To make a useful contribution here, digital content needs to be location specific and highly targetted to meeting the needs of the visitor in this unfamiliar setting.
Additionally the digital content must work in closely with the other orientation material on offer in the precinct to ensure visitors get access to the same maps and directional information on their phones as they see on the signage around them.
As with all essential visitor orientation, safety and regulatory material, user accessibility is the critical factor driving product decisions in this space. Managers must also be able to quickly and simply update content whilst ensuring the provision of the onsite digital product fits into their annual recurrent budget commitments.
The Furneaux Geotrail on Flinders Island in Bass Strait is supported by a webapp product that allows visitors to enquire further into the stories in the landscape as they move around the island.
The webapp also reproduces the content on the interpretive signs so as to allow its easy translation for non-English speaking visitors.
It takes advantage of the fact that the island has just had its internet coverage upgraded and good mobile reception is now provided across the main visitor precincts.
This interpretive digital webapp is designed to meet the needs of the transition point where marketing stops and getting out and about begins.
Having arrived in the resort people need to be able to easily locate the facilities they need and then to get out and about on their chosen activity.
The user guide focuses on these needs by having discrete summer and winter sections that ensures that visitors are dealing with the information of direct relevance to them.
A feature of the resort is the fact that there is good internet coverage within the precinct.
For people looking to embark on activities out on the surrounding Bogong High Plains an interactive PDF guide is included that allows them to embed maps and trail information onto their phones for use in areas with no coverage.
The guide directly assists in the clarity of the resort signage materials by freeing these up from the need to convey things like directory details.
These are very demanding in terms of signage real estate in addition to changing year on year. Having a digital support platform working in closely with the signage means that it can focus on the delivery of stable, long term content in a cost effective manner.
In addition the issue of providing information in a variety of languages is solved by effectively publishing all the core user information in HTML in the user guide. This means that people can translate this on the fly via their mobile devices internet settings.
This webapp is an integral part of the interpretive trail we established in 2019 in and around the Woodford Reserve alongside the historic Woodford Academy in the central Blue Mountains.
This area was originally known as 20 Mile Hollow owing to the location of a Blue Mountains Swamp on site. This had provided a precious water source for countless generations of Aboriginal people prior to the arrival of European settlement at this location in the late 1820s.
Telling both these cultural narratives is an integral part of the interpretive trail. The creation of the webapp using a subdomain anchored to the main Blue Mountains City Council website ensured that the detailed nuanced information involved could be effectively communicated in an informative and culturally sensitive manner that allowed opportunities for visitors to further explore their own lines of enquiry.
In important aspect of the Falls Creek User Guide is the way in which is built so as to allow for the easy addition of value add interpretive content.
With the core digital platform in place it becomes a simple process to then add additional content.
The development of the new interpretive digital Arts and Heritage Trail for the alpine village took advantage of this in 2017.
It allows visitors to walk around the village and to appreciate the way in which it developed from its origins in the years after the end of WWII and the construction of the high levels of the Kiewa Valley Hydroelectric Scheme.
A particular aspect of the guide is the way in which it recognises that many people to the resort will not realise that it is actually home to a community which includes Australia’s highest primary school.
Accordingly the video content for the guide uses the students from the school as ambassadors to describe the features people can see along the walk as well as sharing their favourite things about Falls Creek.
The innovative qualities of the heritage trail were recognised in September 2017 when it was commended in the Victorian Community History Awards run by the Victorian Public Records Office as being an outstanding local history project presented in a unique format.
The Three Mile Scrub webapp is an integral part of an interpretive design project. It supports a community driven creekside rehabilitation project at the Davidson Street section of the Enoggera Creek just north of the Brisbane CBD.
The project actively limited the on site disruption signage may have caused by using a series of QR code marker posts in order to deliver the bulk of the material digitally.
Three Mile Scrub is a striking example of how the integration of digital support product into signage solutions can deliver optimal outcomes fit for purpose in a post 2020 operating environment.
Located between Bathurst and Oberon in the NSW Central West, O'Connell is home to an array of earth buildings reaching back to the early 1800s. In support of the signage we produced in 2019 to interpret these features we also put together a webapp to deliver additional content to visitors. This allows them to both read the signage content in their preferred language via on the fly translaton of the web page as it is rendered by the user's web browser, while also allowing people the choice of reading more detail about both the buildings and the overall regional context within which they are set.
This guide is interesting as it provides an example of how user guide product can effectively be rolled out in stages.
The driver for its production was the construction of town entry displays at either end of Charters Towers.
The idea here is to get people to divert from the highway running alongside the town to stop in and take in the variety of services and activities on offer.
To this effect the webapp provides a simple resource they can reference for immediate first hand summaries of the facilities and experiences on offer at Charters Towers. The opportunity exists to develop more detailed content in relation to these experiences.
