Nature Tourism Services specialise in the planning and research, writing, design and delivery of interpretive signage carefully integrated into landscape settings across Australia.
Considered landscape settings are the tapestry against which interpretive signs are hung. Landscapes define the experience on offer whilst interpretation signs help people attribute values and meanings to the encounter.
ROLE OF INTERPRETIVE SIGNAGE
The first step in creating effective interpretive signs is to understand how they differ from orientation signs.
People's first point of contact with a precinct should always be with clear and simple orientation signage. This confirms their place in the landscape and provides them with essential "need to know" information.
The example below from Purnululu National Park demonstrates how orientation signs feature maps and present a range of messages across multiple themes. Orientation signs give visitors the facts they need to access the experiences on offer at a site unadorned by qualification or explanatory background context.
Interpretation signs differ from multi-message orientation signs by having a singular central theme.
Their purpose is to convey information in a supporting context and to invite the reader to attach their own meanings and emotions to the content being presented.
For interpretation signs to work in this role, it is essential that they be part of a larger overall communication platform.
If people are disoriented when they encounter an interpretive sign they will be unlikely to read it. Interpretation signs are a value-add component that can only work effectively when layered into a carefully planned, considered visitor experience.
The more supporting context that surrounds an interpretive narrative, the easier it is for us to connect with it and attach value to the interpretive sign.
The preparation of every interpretive sign is a journey of discovery into the hidden meanings and contexts surrounding some time, thing or place. Sharing the fruits of this research with the reader then underpins the design and production phase of the interpretive project.
A striking example of how this approach works in practice comes from our interpretive work for the redesign of the Stringybark Creek Historic Reserve visitor experience near Mansfield, Victoria in 2017/18.
Some details of this work at the site where three policemen were murdered on the evening of 26 October 1878 by a group of four men who thereafter became known as the Kelly Gang are outlined below.
While consistency to deliver a coherent brand presence across an interpretation signage ensemble is clearly essential, we always seek to achieve this without resorting to cloning a particular interpretive signage design template.
Visitors should approach each interpretation sign with a sense of encountering new content that is presented in its own unique setting as informed by the relevant messages being conveyed.
This approach does increase the design challenges involved with a given project as every interpretive sign in effect becomes an "original" undertaking.
The vibrance it delivers to an interpretive signage ensemble however more than makes up for this additional creative investment.
One examples of our work in this regard comes in the case of a series of interpretive signs we produced for the Walls of China precinct in Mungo National Park.
Mobile technology has redefined the potential of interpretive signs to deliver a rich interpretive experience to visitors.
Considering the sign not as a stand alone media in its own right, but rather as a portal to a rich online world opens up an array of interpretive possibilities.
Foremost in this regard is the option in areas with internet coverage of publishing the sign content in HTML so that it can be easily translated into the visitor's native language via the internet browser on their mobile device.
The functionality of this process has been dramatically increased by the decision by Apple in mid 2017 to give iPhone cameras the capacity to read QR codes. Now both Apple and Android devices have this functionality and users no longer need to have downloaded a third party QR code reader app to snap these easy-to-use web page links.
The additional major benefit of this is evident when people go to take a photo of a trail map at a trackhead. There the camera can pick out the QR code and prompt them to link to the download page.
Here in the case of the system now in place at the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, they can access a quality PDF trail guide including maps and trail descriptions that they can embed onto their phones for use in areas remote from internet coverage.
The key point to note here is that visitors do not have to have prepared for this experience in advance by downloading an app to their phone before they set out to visit the location.
Rather it takes advantage of the inbuilt functionality of their phone's internet browser and camera. This equity and simplicity of access is a crucial element that needs to underpin digital support for interpretive signage.