Thursday, May 26, 2011

Self-Critique, 15 years later

I was sent a photo of this sign earlier today with a question from a former employer, essentially "what is it?"

I won't go into how frustrating it is that this person doesn't seem to knowthe context of this sign. It's one of a series of eight or nine trailside interpretive signs at a place called Loney Meadows, near a place called the Grouse Lakes roadless area.

Loney Meadows was used for dairy cow grazing for over a century, The whey was cast off and the curds were taken down to town to make cheese for miners in Nevada City. In the early 1990s, the Forest Service acquired the land and began cutting down on the grazing pressure, building rock structures in the stream and fencing off certain areas to encourage meadow restoration. It's a great ecotone, a good place to see wildflowers in July and August, and a great place to watch raptors go after rodents.

This was one of the first interpretive signs that I developed, and I've always been proud of this one, particularly the title, "Moo." But I haven't looked at it or the project in a few years, so I guess it's time for some self-critique.

One of the things I liked then and now is the sign's brevity. It's part of a longer story about the meadow's history and restoration. Each sign is essentially a topic or paragraph, and each paragraph is both logically and physically distinct. I would re-write it a little today, the writing seems a little textbooky to me, but I still think it does its job. Ditto with the title "Moo." I still really love the title. Short, provocative, and just interesting enough to make people want to read the text.

The artwork and design, well.... I would do things a lot differently today, I think. I remember that I was working on two or three trails in rapid succession, and for this one I commissioned simple line drawings. Whether it was to be minimalist or due to cost factors, I can't recall. One good thing is that the sparse artwork is very focused. I find some art showing nature subjects on interpretive signs or brochures to be too "beautiful." By that I mean too verdant and complicated, too many species, or "cute" elements such as a pair of eyes peeking out from a knothole or from behind a rock, when the subject might be a plant species. So sparse is good for my aesthetic, but perhaps this is a bit too minimalist.

The color design, well... Part of me is asking "what was I thinking?" The only problem is that I do remember what I was thinking. Time, the elements, and the color balance of the photo have shifted the colors some, but I wanted green and brown that would be similar to mid-summer in this location. I bought a brand-new Pantone book and took it up to Loney Meadows just to get the colors right. Today, the color scheme would be a bit different, but I wanted signing that would be visible but not stand out against the beauty of the meadow. It really is a wonderful place and well worth a visit.

Knowing that very few people have visited Loney, and this post won't cause a stampede, it's hard to put this in context for readers, but I would give myself a B or B+. At this stage of my career, it's a good effort. I made deliberate design decisions (and consulted with a graphic artist, as I recall,) I wrote genuinely interpretive text that expresses a subtheme (the history of cattle grazing caused damage, which is now being addressed) within a larger theme (Loney Meadows is a diverse environment where sensitive management is enhancing resources and repairing a century of damaging use,) that is brief, to the point, and I think, interesting.

Anyway, that's my take on it. What do you think?