This interpretive digital trail was developed as part of Australia’s nation wide initiatives to commemorate the involvement of local communities in the First World War. It was opened on Remembrance Day - 11 November - in 2014. Charters Towers has a particular connection with the conflict owing to the initial capture of the German colonies in New Guinea at the outset of the conflict and also to the fact that Hugh Quinn grew up in the town. Quinn later lent his name to one of the best known outposts in the Gallipoli campaign. A feature of the trail is that it combines a real life experience in the form of a signposted circuit around Lissner Park in the town, with the fact that all of the trail content is embedded in the cloud in the form of the webapp. This allows for the use of extended connected narratives as well as multi media content. Of particular relevance to local school groups also is the fact that it includes a large amount of primary reference material they can access to help students assess this content and form their own assessments and conclusions in relation to the material being presented.
The Ballina Coastal Recreation Path is a major initiative to connect the town of Ballina with the village of Lennox Head some 10km to the north. The initial section of the path is of particular cultural significance as it traverses the East Ballina Aboriginal Place.
This Aboriginal Place recognises the massacre of an Aboriginal community on the site in the late 1850s.
The cultural sensitivities and sadness amongst the local Aboriginal community in relation to this event made the interpretation of this trail section a task requiring careful consideration and consultation.
This was undertaken by the local Council.
Our input involved us developing an interpretation plan to give effect to the wishes of the community.
A central plank of this response was the development of a webapp for the path that allowed Aboriginal elders to talk about the significance of the site to visitors as they travelled through the Aboriginal Place.
The central issue here was that they did not want this material broadly published on the web.
The notion of people only hearing these stories when they were on Country was a prospect they could however support.
The fact that there is good internet coverage in the area made this a simple project to deliver via a webapp.
It presents the audio recordings in a video format that includes a simple narrative line allowing people to read the text at the same time as they hear the story being told.
An additional advantage of this approach is that it separates out the content from the technology that delivers it. This means that managers only need to interact with this content archive when they want to add to it – not when the operating system of the mobile device is upgraded.
It is easy to take the level of nuance and sophistication delivered by the default browsers on Android and IOS devices – Chrome and Safari – for granted. They are simply there doing the job for people every time they access their mobile device.
Additionally the Chrome browser has inbuilt support for translation on the fly such that users are automatically invited to have "foreign" webpages translated into their native language.
Using webapps to deliver content to users via the internet browser ensures that visitors have access to an open ended content archive that can include extensive video resources, whilst only ever needing to download the exact content of interest to them.
This is of especial value to users with limited data plans. They may otherwise require public wi-fi to be provided in order to access content archives such as those delivered in apps downloaded from an app store. It also avoids the need for users to have space available on their device in order to host the content archive they may seek to access.
Use of static webpages rather than those delivered by a content management system means that the webapp can be simply stored in an assets folder on an existing web platform as easily as hosting a PDF.
The speed with which static pages load also makes them an ideal option in areas with poor internet coverage. In areas with no coverage, the webapp can also be delivered via a local area wi-fi hub powered by the remarkable Raspberry Pi mini-computer running NGINX as the preferred web server platform.
The practice of people taking a photo of a trailhead map before heading out onto the track is a very familiar one. It has the immediate advantage of not only giving them a track reference to refer to, but also of ensuring that the map they have on their phone is the same as the one they see in the signage.
A dramatic improvement to this model came in 2017 when Apple joined Android in ensuring that the phone camera could read QR codes directly. This means people no longer need to have downloaded a QR code reader app in order to scan these links.
Additionally it means that when they take a photo of the map with a QR code beside it, the camera will prompt them to access the QR code link. In the case of the Three Sisters precinct in the Blue Mountains, this then leads them to a download page where they can access a PDF smartphone guide to embed both the map and associated detailed tracknotes onto their phone before heading out into areas with no internet coverage.
The easiest way for people to embed data onto their phone for reference in areas remote from internet coverage is via a PDF. Once downloaded through the internet browser, the PDF file is easily opened in a PDF reader app where it is then stored safely for future reference. The iBooks program on IOS delivers a native PDF reader app to all Apple users as a standard feature. Android users have usually acquired PDF reader capability through either a PDF app download or other app product suite. Even without these PDFs can still be saved onto the phone via the print command.
Nature Tourism Services has responded to this opportunity by developing a smartphone guide format that uses the PDF format to mimic the look and functionality of an app. As these smartphone guides are content only documents however, their download size is easily managed without wi-fi connectivity. Depending upon the geographic area of coverage the smartphone guide is attending to a file size of between 15-30MB is involved.
We have an array of smartphone guide products in play across a diverse array of locations. Scroll across through the menu below to learn more about and access these products.
This guide was the prototype version we developed in conjunction with the Australian Alps Liaison Committee in 2012 to develop the structure and function of this product.
It came about owing to the need to update the touring map for the Australian Alps and recognising that there was the opportunity to transfer this function to a digital platform.
