Head to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, or any other national park today, and you’ll see plenty of international tourists along with visitors who have been touring parks for decades. But you won’t find a great deal of diversity among the visitors. And that’s a problem.
A lack of audiences could spell disaster for our parks, which need public support to thrive—not to mention the rich experiences that the parks provide to visitors all of backgrounds and contexts. It’s unfortunate that many Americans have been missing out on some of the best sights our country has to offer. It raises a question that I’ve taken to heart: Why were only particular people attracted to the parks and not others?
To that end, my employer, the National Parks Conservation Association, has been working to engage people of color, who, historically and statistically speaking, haven’t been visiting parks as frequently as other segments of the population. We want to remind them that these are their parks, too.
My team was recently asked to create some print materials that might help welcome new park-goers. The idea for some sort of broad brochure came up, but we quickly realized that by courting audience segments with unique messaging tailored to their needs and positions, we would better answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Where to start?
Since NPCA is connected to several nonprofit organizations that cater to African Americans through conferences and other events, we started by focusing on this segment of potential visitors. From Civil War sites that discuss slavery to cultural sites like New Orleans Jazz, and historic sites that discuss the lives of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and entrepreneur Maggie Walker, the agency tells dozens of these important stories of America’s history in very engaging ways.
Yet few African Americans visit these parks, and many are completely unaware of them. We had the opportunity to attract a new audience and get them excited about what the parks have to offer.
“The client’s goal was to inspire African Americans, and encourage them to discover how many parks are telling these stories, so that they might go visit a few of them,” says Nicole Yin, the junior designer charged with the work. “We also wanted to introduce the audience to NPCA, to encourage them to take action and get involved in our advocacy work.”
National Parks Conservation Association on Expanding Audience Reach
People like to hear stories about other people, so that was the first lens we employed. Many park sites focus on slavery, suffering, and exploitation, which present challenges for any reluctant reader, but within those stories are narratives of people rising above their circumstances, so we focused on those inspiring tales.
Yin launched into photo research and quickly came up with plenty of historic photos that we’d all seen in our 8th-grade history textbooks: blurry black-and-white images featuring dour expressions—a far cry from the inviting imagery we’d envisioned. So we reached out to an illustrator we’d worked with previously: Charlie Powell agreed to give us a nonprofit discount, and created six illustrations for $1,000, which left us with $1,300 to spend toward printing and production of 1,000 copies of the brochure.
We knew the illustrations would be more likely to grab a viewer’s eye, and the pop of color added a certain energy that we loved. So we singled out a handful of key figures and asked Charlie to give them expressions that were inviting but not cartoonish.
Given the lengthy text required to describe the complicated history around each site, a three-panel brochure made the most sense, leaving room for art on the front and a listing of key park sites on a back panel. By adding a splash of red to the blues that already appeared in the cover illustrations, Yin gave the piece a modern, patriotic feel without being heavy handed; a textured background brought to mind parchment paper, and lent a little gravitas to the piece.
We presented three options to the client, with different layouts and fonts, and combined a few key elements from each to produce the final product. In the end, the client was thrilled with the work, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus raved about it, and a park ranger at one of the profiled sites asked to receive copies for distribution.
Next up: Translate the stories and images for an interactive mini-site on the web. And start to plan similar outreach materials for Hispanics, Asian Americans, and other minority groups whose stories are told through our national parks.
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