nataure tourism services logo Interpretive digital content produced for the Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda

Interpretive digital

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Interpretive webapp support for signage enhances user accessibility by publishing sign content in HTML.

Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda interpretive signage with digital web app suport Interprtive digital signage accessed via QR code at Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda web app pages support signage in the  Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda - 1 web app pages support signage in the  Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda - 2Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda interpretive signage with digital web app suport web app pages support signage in the  Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda - 3

View the Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda webapp


Nature Tourism Services offers the creation of integrated digital content to support wayfinding, placemaking and interpretive products for all of our project work.

The bespoke solutions we use to do this have been developed and implemented by us in field conditions now for over a decade – ever since the start of the mobile revolution in the early 20 teens.

Our approach recognises that the form and function of the digital support must be customised to the needs of the given project.

Is there on site mobile coverage to support the delivery of webapp content via QR code link? If so how variable is this across the precinct and can a supporting smartphone interactive PDF guide be developed to download content for use in surrounding areas where coverage may drop out. In semi-urban settings is there 4G coverage on hand to support the inclusion of video content as part of the webapp platform?

The key point here is that all responses build upon the needs and circumstances of the site itself.

What does the manager need to communicate in this space in order to deliver a safe and meaningful visitor experience? How can they meet their user accessibility obligations to communicate with non-English speaking visitors and/or people with disability? Dual publishing content in HTML is recognised as the optimal means by which to do this. Extending this utility to signage is now an option commonly available to managers.

Modern users expect to access content of direct relevance to their immediate setting in their native language on a 24/7 basis. Managers seek to meet these needs in a manner that invites the user to understand their surroundings and attribute positive values and meanings to their experiences.

Considerations such as these underpin all of our digital interpretive responses.


Digital Product Portfolio

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furneaux geotrail

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.

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Cunnamulla signs

In 2020/21 we worked with Paroo Shire Council to deliver a major new suite of heritage signae for natural and cultural heritage places around the shire. A feature of all these projects was the integrated use of webapp support to provide detailed accounts in support of the interpretive signs. These also served to publish the sign content in HTML allowing for easy access by non-English speaking users and people with disability. In all separate projects were undertaken for the Cunnamulla Heritage Trail, Cunnamulla Bushlands, Riverbank Walk and the townships of Wyandra and Eulo. Links to these are as per the screensnaps from the signage below.

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Chelsea Garden

The signage in this feature display garden setting within the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden relies on the supporting webapp to deliver a quality user experience. A feature of the webapp is the audio content provided by the garden designer Phillip Johnson. Delivered as a podcast video with subtitled support, the tour gives visitors immediate access to the vital ideas behind the garden's creation. The podcasts were created using the remarkable utility of the Descript app.

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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.

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interpretive digital image

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.

A key element of the path's interpretation is the that allows Aboriginal elders to talk about the significance of the site to visitors as they travel through this cultural landscape.

The work of local artists is also included to assist in telling the stories of Country.

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Charters Towers digital trail

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. 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.

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O'Connell Earth Buildings

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.

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O'Connell Earth Buildings

The Dundowra Reserve at Warragamba represents a creative partnership between Sydney Water and the Gundungurra traditional owners. The signage associated with the reserve entry and yarning circle is intentionally limited in content so as to present a strong visual storyline anchored on artwork created especially for the project. The webapp support was vital to include both additional content and to feature welcome to Country video messaging as well as the cultural burn video.

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Clifftop Walks guide

This PDF smartphone 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.

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Australian Alps guide

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.

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Lord Howe Island guide

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.


UX digital solutions

The best app to deliver interpretive digital content is the one the visitor didn't have to download in order to access the information.

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By using the apps provided either as part of the mobile device's operating system (e.g. camera, internet browser, iBooks) or else commonly downloaded products (e.g. PDF reader apps on Android), user accessibility is established as the platform on which interpretive digital product is developed.

Thanks to the rise of webapp technologies in the wake of the 2014 final roll out of HTML5, service providers no longer need to wrap up their content in a coded app package simply to deliver basic information in a quality browsing environment.

This has direct and material benefits to both the supplier and user of the interpretive digital service alike.

user accessibility
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The mobile revolution offers for the first time the chance to put user accessibility as a first order consideration in the delivery of both interpretive and visitor orientation material.

Prior to this there was simply no effective way to offer this information in more than a handful of languages at best. Then there were the many challenges of dealing with visual impairment and of striking a balance between the optimal viewing heights of people standing versus those in wheelchairs.

Over the course of the first mobile decade from 2010-20 it has become widely recognised that publishing content across print, PDF and HTML formats is now a central part of agencies meeting their user accessibility obligations.

The chance now exists to extend this approach to include communicating with visitors to outdoor places with no user wi-fi and potentially patchy internet coverage. The benefits to both managers and visitors alike from adopting this approach are significant.

for managers

Some level of signage in natural areas will always be essential.

The question for a modern age is not whether we need signage, but rather how we can reduce our reliance on it while also using it to provide a portal connecting visitors with a richer online world.

Content delivered via the user's mobile device doesn't fade in the sun, can be read in the user's preferred language, is very hard to vandalise, has no adverse environmental impacts and can be quickly updated as needed at minimal cost.

What it is often lacking with digital content however is location specificity. Websites by their nature deliver generic content of utility to visitors irrespective of their location. Signage by contrast is essentially site specific. It speaks directly to the immediate needs of people positioned beside it.

For digital content to have the same utility as a sign in a management setting, it must be delivered in a context that speaks directly to the needs of visitors in a specific location.

This is why QR codes play such a pivotal role in the delivery of web app content. They ensure that visitors can instantly be taken to a custom page designed to support and speak directly to the overall messages on offer in the precinct around them

In relation to places remote from internet coverage, managers can still adopt digital strategies. These invite users to download PDF smartphone content onto their mobile devices prior to setting out into remote places. As these are content only packages that are then hosted in pre-installed PDF reader apps, they can be downloaded easily without needing the wi-fi connectivity often required for third party app downloads.

for visitors

Mobile optimisation has changed everything in terms of the level of services and utility people now expect to be able to access instantly in their native language. This phenomena is already in place and is something that will only grow stronger in the years ahead.

Additionally people expect to be able to follow their own lines of enquiry in relation to the information they access. This is at odds with the conventional interpretation and visitor orientation model where people are served up tightly packaged, prescribed information content.

This requires us to move away from providing condensed narratives limited in scope and space by the signage real estate available to deliver them and more towards expansive carefully structured matrixes that people can access from an array of entry points and enquire into at their convenience / interest.

The guidelines for developing new digital product are laid out by the Australian Government's Digital Transformation Agency where it notes that:

You need to make sure everyone who needs your service can use it. This includes people with disability and older people, and people who can’t use, or struggle with, digital services. Your service must be accessible to users regardless of their digital confidence and access to a digital environment. This includes users in remote areas and users with different devices. You also have a legal requirement to ensure your service is usable and accessible to people with disabilities.


Built for speed

built for speed graphic

Multi-lingual interpretive digital solutions operate onsite in areas with mobile phone coverage. They target the space where marketing stops and service delivery begins.

Given the variability in 3G/4G coverage, speed and simplicity of content delivery is the number one priority. This means reducing javascript use to the absolute minimum.

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.

The functional advantages of this approach are often overlooked as not all designers are comfortable hand coding HTML pages that exactly cater for the needs of a given situation.

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 format, they can be easily amended by semi-skilled operatives using free third party editing software like Adobe Brackets.

A key advantage of this approach is that it is a scaleable and cost effective way of including digital elements into interpretive projects.

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.

oconnell sign footprint-motif