We ensure our digital products are fully integrated into the overall nature tourism operating environment. This includes expanding the utility of signage to ensure it serves as a portal to a deeper online experience delivering interactive nature tourism digital content.
We recognised that web-apps rather than native / hybrid apps were a better fit for conventional nature tourism settings in areas where internet coverage was available via either 3G/4G coverage or local precinct wi-fi.
Static webpages also allow for content to be delivered via local area networks without the need for any server side processing.
Interactive PDFs complete the product suite to ensure content can be embedded onto people's phones for use in areas remote from internet coverage.
Since 2012, we have worked on a range of collaborative projects with our clients, in order to come up with a series of bespoke digital products catering for both the needs of the user and the organisational environments within which nature tourism providers must operate.
Our product solutions derive from the very precise constraints of delivering solutions in outdoor environments. Typically these are areas where internet coverage may be patchy or non-existent, recurrent budget to maintain digital product may be sparse and the user's attention span is short as they seek out information customised to their precise needs in a particular setting.
Prioritising the delivery of optimal user interface solutions over and above simple utility is essential. This requires customised, bespoke product be developed rather than simply adapting existing platforms to provide sub optimal outcomes. Solutions also need to cater for non English speaking visitors and ensure equity of user access irrespective of the user's choice of mobile device / operating system.
Thanks to the use of QR code linkages we know exactly where people are when they access the digital content. Ensuring that content is carefully customised to present information of direct relevance to them in that precise setting is crucial. Using map interfaces that present the same maps as people are seeing in the directional signage around them is also essential to underpin the integrity of the user experience. Having one set of maps for the digital ecosystem and another for signs is not an acceptable outcome.
The example shown right is from Falls Creek Alpine Resort. There the Falls User Guide web app interactive menus use the same set of maps as displayed on signage around the village.
This consistency of presentation avoids the loss of brand identity that can occur when plug in widgets are used as default platforms to provide this utility.
It also aids user orientation by ensuring that the one set of core content is delivered to them irrespective of the media they viewing / using at a given point in time.
Speed is essential - both in terms of being able to connect with the product in the first instance [i.e. not having to go and first download an app] and thereafter to access the content of your choice. Web apps deliver instant access to users irrespective of their mobile operating system. Static HTML pages load much quicker than pages derived via a content management system allowing download time to be devoted purely to the delivery of media such as detailed map content. Load on demand technologies speed up both load time and minimise the amount of data people have to access in order to view the content.
The most future proof digital investments are those that invest in content rather than technology. Ensuring that content is delivered independently of the technology that will render it on the user's device ensures long term return on digital investments without the need for recurrent funding. Relying on the technology people bring with them in the form of their internet browser and PDF reader app [such as iBooks] all but eliminates the regular investment required to maintain app products which deliver content + coding as a single package.
In a simple practical sense, a native/hybrid app is one you download from an app store onto your mobile device.
A web-app by contrast is a platform that mimics the look and feel of an app, but however is delivered via conventional web pages loading as required in your phone or tablet's internet browser.
Web-apps ensure that the content is accesible to all users irrespective of their choice of mobile device. This is in contrast to most apps which are generally only produced for IOS and Android software platforms thus discriminating against users choosing a device powered by a different operating system.
Web-apps also allow non-English speakers to translate the content into their native language via the settings in their phone internet browser. [Chrome for example offers the user the choice to instantly translate 'foreign' language web pages when they load.]
Apps with even moderate amounts of embedded content (typically over 50MB) can only be downloaded with wi-fi connection. This means that users need to have loaded the app prior to embarking on their experience. Web-apps by contrast deliver their content on demand drawing on unlimited data archives.
Visitors with no prior preparation / planning can easily access this content on site via either QR code or else keying in simple URL links [carefully planning these being part of the platform development process].
Most of our clients use capital funding to implement any new product initiatives. These 'one off' ventures must be carefully planned so as to minimise any recurrent costs needed for their maintenance.
Static webpages can effectively be housed in an assets folder on an existing tourism website. As static pages they need no server processing to compile the page content and can generate the user response speeds one expects from an app experience (as distinct from CMS / responsive pages that are commonly sluggish to load on mobile phones).
By contrast the annual recurrent costs of maintaining at least an IOS and and Android version of an app (in terms of both content updates and upgrades to keep it in line with advances in operating system software) are significant. These act as a serious disincentive for small - medium organisations to develop conventional mobile app product. Web apps by contrast are within the means of most land managers to implement and maintain.
The Falls User Guide is a web-app we developed in collaboration with the Falls Creek Resort Management in 2016 based on the principles described above. Read more about the detail of the userguide via the link here.
We developed the Three Sisters web-app in collaboration with the Blue Mountains City Council in 2014. Snap the QR code from your phone or tablet to view the web-app.
