Atoms to artifacts, foxes to fossils, robins to rhododendrons, sculpture to storytellers – Ithaca's Discovery Trail has something for everyone!
Gorges, and birds, and dinosaurs! Oh, my!
Streams and hiking trails, a bird sanctuary, botanical gardens, a center for exploring local history, one of the finest collections of art in upstate New York, world class fossil collections, a natural history museum, a hands-on science center, and a public library.
The opportunities to be informed, educated, or simply entertained in Ithaca, New York (you're not in Kansas anymore!) are many and varied. The Discovery Trail was established in 1999 to promote this richness of place that attracts locals and visitors alike to Tompkins County.
The eight trail organizations (listed in the sidebar) founded the Discovery Trail as a co-marketing effort to carry out and promote joint events, programs and exhibitions. These efforts have included collaborative programming, development and distribution of brochures, participation in community-wide events and, of course, a website.
A few years ago we helped the Discovery Trail with basic site redesign issues and created a simple method to allow the Discovery Trail coordinator to maintain news and events on the site herself.
Recently, it was agreed that the site needed better and more dynamic branding in addition to new, more interactive site features.
- A New Design to Complement the Logo: The Discovery Trail has a great logo — not designed by us, but still great! What the site didn't have was a website to complement the logo. The site design was rather bland and made heavy use of gray as its basic color.
One look at the logo and you see the identity the Discovery Trail wants to convey: dynamic, vibrant, impactful — not gray. So our first task was to make use of the logo, enlarge it and draw the site's color palette from it. Visitors to the site now see an integrated site design, a consistent color palette and a more visually appealing and inviting presentation.
- A Slide Show to Highlight Each Organization: The original site had a small slide show on the home page with single images to represent each of the eight trail organizations. The new slide show has been moved to the top of the home page and still represents each organization, but now uses collages of images, is larger in size, and includes accompanying text and tag lines. We also used photos and images from the new Discovery Trail brochure in the collages. This helps reinforce marketing identity across the two media.
- A New Video Library: Slide shows, words on a page, graphics, these are all great communication tools, but sometimes you want to do more. Short of being at a physical location, video allows an organization to immerse the audience in the sights and sounds of a place. Video can present the physical space of a museum or show wildlife in their natural habitat. Interviews can allow visitors to make a connection with staff before arriving on site. Children and their parents can see how other families have interacted with an exhibit or a program. In short, video is an amazing way to broaden the reach of a place.
The Discovery Trail saw video as an exciting opportunity, so we developed a video library with dozens of clips representing each of the eight organizations. The videos are organized by category, and presented as thumbnails that allow viewers to review, enlarge and play each one.
The Discovery Trail also wanted to make sure to highlight the new videos, so we added a "Featured Video" player to the new home page.
- Dynamic Directions: Great! So, I'm excited by everything the Discovery Trail has to offer. Now, how do I find the locations? Where do I go and how do I get there?
In both the main navigation and on the footer of every page there is a link to a dynamic Google map that marks the location of each of the trail organizations. The map markers include the place name, address, phone number and link to the organization's web site.
The map can even be used to get directions from one organization to another. The directions are plotted on the map and text directions are also generated.
- The Maintenance Question: Finally we come to the maintenance question. Many organizations, especially non-profits like the Discovery Trail, want to know how they can maintain their site themselves to save money. The best answer depends on the client's budget, time, comfort with technology and HTML, attention to detail, and the size and complexity of the site.
The Discovery Trail's primary concern is with maintaining the news and events on the site. This content needs to be updated weekly, sometimes more often. A further requirement is the ability to assign specific items to specific web pages (display today's top news and events on the home page and display the complete list on a calendar page).
To accomplish this we created simple XML files for the news items and for the event items. Don't worry if you don't know what an XML file is! The important bit is that these files can be updated by the Discovery Trail Coordinator using a simple text editor.
- Extra Credit: So, if you are a bird watcher, there is an organization for that — the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you like to hike, enjoy wildlife, appreciate botanical gardens, then there are organizations for that — the Cayuga Nature Center and the Cornell Plantations. Want to know more about your local history? There is an organization for that — The History Center. Appreciate art and science? There are museums for that — the Johnson Museum of Art, the Museum of the Earth, and the Sciencenter. Want to read a good book? There's the Tompkins County Public Library for that.
Want to take the Discovery Trail with you? There's an app for that.
I admit it. Because I enjoy working with the Trail I gave them something extra — I developed an iPhone app for the Trail. You can use the app to see a current listing of all the Trail events and news. You will find descriptions, locations and contact information for each of the Trail organizations. You will even find suggested itineraries to help you plan your visit. You'll find all of this for free by visiting the App Store and downloading the "DiscoveryTrail" app.
It is wonderful to be able to work with an organization that is actively promoting the events, culture, local history and natural beauty that make this region so rich in attractions. Being able to work with clients like the Discovery Trail is a large part of why I started One Bad Ant in the first place.
Discovery Trail App: Take the Discovery Trail with you
Discovery Trail Site: The Discovery Trail website
Trail Map page: Dynamic Google map to locate the Trail sites
Video Library: Peruse the video library