All posts by Fay Curtis

Exhibitions online

We recently (softly softly) went live with Exhibitions Online.

A place to translate our in-house exhibitions for an online audience, we worked with Mike and Luke at Thirty8 Digital to create a narrative structure with scroll-through content and click-through chapters on WordPress. They built in lovely features such as object grids, timelines, slideshows, maps and quotes.

There are a few exhibitions already up, past (death: the human experience) present (Empire through the Lens) and future (What is Bristol Music?). We’ve most recently used it for our European Old Masters gallery to showcase a beautiful painting we have on loan for two years: St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child by Dieric Bouts (I discovered the Pantone app with this one, taking the red from the gallery to use online. V satisfying). I’m currently working with the exhibition team to get our Pliosaurus! exhibition up – watch this space for some fun things with that one, which we’re hoping to use for interp in our Sea Dragons gallery at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery too.

(For the What is Bristol Music? exhibition opening in May 2018, we’re using WP plugin Gravity Forms to collate peoples’ experiences and pictures of the Bristol music scene to be featured in the physical exhibition. Chip in if you have a story to tell.)

So far, we’ve found the content and arrangement really depends on the exhibition. The idea isn’t to simply put the physical exhibition online (I say ‘simply’, as if it would be) but instead to use the format and content of the exhibition to engage with people in a different environment: albeit one where we’re competing with a thousand other things for people’s attention. Exhibitions which have been and gone have been slightly more challenging, as the content was never intended for this use and has needed some wrangling. The more we use it though the smoother the process is getting, now that we know what we need and it being on teams’ plans as something to consider.

We’re still in the early stages of reviewing analytics to see how people are using it. Initial results are heartening, though, with a few thousand visits having had minimal promotion. At the moment most people are finding it from our what’s on pages (where most of our traffic to the main website is anyway) and we’re thinking about what campaigns we can do to get it out there more.

Any feedback or thoughts, hmu →

A week in the Bristol Museums digital team

rachel-and-darrenHello! My name’s Rachel and I’m a Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future graduate trainee. I am usually based in Worcester as part of the Worcestershire’s Treasures project, with my traineeship focused on audience development and events. As part of the traineeship I’m able to do a week’s secondary placement at another museum or heritage venue, and this week I joined the Bristol Museums digital team to get an insight into what they do, and generally learn some new stuff. I got in touch with Zak and Fay as I knew I wanted to spend my week elsewhere learning more about museums and digital. I had seen both of them speak at conferences – Zak at the Museums Association’s annual conference in Cardiff, and Fay at Culture 24’s Digital Change: Seizing The Opportunity Online in Birmingham – and thought Bristol seemed like the place to be for museums and digital!

I’ve been involved with some really interesting and useful things since the start of the week. On Monday I did some content management on the development site in preparation for user testing later on in the week. On Tuesday I sat in on a meeting with fffunction, and then joined the museum’s new digital marketing intern, Olivia, in creating some content for social media. As the Shaun the Sheep trail started this week, we had fun coming up with some awful sheep-related puns – keep an eye out for these on @bristolmuseum! pirate_shaunOn Wednesday I visited The Georgian House Museum and The Red Lodge Museum, conducted some visitor surveys down at M Shed, and then yesterday I sat in on some user testing sessions with teachers, for the new learning pages of the website. They were given a number of scenarios to work through and it was really fascinating to see how users interact with the site and the different ways people navigate through it.

Some of the other useful things I’ve been introduced to this week are the organisation’s Audience Development Strategic Plan and their social media guidelines, and how data collected from users is collated and reported.  I also sat in on a meeting with some of the team involved with the upcoming exhibition death: the human experience to discuss the digital engagement to go alongside the physical exhibition and programme. This is just one example of the collaborative nature of the digital offer, and it came across to me that it is viewed as an integrative part of the exhibition, as opposed to just an add-on, which is really positive.

It’s also been great seeing how a different museum works. The museum I work at is quite different, in terms of size, staffing, collection and audience, and so coming to a large local authority museums service with seven physical sites has been a valuable experience in itself.

Overall I have had a brilliant week, I think it’s been a good overview of the team’s work, with lots of variety and things to get involved with. I have felt really welcome and included, and everyone at the museum has been so friendly. Thanks so much to the team for hosting me this week, and especially to Fay for letting me follow her round for most of it. My traineeship comes to an end shortly, so hopefully you’ll see me on a digital team soon! – phase two, milestone three

m_shed_venue_hireWe haven’t done an update on website phase two in a while, mainly because we’ve been busy bees behind the scenes with testing and implementing lots of new stuff.

