Trust Trails for iPhone gives visitors to Scotland rich information about the National Trust for Scotland's range of attractions, as well as an engaging social experience.
The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) wanted to increase members' engagement and enrich the visitor experience at their range of properties. We worked to realise the NTS's goals through ongoing technical consultation, rapid prototyping and a close-knit development process.
Trust Trails is primarily aimed at new and returning visitors to Scotland, as well as existing members of the National Trust for Scotland. Users of the app can choose to visit nearby NTS places – such as stately homes and impressive national parks – or even follow a pre-determined Trail: a collection of places that tell a story about Scotland and its history.
The app makes use of location sensitivity to provide real-time, contextual information about nearby places of interest to the user. Arriving at a property, users can see a selection of official and community-submitted photographs around the property, and follow a selection of guided walks around the property.
Sketches & Prototypes
We worked very closely with the NTS Digital Media team, first producing a selection of sketches and digital mock-ups that demonstrated a working interpretation of their initial brief. These sketches and mock-ups gave the NTS team an instant, visualisation of their ideas, and allowed them to demonstrate something real to user focus groups and gather critical initial feedback.
Some very early whiteboard sketches of the Trust Trails user experience.
From this early feedback, we were able to refine our mock-ups to the point where we could begin building a prototype application that ran on the iPhone. Prototyping is an essential part of the application development process, and something that we encourage at the start of all our projects.
Developing the App
The Trust Trails prototype was a fully working iPhone application, made available to a range of testers both within and outside the National Trust for Scotland. With a simple user interface built on our initial wireframes, the prototype made use of a sample of existing NTS data, such as places of interest.
The initial mock-ups and prototype apps were used to gather feedback from users, directly influencing the final design and experience of the app. The prototype and sample data gave testers a rich experience from which we could see how the app worked in the “real world”, and design the final user experience accordingly.
Using this feedback, Plymouth Software worked with the NTS team to design the final user experience, prioritising the functionality that users most desired and expected.
The social experience was an important requirement of the initial brief. In this first release, users can register and sign into a personal Trust Trails account. Once signed in, users can post their own photos, thoughts and ratings about each of the places they visit.
All of this, as well as the app's content, is powered by a powerful web-based content management system developed by Plymouth Software.
Synchronising with the Cloud
Like all our web development, Plymouth Software used the powerful Rails framework to build and develop the content management system. Staff from across the National Trust for Scotland can use the CMS to upload and maintain details about the places, trails, photographs, walks, and user submissions. This information is then synchronised with all users of the iPhone app.
The mobile application is backed by a custom web administration service. NTS staff can manage content within the app, which is then synchronised with the iPhone app.
With many of the NTS places and properties being quite remote, it was important that the app could work without any network signal. To achieve this, we built a powerful synchronisation API into the web service that allows users to create and use content offline. The app will automatically synchronise with the server when the user returns to a network location.
Download Trust Trails from the App Store
Trust Trails for iPhone was published to the App Store just before Easter. We're already hard at work on the next release, which will include some great improvements to user generated content, including recording your own walks around a property and integration with social media.
Trust Trails for iPhone also marks the release of Plymouth Software's first iPhone app, extending our portfolio and skills to cover both iOS and Android – the two most popular smartphone platforms in the world.
For more details about our work with the National Trust for Scotland and other organisations, just call 03300 881195 or contact us.