What is it?
A Museum in a Box is a themed collection of objects – 3D prints, postcards, documents, maps and the like, anything you can pick up and touch – that arrives at your door in a nice package, ready to amaze, educate and entertain.
Each Box also contains a Brain that knows what the Box contains. Boxes come pre-loaded with content like object descriptions, mood-setting contextual media like music from the same period, or even documentary video. Initial pre-loaded content can also be supplemented with new content from the web if and when there are updates to send.
Museum in a Box creates a ‘live’ link with an institution through a physical interaction, allowing museums to share their latest news and discoveries with classrooms around the world, and for students to create their own responses to objects through a recorder in the box.
The Brain also notes whenever an object is “booped” on the Brain, creating a history of use that’s never existed before. Museums will know which objects are interesting through this “boop log” that records when objects are used.
Here’s a list of the boxes we’ve made so far…
001 – Somewhat Random Things from the British Museum
We made our very first box for a two-week residency at Somerset House in London. It was a set of readily available 3D models with a good geographic spread, and they happened to all be from the British Museum. During our residency, which was also beginning to explore an associated project called The Small Museum, we took an object from the collection and studied it for a day, resulting in an exhibition piece about it. You can read a lot more about this over at The Small Museum blog.
002 – Paper Prototypes
It took us a few months to return to the project, thanks to a busy 2015 working on other things. We incorporated the company in October, and then set about making some paper prototypes to explore our early interaction design ideas. It was here that we came up with the idea that the base of the object should look the same as the place where you “boop” it, or bring into contact with the reader that can recognise it. Let us raise a glass to our mate Daniel Pett too, for suggesting we use the same felt as you get on the bottom of chess pieces for our 3D prints. Fancy!
003 – Statues of Women in London
004 – Classy Gypsum Prints with ThinkSee3D
005 – Postcards of Animals
To prepare for our first big public reveal at the Remix Conference, we developed our next three boxes. This round of prototypes were the first to include functional “brains” and a fleshed out V1 backend system. We built a V1 “boop log” which shows you any time an object gets booped; a feature we think could become pretty interesting as the community grows. It was really exciting to watch live reactions to the idea, and it gave us a great boost to keep developing the idea. This round was also about exploring the quality of 3D printing, and we were happy to work with the good folk at ThinkSee3D who made some fancy gypsum prints, special because there’s a heft to them that isn’t there with the normal plastic prints. It’s a shame they’re still really expensive!
006 – Big Stuff from the British Museum
Our first commission! We were very happy to put together this collection for our friend, Anne. Anne doesn’t like small things, so we thought we’d go the other direction and choose the biggest things in public spaces at the British Museum. We experimented with scale in this box too. All the objects were printed at scale with each other, and included a scale object — in this case, a print of Anne herself, coming in at 160cm — so Anne was able to use herself to figure out how big everything else is, like the Amitābha Buddha, who’s about 578cm tall (depending on who you ask). We also put together a handwritten notebook to accompany the set, starting the journey of ‘what happens around the box’, and explore what kinds of contextual information we could include around each object, in this case, along a theme around how the objects made their way to London.
007 – BBC’s Tweet of the Day
This Tweet of the Day prototype was developed to assist us about figuring out what’s required for us to quickly establish a partnership between content, printing, and use. It’s also our first attempt to set up a licensing arrangement with a big content provider which is helpful. Ultimately not successful yet, because licensing specific audio content from the Beeb is a complicated challenge. We’d like to go back to it though, because there’s so much potential! (This box is very popular.)
We were also considering what it would take to make a smaller brain on this project too, fantasising about an old skool Walkman form factor.
008 – Big Stuff from the British Museum, Mark II
It’s becoming fairly clear that creating great content for the people using these boxes is going to be hard work (with high returns!). Our BSFTBM Mark II box was about going through the process of writing original scripts to accompany each object, and recording them in-house. A fun script that popped out was a first-person account from Hoa Hakananai’a of what it’s like to be old.
009 – Skulls R&D box
This box was aspirational, and hasn’t been completed. It was intended to demonstrate one of the great promises of Museum in a Box, that you will be able to bring collections together from collections all over the world. This box had a natural history angle, and we tried gathering interested natural history museum folk from around the globe to contribute a model or two or three (with some success). We’re working with the cultural folk at Sketchfab, who are busy building a great collection of museum resources on their fast-growing platform.
