“If the pilot was wildly successful, what might that look like for you?”

We’re doing an international user research pilot to trial our new version of Museum in a Box we’re calling “Make Your Own”. Our plan is to work towards having these kits for sale in time for Christmas 2019.

We have gathered 40 hardy groups from around the world to participate with us, and our first step was to interview all of them. We were lucky enough to meet some in person, and Skyped with everyone else. Here’s a map of where they all are:

Map of our 40 international pilots: schools, museums, cultural organisations, artists, home educators, libraries, and even a farm!
Map of our 40 international pilots: schools, museums, cultural organisations, artists, home educators, libraries, and even a farm!

It’s been exciting and informative to meet everyone. We’ve gathered all kinds of tidbits about their lives and work, and have particularly enjoyed hearing about how they would like to use Make Your Own to extend their own missions and work. We were particularly pleased that this group of 40 probably represents a pretty good cross-section of folks we hope will become customers (although anyone is welcome to buy one!).

We’ve used the same set of interview questions for everyone, and I’ve been most interested in the response to this one: If the pilot was wildly successful, what might this look like for you? I thought you might like to see what people say to that…

The Pilots’ Responses


If I have more students come and ask me about it, and come and ask me to participate. They’ll ask me about it. Initiating a conversation with me is a winner. If I speak to new students, that’s huge win. I’m 5 feet, most of them are taller than me.


Well, if we’re successful, that means like you’re successful… we’d make more connections with other pilots… we could get more resources from all over the world, we’d be pilots… You’d get more funding so everyone would benefit.

It just hopefully opens up the program so more people and schools can participate, so more schools and kids can benefit.

“You’ll need to appreciate art and music and the past and why you shouldn’t knock everything down.”


Seeing Museum in a Box in campuses and students create collections by themselves and spread them out


It will be a success, maybe if a student thinks we can do something bigger. Maybe we can make a big Museum in a Box! We can also present this to other schools around – there are about 20 small schools near us.


Anything successful would be being able to demonstrate learning, this is part of why I want to make a study to prove it. There are also a lot engagement  for the students for culture and everything. But the main reason for me is proving that it works.

It’s not just about if it works but more to show me that it demonstrably increases learning. If you do this then schools want it. Teachers listen to teachers and listen to research.


We would like to create something that would be able to see scale sustainably. Every single time we have a new museum collection, what could we put on Museum in a Box? I would love to see and understand the business model. Really about what we scale and what the students are going to create at the end.


People engaging with it during the market. Asking more questions, trying more cards. Having Laura (market master) want to take it and use it outside the market. Inspiring envy, obvs. If nobody is interested I will have failed.


That the box can create that kind of ongoing engagement (with young adults) that goes beyond the interaction with the box. We would like to see that after interacting with the box, there is some kind of ongoing engagement with the subject. Don’t know how to measure it yet. Maybe it’s an ongoing affiliation with the project. 40% of the visitors are repeat visitors.  Develop engagement/affiliation with MB and stay active and develop their own collection or pursue direct action with the artists. Can MB trigger that kind of interaction? Enable a deeper connection at large.


That I have played a role in this successful project. It’s a privilege to have helped. It would be a good reflection for me, and for my school.


I talked with the local museum, and they might be interested in purchasing it, and they’re really exciting about reproductions. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I love this open access tech, and helping people encounter the world in this way.

Success for MB would be repeatable programs/lessons.


People wanting the box everywhere!
I know a lot of art teachers around Portland. Would be good if our box could travel around the city, and have other teachers interested. Giving the students some pride at their collection. Sharing it will be the best.


It would be something I can present as a new way to experience sound and to interact with it. A new medium for sound. Knowing how it works and can be used in different context, could it be something people can have in their homes? Could it help people?


I don’t know! Just people enjoying the fungi collection all over the place. Getting excited about fungi.


I think that I don’t have to touch the box too much. It just wanders around, without me, and it doesn’t sit in my house… there’s demand to see it and use it. Potentially, a proliferation of Boxes or Collections.


The children would be able to find a way to learn and create their own experience that they can then share with their families.


I need to figure out how to put it in front of people. We frequently do prototype testing… I can imagine setting it up in one of the halls – see what the response is.

For me, I’m interested in seeing the ease of using the Box, the variety and richness of using it, how visitors respond to it. Would we do pop-ups or offer for sale in our gift shop. Can we offer to visitors to create their own? We’ve tried various citizen science projects… esp for the collections, it’s not just a bunch of stuff. They tell you things.