In 2014 we worked with Charters Towers Regional Council to instal a First World War digital heritage trail through Lissner Park in the centre of the town. A series of 8 posts lead visitors around the park with QR codes linking them to the relevant content page.
As part of the roll out of Charters Towers' entry signage project in 2016 we developed a simple web-app user guide to provide travellers with a simple reference to the services and facilities on offer in this major regional centre.
In October 2017, the way in which the Falls Creek Digital Arts and Heritage Trail presents local history in a unique format was commended in the Victorian Community History Awards.
We worked closely with the Falls Creek Museum to produce the trail as part of their celebrations marking 70 years since the first lodge was erected in the alpine village in 1947.
The trail offers people the chance to travel around the alpine village via 6 key information hubs where they can explore the stories of the buildings and landscapes around them.
A feature of the content provided at the hub is a short introductory video giving an overall context to the place where people are standing.
These short 90 second videos are narrated by children from the local Falls Creek Primary School. Additionally each child provides a description of their favourite thing about living in Falls Creek. The simple message here is that this place is our home and we would like to share some of its special values with you.
The trail guide is set up around a series of one page websites designed to deliver content to the viewer without continually opening up a new browsing window in the process.
The stability provided by presenting content via iFrame windows in situ enures people don't get lost as regards their place in the overall narrative.
In addition to the content designed to be read as people travel around the trail, the guide also includes in depth material intended for reading later on over post tour coffee and cake.
One special opportunity this presented was the chance to publish online edited sections of the diary of an early Falls Creek icon – Skippy St Elmo.
An additional element to the guide is the inclusion of a selection of images that collectively tell the story of the alpine village across its early days, middle days and recent days.
People can either just scroll through the images or else delve in to read further detail. This feature of ensuring people can find their own level of detail when browsing the guide is central to its design structure.
The trail was produced using the existing Falls User Guide as its underlying platform. The User Guide was carefully designed to ensure it could provide both core visitor orientation information while at the same time allowing for the addition of bespoke interpretive product to be undertaken quickly and simply.
Whilst there is no longer any debate over the need to build websites that present both desktop and mobile optimised options as part of the user interface, there is an active debate about the best way to achieve this outcome.
Everyone is now familiar with the responsive web design format whereby a single body of content is styled differently according to the screen size presenting it. Though this is now a relatively simple outcome to achieve with off the shelf content management system themes available, there is an inherent problem with this approach when it comes to delivering high quality browsing experiences for mobile phone users.
Basically mobile phones are the end of the line - the format you get after you've dealt with the needs of desktop and tablet users.
An alternative approach however is to develop adaptive designs to deliver web content. This option sees the mobile phone solution as a separate stand alone interface, unencumbered by the constraints of also having to deal with the needs of tablet and desktop users.
An additional feature of special relevance in outdoor areas where internet coverage may be patchy / slow is that adaptive designs are much faster to load than responsive layouts.
This Nature Tourism Services website has been constructed using this mobile first, adaptive technology.
Interactive PDFs are of course a well established digital resource and many visitors will already have PDF reader apps installed on their phones. (iBooks for example is now provided on IOS devices as standard).
The feature of the smartphone guide is the way it designs the PDF file so as to mimic app functionality. It also takes advantage of the fact that it can use either vector or raster maps. This allows it to offer zoom in functionality of up to 16X in line with the capabilities of the PDF reader app (some are better than others).
The web-app will work on any mobile device in any area with internet coverage. Before people travel away from this zone they are encouraged to download the guide to embed the map content onto their phone.
A major advantage of using the PDF format to embed content onto the phone is that it can download a very large body of content and mapping material without exceeding the 50MB download limit beyond which wi-fi is required.
This is helped by the fact that it is content only data that is being delivered. The coding to interpret and present this content is already in place on the phone's PDF reader app.
A typical file size is around 15MB resulting in smooth and simple downloads for most users in most settings.
In early 2013, the Australian Alps Smartphone Guide was the first interactive PDF guide we produced following an exhaustive research and development process undertaken in collaboration with the Australian Alps Liaison Committee to ensure the presentation and delivery system of the guide worked effectively.
The smartphone guide for the Greater Blue Mountains Drive was produced in 2016 as part of the project to update and reprint the main drive touring map. The project was undertaken for the Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association who contributed significantly to the refinement of the product user interface.
The Three Sisters Trackmaps guide was produced in late 2014 to complement the introduction of the Three Sisters web-app at Echo Point, Katoomba. Users can access the guide via QR code links on site.
We worked closely with the Lord Howe Island World Heritage Area in 2013/2014 to convey a range of vital user information including quarantine regulations and walking track details.
The production of an interactive PDF maps guide was an integral part of our roll out of the Falls User Guide in 2016.