Playfulness and navigation at BM&AG

I’m going to be working on a short project with Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery helping them to explore a few questions loosely themed around behaviour and navigation in the museum.

There are things we want to poke at about where visitors go, but this is also about the museum trying out different ways of working so, rather than me spending all of my 10 days working on producing a single thing for them, I’m instead going to be working in a much more open and collaborative way with staff and visitors to cycle through some rapid prototypes. The idea is that, through working in this way, we can come away having learned more and with much more of an understanding of where to direct time and resources in the future.

It’s making me think of the the vital failure in the manifesto Hannah Nicklin and I wrote. We stand to learn as much from what goes ‘wrong’ as to what goes right. Not that a single big outcome doesn’t also stand to fail(!), but this way we then get to ask why, make some changes in response and then try something a bit different.

Here’s the brief I’m working to:

  • 10 days of experimenting with fast, iterative methods of prototyping.
  • 10 days of trying out playful, collaborative approaches to designing.
  • 10 days in which to try out different methods of encouraging people to dwell in, and interactive with, the quieter parts of the museum.
  • 10 days in which to gauge how visitors react to more playful activities happening within these areas.
  • 10 days of demonstrating that playfulness is not just for children.

We set the precedent for some of this with the Invisible project I did at BM&AG in 2013. Inkvisible was the result of a hackday type event run by Caper at King’s Cultural Institute (King’s College, London), and a resulting commission that saw Linda Spurdle (BM&AG), Dr Gretchen Larsen (King’s College), Ben Eaton (Invisible Flock) and I working together over 4 days.

Inkvisible Day 1

Inkvisible Day 1

There were lasers and things – which was exciting, yes – but the most important thing for me was that we did all our experimenting and testing out in the gallery spaces where visitors and staff could easily approach us and be a part of the conversation: trying things out, explaining to us where they found things difficult, and giving us a chance to see when people’s eyes lit up and they had big grins on their faces.

That’s the main thing I want to build on: transparency of the process and paying attention at each step so we can adjust the process as necessary as we go along.

Very important meeting

I met with Linda and a few other relevant members of staff a while back to get a feel for the lie of the land. Literally, it turns out. We shunned the basement meeting room and instead opted to talk as we walked. We’ve got a few areas within the museum that we’d like to focus on and a couple of starting points. Favourite excerpts from my notes include “go to the owl and turn right”, “doorway giggles” and “giving the snake full directional control”.

I’m not sure where this will go next, but it seems likely that there’ll be a few call-outs for volunteers to help us try stuff out. Watch this space!