Success would be kids getting knowledge or study drive from Museum in a Box. if they can be inspired by the role models, it is already a win! Get them willing to stay involved and do more.


Would be around outcomes for the Young People’s Programme. They feel they’ve had ownership, developed understanding of collections and exhibition-making and digital side of things. Practical skills and comprehension of how galleries and museums work.

Internal conversation continuing about what we’d do around our collection.


We would want to find a way to keep the Box at the end, and send it out ourselves. I would want to be in a position where we can send it. Could be used by locals, or make connections all over the world. Maybe with other composers or other forms of music.


Success would be getting a lot of people interacting with the project and increasing the audience of the museum. being able to expand. getting more people involved in the creation and engagement with content. Getting the kids to want to be part of the project.


I don’t know how it will be successful, but it would be nice to build upon it, maybe a Katakana version (simplified). It’s quite a commercial, ready idea. Could be arty; more ambitious.


A tool that the audience would find useful. Also all the team of the museum to get ideas of how to use this box. How can we help people that collect stamps?


To make the pilot successful the pilot would need multiple people involved, as well as information sharing, to interest other programs to implement the box more widely in the system. I would love to see   a Museum in a Box project every semester in the class.


Get other teachers involved with my department. Like the art classes upstairs.


If people engage with the collection and find way to interact with it then it would be successful. Then, I can try to push the concept and pitch it to local indigenous libraries in order to try to help them experiment with Museum in a Box.


It’s about making sure the children realise why they’re doing something, and give them the opportunity to showcase what they’ve done. It’s key for children to share, too… it’s not just “Miss” at the front telling things, but the kids are making the stories…


It would give us a sense of pride, for working it, and it taking off. A sense of connection and achievement for being involved. The excitement of contributing to something that’s worked.


First of all, awesome. If it works, I wouldn’t mind using this tool in different museums, and have the tool in different museums to allow people to interact with it. Can we use it inside our projects/exhibitions? That would be a success, actually. Let’s see how this will be useful for us. I think it will. Maybe in the next year, if this works, let’s see how we can expand.


We’d like to make many more pilots, and disseminate music to as many spaces as we can. 

It will be really interesting to see how kids react, and develop something around that. It will also be interesting to teach the kids to figure out what to make. Maybe the kids could start making their own thing, about their places.


If it’s successful we would have a permanent display in each of the museums, and they would run programs and create new collections that would be on display.


How about that? SO MUCH FUN.

Today was one of those days at work I don’t want to forget

This morning over coffee at home, I wrote a personal tweet: “I wonder what will happen today.” I didn’t post it.

I got to work a bit before 10am. Our office hours are 10-6. Our first thing to do was an interview with Pat, a design/construction teacher at a high school in Liverpool. He’s one of our Make Your Own pilots, and it was a joy. We’re planning to talk with all 40 of them.

We have a script for these interviews, which Pat promptly diverted from. He explained his love of teaching, and that every child is a maker, and that when kids are able to teach other kids what’s going on you know they’ve really got it. He spun his phone around his classroom, and showed us what basically looked like his shed. In the best way. There’s a welder, 3D printers, workshop timetables… all manner of bits and bobs designed to help kids think and touch and make. One of our questions is ‘what sort of collection are you thinking to make?’ and Pat’s desk is covered with widgets, that people mostly just want to touch and pick up, so he explained he wanted to make a Collection using those widgets, to help people learn what all the things are. Brilliant.

Then, we finalised an agreement for a new bunch of 3D scanning and digital model making we’re going to do for a big London museum. We’re going to their store tomorrow to check it out.

Next, our two new team members, Thibaut and Amy, and I went through our sketch of what the Make Your Own kit we’ll be sending to all our pilots consists of, discussed each element, and started to flesh out a content plan for the thing. It’s an interesting line to tread, between instructional, educational, proscriptive, and suggestive. Our pilots are all sorts: primary school classes all the way to world-leading sound artists. Our challenge will be to make a kit that experienced adults can skim for the key elements and that teachers can use to guide and stimulate their students. It’s a first pass representing our own production process so others can use it, with a view to making a kit that anyone can use.

By then we were hungry, so got shish, falafel and noodles and sat in the park, in the warm October sun. (What?)

We had guests coming to tea, so I went to Sainsburys to get some angel cake, Tunnocks caramel wafers, and digestives.

