We're just about to start work on a project for the NLI. In preparation for this I dived head first, into their digitised archive – their online catalogue – of print material. They have loads of stuff archived and much more still to do. It was hard not to get distracted. So I did…get distracted I mean.
One of the first really interesting things I learned about the discipline of interpretive design was that it has principles – and I love a principle: fundamental, underlying, guiding ideas. The six principles of heritage interpretation were first expressed by Freeman Tilden who is basically the father of interpretive design. He is The Man.
A couple of weeks ago I delivered a lecture to first year IMD students, introducing them to the idea of art direction. When I was preparing it; trying to find ways to describe the art of art direction; one of Tilden's principles sprang to mind. All six go like this:
Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.
Information, as such, is not Interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based upon information. But they are entirely different things. However all interpretation includes information.
Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.
The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and must address itself to the whole man rather than any phase.
Interpretation addressed to children (say up to the age of twelve) should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach. To be at its best it will require a separate program.
Number one is brilliant. In number two, the idea that interpretation is "revelation based on information" is equally powerful. But for the task at hand, number four jumped out. Paraphrasing somewhat, I concluded that "the chief aim of art direction is [in a way] to provoke".