Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

Floor projection at IWM North

So, we took Social Interpretation (SI) on the road yesterday. Up to Imperial War Museum North (IWMN). We are installing 4 SI kiosks against big objects and 9 QR Codes against smaller objects – one of which is a trunk in a vitrine a good 2 metres off the floor. This meant choosing the placing of the codes took a good bit of pointing and gesturing.

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Turner Prize exhibition comment card designed by A2/SW/HK

The preponderance of digital in this digital R&D project has been troubling me a bit. Ever since we installed our social interpretation kiosks in the A Family in War exhibition in early April, I have been remembering the various exhibitions I have worked on over the years and the various lo-fi commenting options that often drew more comments – and more engaged comments – from visitors than our SI technology is so far managing to do.

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While this blog has been keeping you up to date on project development and how social interpretation fits into A Family in Wartime exhibition, we haven’t given you much info on how the project feeds in to the wider marketing campaign for the exhibition.

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A comment was just added on to our Social Interpretation kiosk, against the Gravy Browning box in the A Family in Wartime exhibition.

In answer to the prompt:

How important is it for you to be fashionable during a time of shortages and cutbacks?  During the Second World War there were many shortages, including clothes and make-up Women needed to be very inventive in finding alternatives to remain in fashion. Along with other ‘Make Do and Mend’ ideas, women used gravy powder to stain their legs to look as though they were wearing stockings.

 The comment reads:

“I think it’s a waste of gravy. And you could have dogs around your legs licking.”

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The Crusader by Gerry Judah at Imperial War Museum North

It’s always nice to get back to the north. And it’s always nice to visit the IWM North. We went for our SI team meeting this week. Primarily to sort out the rolling out of SI kiosks and QR codes in to the radically different spaces up there. We get the chance to install bigger comment screens and hopefully bigger QR codes too. Size does matter.

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It has been relatively quiet, project-wise for the past 2 weeks. Tom has left IWM and the new project leader, Carolyn (Head of New Media at IWM) and project partner Claire have been at Museums and the Web in America. The back end boys, KI and Gooii have been coding back and forth in the north. At the museum myself and Wendy (Digital Projects Manager at IWM) have been picking up snagging issues on the SI kiosks in the A Family in Wartime exhibition.

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So. The Social Interpretation. She goes live today. The first bit anyway. 6 kiosks for visitors to comment on 6 objects. And 8 QR Codes that resolve to shiny new IWM mobile web pages, for the associated objects. It has taken an inordinate amount of time and effort to get this far. But then exhibition things are never straightforward, seamless, unproblematic or, even, easy.

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Please note: The author usually writes technical documentation. Recent documents have been described as “tedious” and “utterly boring”. In the spirit of blogging I have tried to enliven this with all the wit and charm of a serialised JSON array.

What are the mobile apps?
The SICE Mobile apps (iOS and Android) are being developed by Gooii in Nottingham. The apps are designed to provide access to object information from the IWM database and allow users to comment, collect and share those objects.

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Men of a Territorial Army Anti-Aircraft Battery training on a 3 inch anti-aircraft gun, aircraft height finder and predictor in their drill hall.

I was really very interested to read this post on the success of going mobile in museums lying in the hands of Visitor Services departments.  The usual museum visitor neither knows nor cares about the machinations and politications of getting a project like Social Interpretation off the ground. They don’t much care about budgets, stakeholders, design sign-offs, advisory committees, and mobile phone icon debates. Or any of that stuff. They care, or they remember, their experience in the museum – of which mobile is going to become a more and more common part.

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The winning phone design, and it's trophy, the Escaped Carling Cup (

So, after the vote earlier, and approval at the Project Team meeting, the image we’re going with on our QR prompts is a generic, 3D, smartphone. You can see it above.

To be honest, I’m quiet surprised – in no small part because this was the only image not featured in the original vote. Still, the (completely self-selecting, scientifically invalid, statistically insignificant, online only) public have spoken.

The QR prompts will first be used in-gallery in April, when A Family In War Time opens. This will be the launch of phase 1 of Social Interpretation, with 6 kiosks and 8 QR-enabled objects for the public to use. Importantly, Claire Ross and UCL-DH will of course evaluate this success of the phone image with a broad cross-section of visitors. Their findings will influence our design work in phase 2, which will see over 50 QR codes rolled out across IWM London, and also IWM North.

A Little Present

And finally, just like the Christmas jumper you didn’t want, and because this project is all about sharing (we’re even making sure that our server-side software is open-sourced), here’s the EPS file of the phone, in case you want to use it in any of your projects too.



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