Ben Templeton is the co-founder and Creative Director of Thought Den, an award-winning creative studio from Bristol. Ben leads web, mobile and installation projects for organisations such as Tate, Science Museum, National Museums Scotland and the BBC.
Ben worked with Caper to plan and facilitate The Great Map Prototyping Lab at the National Maritime Museum. Here’s his thoughts on his experience of three remarkable days with 15 of Britain’s brightest technical and cultural thinkers.
The Lab HQ is a long room with two grand book cases at either end, remnants of its former life as a wood-paneled library. High windows run the length, looking out over the immaculate lawn of Queen’s House on one side and the Great Map on the other. Participants press their noses to the glass, like the 10 year olds we are designing for, looking out over the Great Map for inspiration.
Day One was idea generation, Day Two idea refinement with Day Three focused on presenting solid ideas to museum staff. It’s rare for hacks and labs like this to have such a clear content and audience focus so the first day required some rapid acclimatisation. 12 museum experts spent 2 hours with participants; Visitor Advisors explained the challenges they face while curators discussed the curiosities hidden deep in the archives.
Having boldly thrown open their doors to a new way of working, the museum couldn’t completely escape the hoop-jumping you’d expect in an organisation of this size. For security reasons groups had to line up to be escorted to the Map and back again, armed with feedback from families who were invited to critique the ideas as they evolved.
Audience needs played an important role in distinguishing the groups’ responses. Where some focused on specific technical solutions to help young people uncover hidden mermaids and treasure, others took a more holistic approach to the space as a whole and how to signal digital activities. Basing ideas around Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, Kinect and cardboard 3D models, it was a lively lab that signalled the next phase for The Great Map.
Any comparisons with Tate’s Turbine Hall are made in hushed tones but The Great Map space is fast becoming the a focus for visits to the museum for families. Lab participants threw themselves with gusto at this opportunity to imagine the future of such a key space for visitors – how to manage babies, boats and 12,000 RFID tags.
Lawrence Chiles, Head of Design and Digital at the National Maritime Museum, was keen the Lab would be used as an example of new ways of working in the museum and Caper are thrilled to be working with an organisation already known for moving quickly when it comes to digital innovation. The Lab was designed to go as wide as possible in a short space of time and, while it’s always a challenge generating concrete ideas in such a short space of time, the real hard work starts now.