information. But also remember…  no design development is wasted even if it doesn’t make the final cut. The process of ideas sharing can often open up new discussions and approaches and may contribute to your next big project!


During this stage decision making is solidified into design drawings which can be tested by the client team, stakeholders and audiences. Here designs are clarified and settled on. CAD (computer aided design) drawings and renders will be developed and practical considerations discussed in detail. This might include options for lighting, security and access. If digital development is crucial to the interpretive approach now is the time to start creating content and user maps. Costing the scheme is core to evolving a design scheme which is going to meet project objectives. Some difficult decisions may need to be made, but value engineering should be a conversation which is led by audience needs (not simply cutting big spend items).

Technical design is a refinement process and the level of design detail required depends on the size and scope of the project and how design will be used in future phases. Practical user testing with prototypes (especially when designing interactives) might be considered.

Content development should not be left behind and tasks such as refining and reviewing content assets, image research and scoping storyboarding and scriptwriting are all linked to a holistic design programme.

Fundamentally, technical design will provide a blueprint for the interpretive scheme, ready to bring to life in the delivery stage! We’ll be looking in more detail at the delivery phase of your interpretation project in our final article of the series so keep a look out.

In the meantime, if you missed the first article in this series about interpretation planning, you can find it here.

Or, if you would like more information about Tricolor and how they can help you in your interpretation projects visit or email [email protected]

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