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Day 9: Accessibility, Our First Pup Visit and a Guessing Game

It was excellent to have a visit from Kirin, Ros, Matthew, Toby and his dog, Willow this morning. They came to us from VocalEyes, a nationwide audio description charity, providing access to the arts for blind and partially sighted people. We were really curious to hear their impressions on the idea of Museum in a Box.

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Here’s our first canine visitor, Willow, with her human, Toby.

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Sighted people make so many assumptions about how things are perceived in the world. Ros, who is a describer-of-things (including all the audio descriptions of things you can hear at the British Museum), helped Kirin to understand what was in the room, and talked through the main installation in the centre of the room, and then our wall of other projects we’d done each day. It was interesting that she read the papers from the top down — perfectly natural — but the papers were oriented from the bottom up, because of the museum/table surface’s orientation in the room. It was lovely to witness how Kirin processed inputs by touch as well.

We noticed lots of things! It was particularly interesting to hear from Kirin about what was a bit confusing and how we could fix it.

  • Scale of items in the box should be accurate in relation to each other, and perhaps we should also have a specific object that is designed to be used for scale reference.
  • We could be specific about what the bottom of each object is, and which side is the front, so each can be oriented correctly. A face is a recognizable set of features, but it takes a while to parse what’s being touched of the stranger objects (like the House post or a Rosetta Stone).
  • It might be useful to have the design of the box itself represent the institution the objects come from, so to have it be in the shape of the floor plan, and have the objects generally placed in their correct spots. This observation opened up a nice possible game in a museum, if you have an object before you visit, you could go on a treasure hunt once you get there to try to find it.
  • It’s a big deal for some sight-impaired people to actually visit on-site. There’s so much to take in and process it can be really overwhelming. That’s a big part of what VocalEyes does, to help prepare for a visit by describing in detail what to expect. We thought that the Museum in a Box could be a good way to help people prepare to .
  • The box should contain an index. Whether it’s printed or audio or another format, it’s really important to be able to know easily what you’re dealing with.
  • The work we did on Day 5 with Adrian and Frankie seemed to really strike a chord. (That chord was struck with me, too, on the day!) It’s hugely helpful to hear information, and other audio mood-setting stuff too, like our waves crashing and museum hubbub form Day 2.

We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the VocalEyes team as we move forward with Museum in a Box. It is indeed the case that any design work we do to make our project accessible to sight-impaired people will also mean it’s more accessible for everyone.

Harriet is bringing her kids in this afternoon, so Tom, Felix and I are working on a guessing game.

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Printing Our First Bits of History

DSC04500With Museum in a Box, part of our intention is to put the experience of curation, tactile examination and learning through exploration literally into people’s hands – and what form these physical artifacts take is a fairly involved decision and one that we are interested in exploring.

On the other hand, with our upcoming residency at Somerset House in mind, we wanted to go ahead, print a set of objects and explore the possibilities of 1,000 year old artifacts shrunk down to pocket size with modern tech. So we printed our first set of objects, which you can see in the above photo: Scan the World models printed by iMakr’s My Mini Factory.

3D printing a set of museum objects for human interaction comes with a bunch of interesting considerations, informed by a variety of needs and seeing our first set has got me thinking about a few of them…

Cost

3D printing is an amazing development in manufacturing but is currently still pretty expensive. Quotes from several printers in London for a set of print ready models (meaning the digital 3D files are in the right format, cleaned up, ready to go) came in at £200 – £300.

The expense, among other things, results from a) 3D print services charging by the hour for use of their printers – the bigger the print, the longer it takes, the more it costs and b) a finer print resolution (say 0.05mm layers) takes longer to layer up than a rough resolution (say .3mm per layer). Here are some pics to illustrate what I’m talking about. Those quotes were for “economy” i.e. lowish resolution prints, by the way.

In the interests of making this a more affordable enterprise, we asked iMakr to fit our prints into a much tighter budget and they succeeded by balancing the two factors above. Which brings us to…

Size

As mentioned above, how much will prints cost is a relevant question, but maybe more importantly we need to figure out what is a good size print for a pair of human hands to touch and manipulate and for human eyes to examine. Printing at life size would defeat the purpose of miniaturizing a museum to fit in a box, printing too small means that things feel less substantial and, even worse, might break in the course of printing or use, like our tiiiiny Bodhisattva Tara:

Tuiny Bodhisattva Tara

While this may at first appear to be a big failure, this is part of the learning process we have undertaken, plus, even before we’ve begun, we have our first 3D print conservation project!

Definition & Accuracy

DSC04493What kind of a 3D print is a good 3D print? Does it need to look and feel 100% historically accurate to be useful?

Consider the print we got of the Rosetta Stone:  As you can see, the print is fairly small, much smaller than the original which stands at 114.4cm / 45in. It’s the right general shape but at this scale it’s impossible to make out the hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek figures carved on the original. Heck it’s completely the wrong colour! Do these things make it less valuable or usable?

As a replica for study it may have it’s shortcomings, but as a key, a talisman to unlocking a world of digital data and a physical artifact around which conversations can take place … it might just do 😉

All in all, I think we’ve made a great first step in our research and  with our lovely prints we can explore the issues detailed above and more.

If you have any ideas, questions or suggestions about the topic of this post or our Museum in a Box – please drop us a line!

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Our First Display

Here you can see the ten Museum in a Box objects arranged by size.



Also, if you’d like to visit, our front door says Civic Bureau.

In the time it’s taken me to upload this post on my phone, Harriet’s made the second arrangement, this time by height. Next, we’re making a simple timeline and Tom’s cutting out a bright pink world map.





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Ready as we’ll ever be

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We’ll be at Somerset House tomorrow afternoon after noon. I’m sure it will be a dog’s breakfast, so you might consider waiting until Thursday to visit. (But, we won’t turn you away.)

We’re in The New Wing, next to the Civic Shop. It’s unlikely anyone will have heard of The Small Museum until we’ve finished, so might be best to use the Civic Shop as your marker.

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Prototyping in Public

Exciting news! Thanks to Cassie Robinson, The Small Museum is about to get its very first public airing as an idea. We’re going to be doing a two-week residency at Somerset House, just next door to Cassie’s Civic Shop in The New Wing. (There was a project called the Civic Bureau in that space, but that project has now ended, so we’re going to pop in for the end bit. Great that the space won’t go to waste!)

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I’ll be joined by Harriet Maxwell and Tom Flynn for most of our two weeks, and hopefully you. Our simple plan is to take a different tack each day. We’ll have a handy device with us, a new R&D project out of Good, Form & Spectacle called Museum in a Box. It’s a 3D-printed set of 10 objects from The British Museum. We’ll use this box and its contents in the space to explore ideas around content, representation, interaction and visitor participation.

If you’d like to come and visit, do please let us know! We’ll be tweeting from @thesmallmuseum if you’d like to follow along.

We’re jumping in the deep end. Luckily it’s quite a small room.

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