Guest post: Ben Templeton from Thoughtden

Ben Templeton

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.
Green Ship

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.

Kids on map

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.

Great Map lab group

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.

April 2012: Maps, Hacks and Viennese Pastries

The last month has been one of our busiest. As well as continuing with long-term and strategic projects, three projects have launched and some others have reached exciting stages. As Caper will be a year old at the end of May, our thoughts are also turning to the possibility of a birthday party. If it ever stops raining, we’ll hold it on the roof of our studio in Shoreditch, so watch out for your invitation!

We worked with BBC Radio 3 on The Spirit of Schubert – their 2oo-hour Schubert marathon – to develop and deliver an innovative social-media strategy that would work with both their core listeners and intrigue a new audience.

Our bespoke Viennese Scrapbook Tumblr created a vivid world that reflected all aspects of the composer’s life and work, from the canonical to the counter-cultural. The site was featured as a highlight in the Tumblr Staff blog and also in the Tumblr recommended music category.

Franz Schubert came back to life for nine days on Twitter as @FranzIsUnwell where he tweeted his thoughts on sex, music and pastries, before breathing his dramatic last breath as the final bars of Schubert faded from the airwaves. This was a highly successful Twitter intervention, that provoked mention on the BBC R4 Today programme and according to internal BBC figures, this account was the seventh most engaged BBC Twitter account so far in 2012.

We also made a bespoke, automated account @SchubertNow which used internal BBC data to generate a Twitter alert for every piece as it started on BBC Radio 3. Although very simple, this signalled a new kind of engagement with technology for BBC Radio 3, using simple, glanceable outputs to serve the audience in a new way.

We launched Map the Museuman open-data pilot that we developed with Kevin Bacon at the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove. This first phase asks members of the public to place museum objects on a map of Brighton and Hove, while subsequent iterations will uncover the connections a single object has to a specific place, or – indeed – a large number of places.

This is the start of a much bigger project that we believe is quietly revolutionary. Kevin has blogged about the curatorial challenges of opening uninterpreted data to the public, but Map the Museum is an unusual museum project in several other ways:

  • it’s been made with the aim of contextualising the catalogue data, to make it more useful and shareable in an open-source context
  • the entirety of the project will be shareable, including the code base, which will be posted to GitHub
  • we’ve opened the site in beta, so that we can make subsequent changes based on how people use it

In the long term, the aim is to layer the object data with civic information and other geo-located content, in order to build a multi-dimensional map of Brighton, and in this way we’ll also get to see how art helps people to interpret life and how the rest of life shapes art. We’re interested in rolling this project out to other museums, so do get in touch if you would like to explore its application for your collection.

Photo by Leila Johnston

The six Happenstance residents are now in situ at Site Gallery, Lighthouse and Spike Island.  As well as lots of talking, thinking and blogging, there are already some interesting looking physical hacks in progress. The residents’ work will all be presented at a series of Open House events in May (details to be announced shortly @h8ppenstance). We’re also taking the team on the road to Future Everything in Manchester, where we’ll be attempting to turn our coveted 5.30-on-a-Friday spot into one of the most exciting conference experiences you’ve ever had in your life.

Rachel has also written an article for The Guardian Culture Professionals Network, talking about how Happenstance aims to make arts organisations ‘digital by default‘. The project aims to make big changes by doing small things, so it’s fun to watch it unfold.

This weekend, Katy is representing us at Culture Hack Scotland, produced by Sync. Meanwhile, in England we’re getting ready for Culture Hack East. More than 20 arts organisations have so far signed up for the Culture Hack East Data Day, delivered by Creative Front. It’s a start for organisations who want to open their data, and there are still a few spots available, so if you’re an arts organisation, museum or library based in the East of England, sign up.

We’re excited that Makers’ Guild is to be a partner for this year’s Crafts Council conference, Assemble, in September. We have two more events planned over the coming months at the V&A on maker spaces and food – book now! We will soon be rolling out plans for the next phase of Makers’ Guild, which include making it a membership organisation and creating a regular work and meeting space.

In the past month, we’ve also been speaking at Open Data Cities in Brighton, Discover Open Data in Manchester (where it was good to find out positive influence of Culture Hack on Whitworth Art Gallery and Cornerhouse) and at FutureGov’s We Are Four Festival. We also supported the NASA Space Apps Challenge and ran a mini-workshop on developing a games brief for the  Museum ID study day, featuring curious games types from English Heritage, National Army Museum, Bath Heritage Services, National Railway Museum, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and the Royal Armouries.

And finally, here’s a few things that have caught our eye(s):

The National Maritime Museum have been making some brilliant video trailers.
The Hack Day Manifesto has been published, as have the BBC data guidelines for the  Digital Public Space.

After Rachel’s consultation on the project, we’re holding our breath for the launch of The Space on 1 May.

We’ve also been taking inspiration from Cat Scientists of the 1960s on Tumblr and enjoying John Lanchester in the London Review of Books on risk and the romance of the technologically sublime.
Cat Scientists

We are currently taking on new projects, so do get in touch if you’d like to work with us.