Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

The majority of work for SI to date has focused on the in gallery kiosks.  The next iteration of which are currently being installed in IWM North.

What we haven’t really discussed yet, is the mobile and online elements to this project. We’ve been busy behind the scenes, designing, developing and snagging both the android and ios mobile applications as well as the social interpretation elements of the Website, which will go live very shortly.

SI has been ambitious from the start; and combining, and synchronising, in gallery, mobile and online is hard.  But we’re getting there!

The mobile applications work by scanning on of the numerous QR codes in IWM London and IWM North, once scanned visitors can access the objects story, and share stories of their own memories and experiences about War and objects in the IWM collections. Visitors can also create and share their own museum collection.

With the website we have added social interpretation elements to over 750,000 collection objects! That’s quite a big deal (well we think so anyway).   Visitors can curate and annotate your own unique collection of objects and then share them with friends.  Visitors are also able to join the conversation, by adding comments to any item in the collection and read what other people have to say.

We’ll update on the individual elements of the mobile and website once we’ve gone live.

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Hot on the heals of Claire’s post about being agile and putting the visitor / user first, we wanted to share how the design of the kiosk interface is going – and the process we’ve gone though so far.

In essence, we’ve followed a pretty traditional design/development cycle: sketch, wireframe, pixel-design, refined design. BUT, at every phase we’ve tested, tested and tested again. With the results directly feeding into the next phase of design. This has been rapid, sometimes fraught, and often insightful. And here’re a load of images, showing exactly what each phase actually looked like.


Made in a kitchen, fuelled by coffee, tested with visitors.

These were the first wireframes. They’re paper-based and created very rapidly to illustrate how we thought the content/interaction should all fit together. Literally as soon as they were ready, Claire deployed her Artful Dodger skills, nabbed them, then tested them with visitors in-gallery.

Then we refined the design…

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Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps Signallers telephone exchange in the First World War.

So we’re beginning to wireframe the kiosk interfaces for Social Interpretation. Tom has sketched them, Claire has braved the public on gallery to see if they ‘get ‘ them and now our designer, Christian gets to make the whole thing look nice and work as a good user interface should – without users having to think too much about anything but the content and what they want to do with it.

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We’re starting to really get into the design of phase-1 of Social Interpretation, and this will the first of a few updates on various aspects of design for the in-gallery technology and signage.

As you may have seen (here, here, here, here and, um,  here) we’re in the middle of wresting with how (or if) to best use QR Codes to facilitate physical/digital interaction. We already know from our research that part of this is to really make clear, in a small space, what the code is and how to use it. Part of that is placement, part is effective written prompt – being looked at by Claire Ross, and part is visual prompting. We’re finding out that visitors are likely to respond well to a clear phone graphic, to indicate what to use the code with. But what phone?

Which do you think it most recognisable as a smartphone?

You see, I have an aversion to using the iPhone as an icon. It’s recognisable, and definitely has a cultural recognition this definitely helps as far as being an icon is concerned.

But, I worry that it does three things:

  • Alienate non iPhone users and imply that it’s an iPhone-only function
  • Contribute to the public perception that Smartphone = iPhone. It doesn’t (it’s denying the antecedent)
  • Contribute to the public perception that you need an Apple device to take advantage of basic smartphone functions

It’s possible that none of these matter – or that I’m just worrying about nothing. And we’ll be evaluating our choice anyway to see how people react.

But what do you think?

From left to right, which phone icon do you prefer?

  • Generic, 3D (not shown) (28%, 11 Votes)
  • iPhone, straight (25%, 10 Votes)
  • iPhone, angled (18%, 7 Votes)
  • iPhone, 3D (15%, 6 Votes)
  • Generic, angled (13%, 5 Votes)
  • Generic, straight (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 40

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This is an interesting use of QR codes and print media in combination. There are a lot of ways this could be adapted to make museum objects really social. And have them, almost literally, talk. And in return have visitors join in that conversation. But you’d need a budget rather bigger than #socialinterp’s.

This Reporters Without Borders advert is a bit gimmicky. But still, fair play, as it’s a hard subject to get people engaged with.

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Join in online text panel

'Join in online' panel in the Grayson Perry exhibition

I get that digital is often last in line in exhibition planning. Not quite an afterthought but used to flying by the seat of its pants in terms of scheduling. There are good reasons for this. Content comes late, graphic look and feel comes late, budget for digital is sometimes a bit, well, squeezed. I’m thinking of online as well as gallery digital here.

But when you are looking to make friends of the exhibition visitor in terms of social interaction, it helps to integrate the experience. What got me thinking about this more than I usually do, was a (luckily silent) chunter I had last week when visiting the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum. It’s a great exhibition. And the BM is doing some lovely digital stuff in their temporary exhibitions at the moment. Not so seamlessly integrated you miss it. But delivering content enhanced by technology, rather than consumed by it.

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In the Red Corner... Two Youth Service Volunteers having a boxing match at an agricultural camp at Nunney Catch in Somerset during 1943. (D 16345,

In the most recent Project Board and Content meetings, we got into a really interesting debate (bear with me).

To enable Social Interpretation, we’re going to install 11 fixed-kiosks in IWM London, four in IWM North, and 50 QR codes between the two museums. At its heart, the debate turned on which objects we’re going to enable direct Social Interpretation against – and specifically how we choose them.

In the Red corner:
The ‘Classic’ Museum View, and for the sake of this, me.

In the Blue corner:
The User-Centred-Design Jedi’s view, and for the sake of this, Claire.

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