Walk 2012 guidebook writing

When I was working on the SOUNDWALK project for World Listening Day 2010, I spent a long time pondering how best to describe the route for prospective walkers/participants. The route was a 5-mile circuit beginning in Warborough and travelling through Dorchester, taking in a noisy section of A-road, the tranquil waters of the Thames, the bells of Dorchester Abbey, and some crop fields. I chose it because I wanted a designated listening walk to involve a wide range of sounds. The stationery which I supplied walkers with had to describe this route, and also to convey the imaginative impetus behind the idea of doing a SOUNDWALK; it was to be a practical tool (for discovering the route) and an imaginative tool (for exploring/celebrating the sounds heard along that walk).

On a practical level I felt the SOUNDWALK stationery should be roughly the same dimensions as an OS map, as this will fit into most deep pockets. I also wanted to keep the text BRIEF as nobody wants to read reams of text while enjoying the great outdoors. I also wanted the map and the words to be on the same page, so that text and route could be easily related to one another. This is what I came up with.

I’m not sure if it’s easy to see from these two photos, but my SOUNDWALK stationery opens out to reveal a map + text. One person participating on SOUNDWALK 2010 got lost, so I am uncertain as to how well I achieved my aims vis-a-vis making a USEFUL document for walkers and in general, we were all agreed afterwards that 5 miles is an awfully long time to spend walking and listening, in silence. I learnt a lot about how to frame a dedicated listening experience, and how to present soundwalks in the future with more mischief and joy. On the other hand, I have had very positive feedback on the aesthetics of the SOUNDWALK stationery; the echoes of I SPY in the I HEAR logo and title have gone down well with folk, who seem in general to be nostalgic for the wonderful I SPY stationery of the past, and keen to see the concept of celebratory spotting extended to include celebratory hearing. Also, the use of the appropriate transport font (which is associated both aesthetically and historically with the A4074 road) went down well with all the typeface geeks I know.

As ever, I am indebted to participants and friends for feedback, and although World Listening Day 2010 is now long past, I have continued to think about the design of instructional documents. I imagine this is a preoccupation for anyone who designs knitting patterns, recipes, route-guides, maps or invitations; how will the facts be revealed, and how will the way they are presented help/hinder how recipients to receive their meaning?

I am especially thinking about the design of walking guides at the moment because Mark has begun – in earnest – the process of writing up the guidebook for Walk 2012, and a frequent topic of conversation round here concerns the design of this eagerly anticipated document.

When I did the guide for SOUNDWALK, I started by researching the pathways. That is, I walked along the route I was considering for SOUNDWALK, and I recorded instructions into my EDIROL as I went. Then I went home, typed up those read instructions, edited the text, and re-did the walk checking that I had not removed any vital clues about where to go. I then began designing the SOUNDWALK stationery, and removing text in order to fit my instructions into the layout. It was a process which made me realise how few words I know for specific features in the landscape; how hard I find it to be pithy; and the balance that must be struck between content and form when creating a working document.

Mark was interested in trying out my approach for Walk 2012, and so yesterday we began researching the pathways for Walk 2012 with a 15-mile hike from Romsey to Winchester. This time, I was not recording the descriptive text; Mark was. He has my old olympus dictaphone – a tool which he has assimilated with seamless ease into his collection of gadgets – and a natural, enviable instinct for brevity. Stopping and deliberating at points along the way which may confound the novice Walk 2012 participant, he made a concise collection of recordings describing the route, which we shall now edit together to form the first of the walking guides.

Since Mark’s natural ease with recording technology mostly relieved me from recording duties, my mind strayed instead to how we might design the Walk 2012 guidebook so as to best convey the wonders that can be found along the way. However, many of the most pleasing things which we see when we are walking are fleeting and ephemeral, meaning that none of the treasures discovered on a golden September day can be guaranteed sights for Summer.

I’m talking about such things as Hampshire’s current glut of blackberries.

And the large, brown trout which we enjoyed spotting in the brook as we walked away from Romsey station.

Also, who is to say that this old and unprepossessing bridge will be struck by the light in quite this way when people pass beneath it next Summer on their way to the Olympics Stadium?

The low afternoon sun yesterday seemed particularly specific to Autumn, catching threads of silk left in the trees by caterpillars and spiders and gilding everything in the lucky path of its beams.

The pleasing round seed-pods of the plane tree – reflected in the Itchen below – are also specific to September. Indeed the very sight of those dangling globes makes me think of sticking glitter onto cards, and of seeing my breath turn to clouds.

I love all the mushrooms which begin to emerge at this point in the year, too, breaking out in clusters amidst the strewn, ragged leaves and on the lush, wet moss.

But some sights endure along the route; particularly those made of stone.

And the sense of exploring and loving the changing land is more enduring, perhaps, than any of the individual things which one might encounter along the way. The challenge falls to us to convey such a sense in a design, and to find the right words to share our route for doing the same with you.

I’m interested to know; what do you love and hate about the design of walking guides? Are there any things which you particular dislike, or anything which you especially love? Do you have a favourite walking guide? And what treasures have you seen out or about, this weekend?

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