quality outdoor experiences are built on good landscape and structural design
Interpretation planning to deliver quality outdoor visitor experiences must embrace sound interpretive landscape design solutions.
Visitor orientation needs must also be carefully considered as part of the planning mix.
People first need a clear sense of where they are and where they are going before they can process the interpretive content being presented to them.
Quality structural elements and landscape settings also help the visitor attribute positive values and memories to the interpretive experience on offer.
Strategic interpretive planning and design has an integral role to play in the delivery of signage ensembles for providers of nature tourism experiences.
Central to this is understanding the point where visitor orientation stops and interpretation starts. This was a pivotal issue we addressed in developing the new agency wide signage ensemble for the ACT Parks and Conservation Service in 2017.
This diagram from the strategy reflects our approach to interpretive planning. It embodies the importance of good landscape design principles in underpining good interpretive responses. It ensures that the right messages are being delivered in the appropriate settings relative to the visitor's stage in their overall trip experience.
People's first need in arriving in an unfamiliar setting is to orientate themselves to their new surroundings. "Where am I relative to where I have come from, where do I go from here and where are the nearest toilets?".
In essence orientation material is the "need to know" content that a visitor must have in order to execute their trip plan safely and in accordance with park regulations.
Interpretation by contrast involves "want to know" content. Where visitor orientation materials deliver the experience, interpretive media help the visitor ascribe value and meaning to their undertaking.
This understanding is an essential underpinning of all good interpretive planning. It avoids the problem of placing content in inappropriate places.
Across 2015 / 2017, we worked with Falls Creek Alpine Resort in Victoria to deliver an integrated visitor orientation and interpretive signage ensemble that was supported by a web app user guide platform. This additional functionality of the web app support ensures two things.
The first is that essential visitor information can be easily translated into the language of the visitor's choice via the settings in their phone's internet browser.
The second is that the information and maps they obtain on their mobile device are the same as they encounter in the resort's signs and print media.
This system recognises that an integrated cross-media platform should be able to deliver consistent messaging. Content presentation should not change fundamentally from one delivery platform to another.
This is especially apparent in the case of maps.
Reliance on simple off the shelf mapping packages from providers like Google to drive digital platforms means that the maps people see on their phones when out in the field are different from those they encounter on the signage.
This is not only confusing, but it also discounts the fact that the most effective maps people can have in terms of nature tourism experiences are custom built products. These are devoted solely to prioritising and cleanly presenting the "need to know" information as determined by the manager - not the computer programmer.
Things like differentiating sealed vs unsealed roads, management trails where bikes are allowed from walking trails where they aren't, locked gate locations and seasonal closure conditions for example are all standard fare for conventional mapping platforms.
One sees the value of this every day out in the field when users pull out their phone to take a photo of the map on the trailhead sign before setting off. This approach simply takes an extra step to deliver users a more nuanced and meaningful way of connecting with this core mapping product.