The product has been effective at delivering a steady download stream in the order of 3500 units per year since this time.
It was updated in 2017 to deliver both content updates and to include subtle modifications to the operating environment as derived from other more recent smartphone guide products.
This smartphone guide was the developed in 2016 in collaboration with the Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association.
It took advantage of the extensive network of tourism operators comprising the association to rigorously test and evaluate the product as a fit for purpose digital product meeting the needs of the marketplace.
The nuances to the PDF smartphone guide structure that resulted have significantly advanced the guide’s functionality and been incorporated across the other guides in the set.
This guide is focussed on the needs of visitors to the Echo Point precinct and the Three Sisters Aboriginal Place at Katoomba.
The trailhead sign at the start of the track network leading into the valley walks features a QR code link advising people not to take a photo of the map, but rather to download the PDF walks guide to embed trail maps and notes onto their phone.
The guide was established in 2014 and since this time has proven a very effective and consistent means of delivering data to users. Downloads track closely with both weather and general use patterns and indicate the effectiveness with which QR codes can be used to deliver content to users when connecting with a product that people are actually interested to seek out.
Whilst the Falls Creek Alpine Resort has good internet coverage that is used by the delivery of the Falls User Guide product, the surrounding Bogong High Plains does not offer coverage.
People venturing out from the resort into more remote parts of the surrounding region are hence invited to download the PDF smartphone guide before setting out in order to embed track content onto their phones.
We developed this smartphone guide in 2015 for the Lord Howe Island Board to assist specifically with the roll out of their new island pest species quarantine regime.
The guide was designed to provide a ready reference source for both local residents and visitors alike.
Extensive tracks details and the compilation of maps covering both the terrestrial walking trails and marine national park zoning requirements are designed to provide a one-stop-shop for users seeking orientation information.
This is especially evident in the case of maps. Maps are central to the delivery of both the visitor orientation experience and the underlying branding of the land manager that supplies them.
Coming up with a bespoke map product that succinctly and clearly conveys utility, safety and regulatory information to the user is a key challenge for the visitor orientation process.
In the case of the major visitor orientation refit we undertook for Victoria's Falls Creek Alpine Resort in 2015 for example, the production of a new suite of bespoke map product was a first order issue to address.
With this new investment in place, it then fell to our production of the Falls User Guide digital project in the following year to pick up this map suite and use it to underpin its product delivery. The result of this is evident at Falls Creek today where the on-site visitor connects with a fully integrated visitor orientation platform across both signage and digital media.
The need to prioritise some messages over others regularly leads to some stakeholders being disappointed that their messages / areas of interest are not adequately addressed.
An example of how digital product can directly assist in this space comes from work undertaken on a key orientation entry sign at Falls Creek Alpine Resort in 2015/16. When the original sign went in at Slalom Plaza, the supporting Falls Userguide webapp had not been developed.
This meant that the orientation sign needed to devote over a third of its signage space to the provision of a village directory – the detail of which changes from season to season.
The roll out of the new webapp user guide for the resort in 2016 meant that instead of just updating the directory content, a complete makeover of the panel could be undertaken to use its available space to much greater effect.
The detailed directory content now resides on the webapp. Here people have immediate access to seeing the venue's location featured alongside full business listing including phone and web links.
The additional space thus freed up on the sign allowed for an overall redesign that lowered the key map down to align with viewer eye height. It also meant a promotional insert could be included for the adjacent Falls Creek Museum experience.
A further example of how digital content can expand the range of messaging delivered by interpretive signs is shown below in the interpretive sign located beside Lindlegreen Barn at O'Connell in Central West NSW.
It also recommends prioritising hand coded static HTML pages over dynamic pages delivered by Content Management Systems.
Using adaptive rather than responsive designs to deliver content across a range of screen sizes is also a preferable approach.
When used in conjunction with static HTML, this delivers instant user responses whereby the page loads straight away when called and images download in the background.
One of the immediate benefits is that static web pages can be handled and published on line as easily as PDF files are.
They can simply be dropped into an assets folder on an existing corporate website.
Here they can serve up their bespoke product with no ongoing maintenance costs as static HTML does not need periodic attention in order to keep up to date with security upgrades.
Once the separate pages for phone and tablet/desktop layouts are built in an adaptive response layout, they can be easily amended by semi-skilled operatives using free third party editing software like Adobe Brackets.
The only limitation on its uptake is the ability of the interpretive team to customise and develop digital product as easily as they do with print and signage materials.
At Nature Tourism Services we identified this as being an emerging issue at the time of the first ipad release in July 2010.
Accordingly we undertook a vigorous digital research and development program to ensure we could bring the same level of creative enterprise to our digital product as we do to our signage and print media.
In this we have been fortunate to work with selected clients to develop and refine the suite of digital product options we are seeking to share here.