010 – Smithsonian Libraries
This is a box of postcards, also in a natural history vein. We’ve made a demo box that was sent across the Atlantic to help explain ourselves from afar. It’s called Frogs in a Box, and plays you the commentary of a herpetologist and the various frogs’ calls as you boop.
This box is part of a larger plan to do an exciting pilot with Smithsonian Institution Libraries and their visual literacy program called I See Wonder. You can watch our pitch video to attend SxSWedu next year here:
011 – Ancient Egypt: Daily Lives
We made a demonstration box that’s a blend of 3D and 2D objects about daily life in ancient Egypt for the British Museum. We’re finding that a demo box speaks volumes about potential, and it was great to be able to show the box to families at the museum. We were happy to ask the young people who tried it what they thought of it all, and actually incorporated back into the demonstration box to share within the British Museum:
012 – Music Tech Fest
This was an R&D box around the question of archiving a live event through the medium of Museum in a Box. Tom attended the brilliant Music Tech Fest where he met with some young music makers and recorded their instruments and thoughts, which we’re putting in a box for easy playback.
013 – The Planets
This was an R&D box exploring how the form of the box could reflect its content. We used the lovely Planets Suite by Gustav Holst (and available on the Internet Archive for reuse) as our content. Tom has written up more about this exercise in the News section.
014 – I See Wonder
I See Wonder is an exciting education program developed by Sara Cardello, Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. We made a demonstration box for her about the Astronomy Collection, and hand-delivered it for a board meeting in Washington DC. We took the opportunity to think through a little more about what sorts of information we could put on the back of the postcards, too.
015 – Baghdad 900AD
The Baghdad box was a training exercise for our junior designer, Charlie, to wrap his head around the components and workflow required to put a box together. He made the whole thing, from start to finish, including sourcing the various images, and writing and recording the scripts for each postcard in the box.
016 – MOO NFC
Our first box for 2017 was investigating two things: 1) how we might be able to use the brilliant MOO NFC business cards in our boxes, and 2) how we might be able to encourage object-based learning and enquiry prompts in each box, to help people using the box and exploring the objects to question what they’re looking at. (More on our emerging educational strategy in this blog post.)
At the suggestion of our advisor, Gill Wildman, we held a “Brain Raising” workshop at HQ. Helped by a visit from Adrian, our Liverpool-based tech lead, and other friends, we were able to make 6 boxes in two days.
017 – Healing Through Archives March 2017
This box was a collaboration with Abira Hussein from the London Metropolitan Archives, and we were also assisted by Jennifer Wexler at the British Museum. As part of the Object Journeys program at the British Museum, we helped Abira construct a box of 3D prints and photographs. Abira writes that the project is the start of something longer term, “using technology to work with community groups around themes of migration, memory and identity”.
Tom and Charlie attended the workshop. It was our first time working with oral histories like this, and we were thrilled when the women attending sang a song in response.
018 – Hearing History Box
We worked on this box with the Jewish Museum London, in particular with John Murray, Learning Programme Manager (Special Projects) on this box to remember Jewish people who served in war. We designed an original poppy to be printed, and constructed a 3D model of the AJEX memorial from the National Memorial Arboretum.
This was also our first opportunity to explore the effect of artistic treatment of 3D prints. After the lovely gypsum prints came out of ThinkSee3D in Oxford, we sent them to the brilliant artists at Pango Studios for painting. The memorial and poppies look beautiful (so we’d like to do that again!).
John said, “We couldn’t be happier with the results, and the MiaB team were fantastic throughout the making process. Their creative advice and practical expertise have been invaluable and the final product has exceeded our expectations.”
019 – Points of Contact: Camden Art Collection
The Arts & Tourism team at the London Borough of Camden received funding from Arts Council England to deploy a Museum in a Box as the primary vehicle to engage young people in the Camden Arts Collection. We made a box that contained eight works from the collection; a mixture of sculptural and two-dimensional works. The box travelled widely around Camden, and was part of 13 workshops across the borough, held at Swiss Cottage, Kentish Town, Queens Crescent and Kilburn Centre libraries, and the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
We’ve written this box up in lots more detail on the blog.
We also made a working version of a prototype website for our appearance at the REMIX Conference in December 2015. You can click around it to get a sense for the overall intent. You might also like to keep an eye on our working BOOP LOG – the brain makes a little note every time an object gets booped.