GD740: Science Museum Brief – Update #1

I’m back at my desk after a fantastic trip to Dutch Design week with Falmouth Uni.
It was pretty maazing to actually meet people in person and of course get a good dose of inspiration from the Netherlands. I saw some fantastic works while I was there and have been really inspired by the quality and progressive design thinking that seems to be the norm there.

In the exhibition was the 1928 Abstract Cabinet by El Lissitzky. The artwork was questioning the passive way in which viewers interact with artworks in a gallery.
this whole structure was moveable, you could decide at which height and in which order you wanted the paintings to sit.

Maybe an early version of UX design?

The next very relevant reference to this project was the talk from the creators of

Biblio-graph is part of an ongoing method to translate the collections of cultural libraries and archives into data, using the Mobile Archive Unit as a bridge between the physical and the digital archive. Once a reader places a publication on the Mobile Archive Unit, the system automatically recognizes it, captures an image, and saves it to the publication record in the database. It works like a copy machine, people make copies to read later, but in this case, pages become part of the metadata and become available online as an entry point to the collection. [From the website]

The first bit of work that I saw when I walked into Dutch Design Week was this project ‘Blueprinting Museum 2.0’ by Lotte Cornelissens.

Using an ipad you were able to view a 3D model / video of different people’s speculative ideas of the future of museums. The blueprints were really visually pleasing without the addition of the 3D models but it was a really cool concept that immersed you in the work.

Another stand out moment which really relates to this project was my visit to the Van Abbe Museum to see the exhibition ‘The Space Between Us’.
The exhibition questions the function of design and the role of the museum.

To be honest the technicality of the whole project was almost a bit much for me to understand, but what I did love about it was that for the online collection to build they required people to come to a space and view the collection.
Interestingly each time this process was created for a new institution the designer then also turned it into a printed catalogue as it remained the best way to show an archive at a period in time.
The UI of this platform is so beautiful and very different to other web applications I have come across. I made some notes during the talk which I think are pretty relevant to this blog.

Interestingly the tips from the Science Museum and from biblio graoh completely condtradict eachother. The science museum said to think about what experience you wanted to achieve before heading to the data where as Biblio Graph said it was best to look at the data first to see what you were working with.
As John from the museum stated the data set the Science Museum holds is pretty thin.
Meaning that a rich UI like this one may not be possible, yet I suppose I shouldn’t let that fully influence my design.

In the intro video John gave many examples of live ways to visualise a catalogue.
It’s really cool because it definitely takes away that search bar barrier. I’m drawn to the map versions, I think mostly because it has just been something I have been interested in throughout this MA but also I find it could be a cool concept to explore.
The museums are in very set locations, the Science Museum group has no premises in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland yet hold a lot of items from those places… I don’t want to go to far down a rabbit hole straight away but I definitely think that this is a subject worth exploring.

This slide was perhaps the most important starting point. Firstly I need to find out what the Science Museums official mission is:

To make sense of the science which shapes our lives, help create a scientifically literate society and inspire the next generation.

Ok… so if I pick that apart a little how can these words help me shape my project? I think it is important to get across that maybe not all people will know or have any context into how the world today has been shaped. Making a scientifically literate society is a massive mission but one that is definitely exciting.

Who is the audience?
Well, in the brief it states that the audience is to be young adults [18 – 30] who are interested in the science (non specialist, non researcher), history, society, culture and are motivated by curiosity. The audience is potentially global and may never have visited the Science Museum Group’s physical museums.

This is still a very broad audience, but again what I’m noticing is that they state that the person is not a specialist or a researcher, and that they are motivated by curiosity.

What user need does it need to fufill?
So I guess this also is kind of the same answer as the mission.
To make sense of the science which shapes our lives, help create a scientifically literate society and inspire the next generation.
Whatever i choose to exhibit I need to make sure the way in which I do it helps the viewer make sense of a moment in time, an object or a whole scientific movement… no pressure!

User Need

When thinking about user needs I was also interested to think of it in relation to science capital.
It could be interesting to look at people with a low science capital for this project.
If that was my focus it would change my user needs.
In this case I would have to create content that might appeal more to females or people from less socially advantaged backgrounds.
But what does that even mean and how would I get that content, what ever it may be out there in the first place?
There’s more thinking to do.

Questions I can’t answer just yet… but soon, hopefully!

What will users have to do to achieve this need?
Where does this activity happen and what tools are provided?
What messaging is needed to drive this behaviour?
What product or content will need to be produced?
How is it possible to measure these audience behaviours?

How are people currently viewing the online collection?

After reading this article I was really happy to discover that 56% of people who enter the collection enter via an object page. Meaning they already knew what they were looking for.

This is interesting as it was a topic that came up with the designers from Biblio-Graph. They were saying that a search bar on an online collection is actually a very limiting factor.
How can people discover things when they don’t know what is behind that search bar?

Visualising Culture
Although this Ted talk is a little outdated now it perfectly describes the limitations of the search bar and the possibilities of visualising collections.
Mitchell describes using a search bar for a big collection “like looking at the world through a letter box”. It’s a really nice way to look at the complexity of this brief. I liked the thought of trying to make a digital collection similar to the experience you get when walking into the science museum…
How can you recreate that awe and wonder?

The five tips Mitchell describes at the end of the video make a good framework in which you could build a UI with:
#1: Show everything
#2: Show relationships
#3: Offer Choice
#4: Kindle Discovery
#5: Let humans be smart

Back to Dutch Design Week…

The more I think back and look into the work of Mariana Lanari and Remco van Bladel the more I think, oh my god wouldn’t it be epic if THEY could digitise the Science Museums Archive using the Biblio-Graph software they have created?? The above image shows in simple terms how they categorise the documents for the database. They used linked data which in its most simple form can be explained by stating [book a] was written by [person a]. These two inputs would then be linked.
Users can contribute to the data set while browsing the collection by filling in the card [pictured above]. In the first circle the user can write down the name of a [person], [organisation], [object], [event], [place], [time], [term] or [phrase] and in the second circle write the [page number] and [spine code].
It’s not a new system it’s just cool how they have made it so collaborative. In the talk Mariana was asked whether this software was open source. It was cool to hear her thoughts on open source potetntially not being that great when building something such as this. They are working until they know they have a system that works really well before they even start to think about it being open source.
What I loved in their talk is how they linked this to also being a really good method for understanding AI as it is a similar method to how AI builds its own knowledge base.

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