Around 2pm, I joined a Skype call with Sara and Liz in Washington, at the Smithsonian. Our calls, while always focussing on next steps and progress, are always filled with laughter and lots of jokes. It was funny introducing Thibaut and Amy to the style of “business meeting” we’ve had with the Smithsonian folks for almost two years now, every week. They are true partners, and real friends. Schemes continue.

Next I talked to an insurance broker who I’d never met and knew nothing about us, who asked me the sort of new and neutral questions I generally enjoy, probing for the edges of our operation in the hope of describing it adequately for potential providers. It turns out we’ve built a small but international business with a growing network of collaborators and other service providers so that’ll probably be complicated and expensive. Ho hum.

Sara and I had been interviewed the week before by a video press blog in Los Angeles who liked what Museum in a Box is and was going to make an article about us. I wrote to them to ask how it was going, and they told me the video piece was already online. I watched it, and so have 116,000 other people by now. WTF. Great! (That explains the influx of hello emails we got on Monday from teachers in the USA who would all like boxes please.)

Then our afternoon guests arrived, Lucia and Martin, both part of our pilot. It’s lovely that we can meet the London pilots in person, and, over cake, we followed more or less the same script we asked Pat about in the morning. The three stories are each so different, but all united by our simple thing. It’s fascinating how each person has taken the idea and is running with it.

What is a Museum? How might this change it? How could this create a new way to enjoy sound? Could this encourage new collaborations within our museum? Is a Box better than the laptops we have in our Learning Centre? What if the kids pull it apart? We visit museums 2–3 times a year and the kids have to pay a bit of money for that. Wouldn’t it be great to get a sponsor to help with the pilot?

It’s such a thrill to be engaging with our pilots like this. Having thought and dreamt about Museum in a Box in relative isolation for a while now, this user research and conversations we’re having are enlightening and exciting, especially for me, because they’re making me see what we’re making from new points of view. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and there’s another 36 or so to go.

Oh, and, got a note from a chap in Singapore who wants to tinker with a Box to make a series of talking artefacts about Sikh Heritage.

The thing is, when you’re trying to make something new, every day is different, and this was a good one.

Register your interest: Make Your Own Museum in a Box pilot

In case you don’t know, Museum in a Box is a tactile, interactive device you can use to explore museum collections from around the world. You can watch our How It Works video if you haven’t seen it before.

Just about every teacher we meet wants a Make Your Own version of Museum in a Box, and we’re ready to respond to that demand. We’re looking to place Boxes into a creative classroom process, as a project-based learning tool, where students select and print their own objects around any subject or theme, produce audio responses, and connect everything up with NFC stickers and our software.

Make Your Own will help kids learn skills like curation, collaboration, critical thinking, writing, audio production, digitisation, information & media literacy, and maybe even 3D printing.

We’re also looking for small cultural organisations to try it, and hopefully an artist or two as well. It’s not just for a classroom setting, and we’d like to see if it’s useful for small museum outreach too.

So, we’re like to ask you if you’d be interested to participate in our Make Your Own pilot programme, which we’d like to run in the first six months of 2019. You can be anywhere in the world!

The rough schedule looks like this:

  • End of 2018: recruit participants, design initial materials, prep software, gather hardware stock
  • Jan-Mar 2019: conduct baseline evaluation, build hardware/boxes, send out Kits
  • Apr-Jun 2019: continue evaluation, design iteration as needed, conduct short term completion evaluation, determine scaling requirements

Our target is to work with 20 schools or smaller cultural organisations in the pilot, but, if this registration of interest process shows a lot more demand, we’ll see what we can do about expanding that ambition!

What we’ll provide, at no charge:

  • One free Make Your Own starter kit (contains a Box, 20 NFC stickers, our software platform)
  • An iterative set of progressive curriculum outlines that can be adapted to your students’ age
  • Lesson plan suggestions to facilitate producing materials for the box (objects and content)
  • Good cheer!

What we expect from you:

  • A willingness to Really Try The Thing with us
  • Availability for either in-person or online interviews
  • Creative and critical feedback about what’s working and how you could make it better
  • A certain amount of classroom time with your student (or organisation time with your crew) to think about making a great Museum in a Box
  • Possible public feedback and/or video interview and/or guest blog posts and things like that

What you’ll get:

  • Excitement and gratitude!
  • Credit where credit is due, as early adopter, innovative cultural capital builders
  • A network of like-minded cultural/educational professionals

So… if you’re interested, do please let us know using this simple Google form!

