Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

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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Communication Equipment, S-Phone Type WS 13/Mark 1V, British

Do you know what? Museum mobile app development is hard sometimes.  That is what today has taught me.  Quite a lot of today was taken up with draining discussions about what the primary aim of the Social Interpretation mobile app should be.  Is it a closed in gallery app for commenting?  Should it highlight sharing? Should it focus on collected objects? How/should the app interface with Online?  Just because it has the technical functionality does that mean we should actually implement it? How do you design for all eventualities?

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This week I have been undertaking some visitor behaviour mapping in the main exhibition space up at IWM North. I had reservations about how well I would be able to complete visitor behaviour mapping as the space is intentionally confrontational, with a want of making visitors feel ill at ease. You get lost easily, and are never quite sure where the exit is, or if you have come from the right or the left. There is a chronology, but it isn’t easy to follow, and visitors do get lost and distracted. The museum is really one wonkily-shaped large central dimly lit room with small ‘silos’ focusing on particular themes.   So it was fascinating to see how visitors interact with the space, what behaviours they display, and which objects interest them the most.

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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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We both own necklaces, for starters. Necklace, handmade, Turkish. On display at IWM North. EPH 796

So, what else does Claire’s Accessories have to do with Social Interpretation?

Recently, Claire’s Accessories got into a bit of bother. They were apparently caught taking a little too much inspiration in their designs from an independent jewellery designer. This post isn’t about the ethics of design and intellectual property however. Instead, it’s about how Claire’s reacted when their users started to complain / debate / kick-off about their actions.

Or more specifically: how they didn’t react.

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He Talked ... This Happened - Careless Talk Costs Lives Poster

We will be talking at the New Directions in Digital Humanities seminar on 23rd Feb 2012 at 1pm.

The King’s”New Directions in Digital Humanities” seminar presents a series of lectures and demonstrations by leading scholars, postgraduate students, and practitioners from across the disciplines of the humanities and nearby social sciences. The Seminar aims not only to present work at the leading edge of application but also to provide a forum in which this work is subject to critical reflection and thoughtful probing.

So it sounds like we have to be on our best behaviour next week!

We will be talking about the agile and user centred design process we are employing for Social Intrerpretation as well as some of the challenges Social Interpetation in Museums is bringing up.
Hope to see you there.

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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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Twenty-three sheets of toilet paper, issued to British Far East prisoners of war held by Japanese forces, during the Second World War.

Agile management in part is supposed to be a faster way of delivering projects.  As an aside, I’m not impressed with project management methodologies in general, either you can manage a project or you can’t, you don’t need a methodology to follow.

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