Evaluating the Interpretive Signage at a World Heritage Site

By Xue Dong, Ph.D. student of EFB

Figure 1. Aerial view photos

Figure 1. Aerial view photo of the Dujiangyan irrigation system (From http://westbound-event-agency.com/2015/11/dujiangyan-irrigation-system-and-mount-qingcheng/)


The World Heritage Site of the Dujiangyan irrigation system (Fig.1) located in southwestern China is also the hometown of giant panda and an ecotourism site. The Dujiangyan irrigation system was constructed 2000 years ago, and it still works well today. It not only controls the waters of the Minjiang River but also distributes the water to the farmland around this area. If you are going to construct an irrigation system to control water, perhaps the first thing that comes into your mind is building a dam. However, the Dujiangyan irrigation system uses natural topographic and hydrological features to solve problems of diverting water for irrigation, draining sediment, flood control, and flow control without the use of dams. Three key components of the Dujiangyan irrigation system control the water from the upper valley of the river: the Yuzui Bypass Dike, the Feishayan Floodgate, and the Baopingkou Diversion Passage (Fig.2). It’s really a miracle in human history.

Figure 2. Yuzui, Baopingkau and Feishayan: Three key components of the Dujiangyan irrigation system (From http://local.newssc.org/system/20140219/001342247_9.htm, http://www.visitourchina.com/chengdu/attraction/dujiangyan-irrigation-system.html, http://windhorsetour.com/sichuan-photo/dujiangyan-mount-qingcheng )

Why we interpret?

With the development of interpretation in China, many parks, scenic areas, and World Heritage Sites have started to emphasize environmental education rather than tourism. This emphasis on environmental education creates a need for the development of an interpretive plan for the site. The four goals of the interpretive plan are to:

  • spread environmental education knowledge
  • facilitate environmental learning
  • change environmental behavior
  • change environmental perspectives.

 What is the current situation?

I conducted a ten-day field trip to the World Heritage Site of the Dujiangyan irrigation system and investigated the current situation of interpretive signs in the park. The signage in the park is satisfactory, but still can improve. Most of the signs are very effective, such as the sign shown below (Fig.3). But some of the signs really need to be revised and redesigned, such as the stone sign below (Fig.4).

Figure 3. Example of an Effective sign

Figure 3. Example of an Effective sign

Figure 4. Example of an ineffective sign

Figure 4. Example of an ineffective sign

The positive things about the existing signage system are the graphic designs, application of multi-media, and inclusion of multiple languages. The negative sides are that many of the signs are aging, are poorly maintained, and are not very accessible.

 Who are the audiences?

After a survey I conducted around the park, I divided the target audiences into three levels. The main purpose of audiences at the first level is sightseeing and relaxation. Visitors at the second level intend to absorb new information and broaden horizons. The highest level audiences are professionals, who are eager conduct some research. The largest target audience was the second level.

 When, Where, and How?

The park has a very good visitor center and a nature center which can provide visitors with a variety of books, brochures, CDs, 3D maps, and historical photos. In addition, there are audio rental services at the entrance.

During the planning process, I employed the “Sender Message Receiver Communication Model” (Fig.5) to guide my research. “Sender” means the designer who delivers the interpretive information to target audiences, the “Receiver”. Meanwhile, the “Sender” completes this process through different interpretive media and collects feedback from visitors about their experiences.

Figure 5. Sender Message Receiver Communication Model

Figure 5. Sender Message Receiver Communication Model


Based on the research I did, I came up with four recommendations:

  1. Improve interpretive signs, especially the quality and regular maintenance of all kinds for signs in the park.
  2. Increase opportunities for outdoor learning. Dujiangyan National Park has abundant cultural and natural resources, so it’s a meaningful opportunity for students and the public to learn from an outdoor environment.
  3. Provide interactive exhibits. People usually can get a deeper impression when they interact with information because people have a variety of learning styles.
  4. Add content about environmental education. The final goal of interpretation is environmental education, so designing more elements of environmental education could lead people to have a stronger connection with the places they visited.

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