Out and About

Visiting museums, libraries, and archives is an important part of our work, and last week we had a cracker! As well as talking with The Big Archive near Kew, we visited the Wellcome Collection’s Museum of Modern Nature, and had a thrilling day at the British Museum’s Department of Greece and Rome library. It’s a treat being based in Bloomsbury since we’re so close to some of the world’s great institutions. (We’ve also popped over to the Petrie Museum of Egyptology and the Grant Museum of Zoology just around the corner at UCL.)

Here we are at The Big Archive near Kew:

We liked how this is different from the classical forms of, say, the US National Archives.

We were on a roll that day, so then went to visit the Wellcome’s Museum of Modern Nature exhibition, where contributors chose an object important to them, and which reflected a sense of nature for them. All of us thought this exhibition would be especially well suited to being a Museum in a Box, since it was a set of curious objects, many of which had an audio track to listen to. It was lovely to hear each contributor’s voice in situ describing the object’s meaning in the first person.

A tiny piece of note paper meticulously filled over time.
The story of a father collecting for his son, and then for himself

Whenever I’m at the Wellcome Collection, I always pop in to the Reading Room there. It’s a brilliant space, and impeccably designed. You can touch lots of stuff and read everything and it’s quiet and fantastic, and frankly makes me envious of the wealth of Wellcome. One of the things they do very well, and simply, is to make high-quality facsimiles of old books. It’s really satisfying to flip through them…

On that note, a few weeks ago Charlie and I visited an exhibition at Somerset House called The Learned Society of Extra Ordinary Objects, which was in a similar vein to the Wellcome exhibition, though the objects were slightly surreal and felt personal in a different way. (Also lent itself well to a Museum in a  Box!)

Then, on the Thursday last week, we were hosted by Charo at the library of the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum, this time with a research mission. We’re interested in the idea of a Museum in a Box that contains a series of correspondence between two people. As you experience the box, letters could be delivered to you in approximately real time, as if you were the recipient(s). So, we went to the library to investigate some examples of correspondence.

Portrait of Charles Thomas Newton
Charles Thomas Newton

Charo rightly asked us for some direction about what she could present to us, and we discovered the character called Charles Newton, who was the first Keeper of the department when it formed in the 1860s. He was a fascinating figure with a huge network of contacts, including private collectors like Castellani (2,750+ things), and archaeologists like J. T. Wood (2,589 things excavated by), who was responsible for the first excavations at Ephesus.

The acquisition history of the British Museum is a personal interest of mine, so it was a real thrill to see, touch, and read some of the letters sent to and by Newton in his quest to build out the incredible Greek and Roman collections at the BM.

All in all, an excellent week of adventuring outside the office. Highly recommended!

Points of Contact: A new box with the London Borough of Camden

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 pieces. 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. The project culminated in Points of Contact: The Camden Art Collection Unboxed, an exhibition at the Swiss Cottage Library Gallery, open until 1st of July 2017.

Creating 3D from 2D
We were curious to try a sort of extrusion of some of the paintings in the box, and Tom worked to literally add a new dimension to works by Derek Jarman and others, to create a tactile version of each of the flat works.

Hands on, helpful user research
For us, a big part of the appeal of this partnership was the opportunity to conduct workshops with kids and their guardians in all the libraries we visited. We learned all sorts of things about putting the box in front of people who’d never seen it before, and faced a few teeth-clenching moments as the kids played with the 3D prints in unexpected ways (like making the Running Table try to pass through Barred Portal, which it turns out isn’t possible).

It was a pleasure to witness that first “what’s this magic thing?” look on people’s faces, and the general ease of use of the box. We also learned that the “cornucopia” display technique we’d used with more adults — where we spread lots of objects out and let people choose their own adventure — resulted in kids just wanting to try every object as quickly as possible to see what they’d say. In the later workshops, that led us to a more contemplative, steady demonstration, where we’d bring out one piece at a time, ask the kids about it, and then boop the object to see what happened.

