How to write a great (sexy) interpretation brief
In interpretation, less is usually best – except perhaps when it comes to the interpretation brief. Whether you are briefing an interpretive writer, performer, designer, artist, digital tech whiz, shop fitter or all the above, the more information you can provide the better.
A detailed brief is essential for getting back what you want. Leaving it open so the interpreter can be “creative” is risky. Creativity that’s fit for purpose needs to know its purpose! And there are very few interpretative mind readers out there – they don’t know what you’re thinking unless you share.
It may be that your brief comes after a first consultation meeting, so that you can be open to new ideas, new materials and new ways of doing things. You are, after all contracting an expert, so you need to be ready to take the advice you are paying them to give. But you also need to be clear up front what it is you want, so that everyone starts on the same page of the story.
It also pays to be clear about reproduction rights – copyright – authorship and ownership of material up front. Agree where original work will be stored. Respect intellectual property and always be clear about how files may be used in the future. Or if you agree to one-use only, stick to that!
A good brief simply comes down to answering all the usual questions. What do you want? Who are you doing it for? Why are you doing it? How do you want it done? What should it look like? Where is it going? How much are you willing to spend?
Why are you doing it?
Provide context, the aims and objectives of the work and intended outcomes.
Who is the primary audience?
An education programme about freshwater aimed at preschoolers will have quite a different style, language or method than one aimed at 14 year olds.
What are the visitor demographics, characteristics needs or character? This is where some baseline visitor research may be needed to make informed decisions. For example, if you are putting signs at a tourist destination that is a popular with Asian tourists you may want to consider bi-lingual text.
How many people are you talking to or how do people move through the site? This might guide things like sign placement, or size of print runs.
Who do you need to include in any consultation?
Identify any key relationships with partners, community, iwi and other consultants that need to be considered and incorporated into the process. Indicate the nature and level of required consultation and/or community liaison – whose opinion is really important?
What is the purpose?
Is it to steer visitors in a certain direction or to encourage them to behave in a certain way? Is it just to increase awareness of the values around them or to educate? Engage? Interest? Evoke a feeling or a thought?
What do we want them to think?
Where will your interpretive product be used?
Consider your site and any site limitations; environmental context and landscape setting.
Will your interpretation be inside or outside? Is it a remote trail end or a well-used public shelter? What are the landscape values? For example a sign about a beautiful lake might be kept low and to one side so that it doesn’t block the view it’s interpreting. Is it an historic site where there may be limitations about digging in the ground to disturb artefacts?
Are there other interpretation products nearby that you should try and fit in with? For example, is it part of a themed trail with its own branding and look? What other sites or interpretation are nearby and what stories are told (or not told) there?
How do you want it done?
Identify the method and preferred media of your final product.
How are your signs going to be installed?
Telling a designer that you plan to insert your sign into grooves on wide posts means they can add a bleed to a design, and avoid issues like this….
How much do you have to spend? Break it down into timeframes, creative development, execution, and production, and maybe promotion as well.
How else the same work might be used or repurposed. i.e. if you are commissioning artwork for a sign that might also be appearing in a brochure or promotional flyers, then you need to be clear about that.
How will it be evaluated?
When you do want it by?
What’s your ideal timeline? Include first drafts, revised concepts, execution timeframes, and when you want to be installed or available. At your planning stage it’s good to start at your preferred delivery date then work back to get your start date. Check the turn-around times of your preferred printers as these can vary at different times of the year.
The level of detail you may need to give will depend on how small or large your project is. But even if it’s one small cartoon bird, you will always need to answer – what, who, why, how, where, and by when!
To help you, we’ve included an interpretation brief template in our members section of innz.net.nz