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... interpretive digital products
easily used by both
managers and visitors alike to
support onsite signage

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charting new territory

The second decade of the mobile revolution is a time of major opportunity for innovation and creativity in developing interpretive digital product. Improved mobile network coverage, the power of HTML5 and webapps allied to subdomains creating diverse digital ecosystems – these breakthroughs make digital technology an easy resource for managers to use in communicating with visitors to heritage places.

falls creek user guide


falls creek user guide

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.

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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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woodford reserve webapp guide


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.

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falls creek arts and heritage trail


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.

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Three Mile Scrub weblink


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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O'Connell earth buildigns weblink


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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australian alps smartphone 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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greater blue mountains trail smartphone guide


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.

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Clifftop Walks smartphone guide


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.

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falls creek smartphone guide


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.

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Lord Howe Island Smartphone 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.

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Charters Towers Legendary Landscapes guide


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.

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Charters Towers First World War 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. 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.

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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.

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the best app ...

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

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

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 matixes 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.

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built for speed

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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.

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