Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

The Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture, funded by Nesta, AHRC and ACE, is funding two teams of researchers to investigate the SICE project. Our team consists of Gabriella Giannachi, Professor of Performance and New Media at the University of Exeter; Peter Tolmie, Senior Ethnographic Consultant for the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham; Steve Benford, Professor of Collaborative Computing in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham; and Derek McAuley, Professor of Digital Economy in the School of Computer Science and Director of Horizon, an interdisciplinary research institute funded through the RCUK Digital Economy programme.

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Commandos 'stalk the enemy' under cover of a smokescreen during training in Scotland, 28 February 1942.

In December I was let loose in the atrium space, with a clip board and some less than desirable maps of the gallery floor. December was the month I discovered that I cannot draw a tank for toffee. Why was I drawing tanks? Because unfortunately I wasn’t given an accurate floor plan until afterwards so I had to draw my own. Which in a way is a fantastic opportunity to familiarise yourself with a gallery space is by painstakingly drawing each of the objects and there relevant positions to each other. Once I had sorted the map drawing and figured out the difference between a Mark V Tank and a T34 Tank I then commenced stalking. It really isn’t as creepy as it sounds, and in fact can be really useful when you are trying to find out what are the typical behaviours of visitors to a museum space. These maps (with my pitiful drawings of Tanks that looked like ducks) then grew into a complex spiders web of visitor interactions, behaviours and movements throughout the space.

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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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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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Public house debate, 1945. An American soldier is amongst the audience listening to the second speaker of the evening, Miss Crooks (not pictured), on the topic of 'America and Britain'. The original caption states that "the few Americans present were unusually tongue-tied, had nothing to say to frank discussion of their qualities".

How do you control what information is online?  In the case of Twitter and Facebook, with difficulty, as Ryan Giggs found out last summer.  But these are huge sites with a lot of organisation behind them, and they will have a fair amount of resources to fight legal claims.

So what about your smaller site?  How do you control content?  What about the issues of defamation, data protection, and, with public authorities, freedom of information?   Or just insults, bullying and heated debates getting out of hand?

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Sharing, at the heart of socialising objects in this project, is under threat from SOPA. Clay Shirky sensibly unpacks the issues in this TED talk. It is scary stuff.

“TimeWarner has called and they want us all back on the couch. Just consuming. Not producing. Not sharing. And we should say no. ”

How to say no:

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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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QR Codes are the cause of much debate / argument / kitten killing, both in and outside of Social Interpretation. But why do we need them? What are the different options? And if using QR, what can one do to make them as usable as possible?

Which would do you prefer?

Why this debate at all?

To put it simply, because we want to enable people to use objects (or anything physical) as keys into more information. This might be info about an object, a theme, or maybe a discussion or piece of media. To do this, we need some way to bridge the physical/digital divide.

So what’re our options?

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Scott Stratten’s UnMarketing Keynote at the NAMP conference. Found via Twitter, this is practically a stand-up comedy routine about QR Codes. Short, watchable and some truisms in there, too.

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