We met lots of brilliant kids, but must give special mention to The Magnificent Balthazar, who we met at Swiss Cottage. He was very happy to sit with the objects and the box for well over an hour, and took the time to create his own rendition of each of the works in the box, all eight, and showed real artistic talent, even at just five years old! At one of the later workshops, run by artist Esther Springett, Angela & and her son, Lorenzo, came along, and enjoyed it so much they attended a second session. Angela even took the time to write a guest blog post on the Camden arts blog, where she reflected:

With 8 artists to choose from, Lorenzo chose the 3D printed ‘Cubes’ (Carl Heideken, 1973) and I have to say he totally surprised me with his creativity. After feeling the textures of the cubes and listening to an audio response to each object on special micro-chipped postcards, Lorenzo started to develop his own story about ’12 boxes 6 chances’. A 3D print definitely helped him to get a stronger connection with the piece.

It was brilliant to meet Angela and Lorenzo in person too, at the exhibition which opened in early May.

Exhibition!
This project was the first time that Museum in a Box ended up in an exhibition. It seemed a natural fit to exhibit all the prints, postcards and the box in the exhibition space. We created two versions to playback for visitors: the first was the “official” responses created by artists participating in the project, Esther, Ciara, and Jonathan. It was great fun to hear such creative responses coming out of the box when things were booped, instead of just a factual, wall-label-style rendition of information about each work.

The other set of postcards played responses made by the kids in each workshop. There were new stories and interpretations about each work, and, again, it was excellent fun to hear such creative takes on the art.

I must say, I did feel a bit strange about having the box locked down in an exhibition space, because it’s designed to be mobile, but once Charlie and I saw the superb installation Jonathan and Sophie had designed for the gallery space, my initial concerns disappeared quickly. Now we’re wondering how else a box might supplement a more traditional exhibition experience…

A Collaboration
We certainly didn’t complete this box in isolation, and it was a pleasure to collaborate with Sophie Rycroft and Samina Zahir from the Camden Arts team, Caroline Moore at the fabulous GOSH Arts, artist and gallery designer, Jonathan Miller, and last but not least, artist educators Esther Springett and Ciara Brennan, who surprised and delighted us mightily with their creativity and skill with kids.

Talking to Teachers

IMG_4540Putting boxes in front of people in the big wide world is very important because it allows us to find out exactly what does and doesn’t work. We make regular efforts to reach out to both teachers and pupils to figure out how best we can evolve and design the product to fit the needs of the classroom.

Back in November I (Charlie) joined a group of teachers, part of the East Sussex History Network at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex, to introduce them to Museum in a Box, learn about their own teaching methods and hear how they envisage the product benefiting their classroom activities. I had visited the school previously to demo a box during a history class which resulted in a lot of excited year seven pupils so it was an intriguing prospect to see whether the teachers would respond with equal enthusiasm!

In short I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the box and it was great to see the teachers coming up with imaginative ways they would use a box and its content as part of a wider community of History teachers. Here’s a short list of the takeaways from the meeting:

  • Age range – the teachers strongly believed that a box could easily sit across any year group and would be particularly effective for those doing their GCSEs in Key Stage 4 and even 5. This was particularly in view of the box being used for revision to revisit teaching material without having to search through a text book. One teacher said in response “my sixth formers would love this”.
  • Path to purchase – how the schools would get hold of a box and content came up several times particularly considering different budgeting options available to them to acquire teaching materials. The teachers who were from different schools suggested the idea of sharing ‘boopable’ content amongst themselves given they already have a channel of communication established between the network and commonality of teaching topics.
  • Home-made material – responses to where they currently source their physical teaching material and prompts included: museum shops, car boot sales and ebay with ‘a desperate need for [supplementary resources] for GCSE’. This was furthered by a discussion about teachers using a customisable box to record their own descriptions to objects and maybe even add tags to objects they have collected themselves. 
  • Record-ability – is a primary interest for teachers to design classroom activities with a box on every table.
  • Class activities – How boxes could be positioned around the classroom was raised several times providing a means for pupils to explore the content for themselves, moving around the tables to hear a different topic or account of an event of period in history.
  • Sourcing objects – There are currently only a limited number of services to acquire physical objects for the classroom, however the ability to loan sets of objects for a whole term from some provides greater flexibility to when topics can be taught.
  • Basic lessons plans – as a starting point it would be useful to have simple lesson plans, teachers would adapt to their classrooms as and when they see fit.
  • Different levels of access – “Having mutli-versions of the same materials at different levels of depth would be very helpful, so there is the same material pitched easily… but they use language and an insight that’s more sophisticated or broad or much more simplified and basic.”

It was a great session and I’m great to all the teachers of the East Sussex History Network. That’s all for now!

C.