We’re now in the midst of milestone three, having done some work on improvements in milestone one and having held our milestone two workshops a little while back. We recently went live with some fresh new venue hire sections:

After workshops and testing we decided to go down the route of event types for venue hire – we have lots of interesting conferences at M Shed, really exciting evening events at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and lovely weddings at Blaise Castle House Museum so can adapt these depending on what people need and what our offer is. People can find information on room spaces such as capacities, download our menus and contact us to book really easily.

Know anyone who wants to hire a pretty special venue in Bristol? Send ‘em our way!

event_espresso_whats_on_190615Right now we’re in the middle of developing our ticketing functionality, which we’ll be using for our what’s on events (to replace third party sites such as eventbrite) and eventually for learning workshops. For this we’re using WordPress plugin Event Espresso; we’ve been really impressed with how this works and we’re pretty confident it’ll make the user experience so much nicer for people wanting to book with us. There’s a lot of work for us to do on fulfilment (we need to decide what to put on confirmation emails and tickets), setting up a new database and making sure people can navigate through registration easily.

Next up is user testing with teachers and learning people which will be at the beginning of July. We need to cover a number of things for learning: showing our offer (school workshops, gallery visits, teacher training etc), giving users the right information to be able to plan their visit (such as risk assessments) and then being able to book and take payments, so we’ll be testing all of this.

learning workshopsWe’re aiming for learning sections to be in place before the new school year and what’s on updates to be in place before our next What’s On guide comes out in September. – phase two, milestone two

Well it seems it’s March already. This means we’re now two milestones into project website phase two.

We’ve done a chunk of work on events filtering, which you can try out here: Hopefully you’ll agree it’s pretty simple and useful. Of course we did a spot of user testing for it and got lots of positive noises from people – let us know what you think of it.

broWe also worked a bit on improving how our opening times are displayed. We added the option to add ‘notes’ to particular days, which is mainly for Bristol Record Office who have a range of opening times across any given week or month. We’re really trying to make it as clear as possible when our sites are open (and of course each of the six sites have different opening times across different seasons over any given year).

Other stuff for milestone one included nicer 404 pages, WordPress upgrade and some other bits and bobs from phase one.

So, onto milestone two. During February we held three workshops – for venue hire, what’s on and learning. In these we got a load of people from all over the service together to map out who our users are and what they need from us for each. Ben over at fffunction is going to talk more about how we get from the workshops to the prototypes in a future post, but for now I’ll leave you with a couple of images to show where we are with our venue hire section. At the moment we’re testing the prototype and putting together some visual designs for it. I’m sure it won’t be long until it’s live, and in the meantime we’re starting to think about how we show our learning offer and enabling users to book workshops online.

Visual designs for venue hire
Venue hire prototype


Websites coming out of the woodwork

Screenshot of the portcities websiteI’ve worked at Bristol Museums for just over two years now, and still now and then I’ll be chatting to someone or receive an email saying “oh, did you know that such and such website is ours?” Which I then add to my growing list and maybe have a little grumble to myself about.

Now, on the one hand, it’s great that people are telling us about these (anyone else want to let us know of any more, please?) but on the other it creates a bit of a headache for us in keeping track of exactly what content of ours is online and how people are using it.

It’s easy to just assume that, because they’re pretty old and incredibly out of date in some (most) cases, that they’ve been forgotten about and people don’t use them. This isn’t necessarily the case, though.

One example of this is the Portcities website – – which was made around 2003. It gets a huge amount of traffic – just over 470k unique pageviews in 2014, which is coming up for nearly half of the amount we get to our main website (around 1m a year and growing).

I looked at the analytics for this with Jane from our Learning team recently, and there are some other interesting things that we can see:

  • There’s a dip in traffic over the summer and during school holidays, suggesting it could be being used as a learning resource
  • Most of the content looked at is about Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery
  • The main bulk of visitors (around 45%) are from the US. This is nearly twice as many visits than we get from the UK
  • 86% of visitors find the website from search

There’s clearly a purpose for this content, so we need to think carefully about what we do with it. We’re working really closely with our Learning team to try to map this out, find the opportunities and see what we can do to best serve these users. – Phase Two Planning

We’re now starting work on phase two of our website,, as Zak has already mentioned. So here’s a bit more detail about what we’re planning, once again following the GDS phases of service design.

(Note: if you’d like to read about what we did for phase one, you’re in luck – we’ve lots of posts about it on this here blog.)

We’ll be working with the guys over at fffunction in three stages over the next three months. From an evaluation of user needs and developing on from phase one, we’re going to be focusing on things that generate revenue and make it easier for people to book with us; whether that’s improvements to the what’s on sections (which get the majority of visits), learning and venue hire.

Milestone 1 – January 2015

Updates and work carrying on from phase one on opening times, events filtering, navigation and what’s on sections.

Milestone 2 – February 2015

Workshops with the programming, learning and venue hire teams to really get to grips with what our users need from us online in these areas.

Milestone 3 – March 2015

Workshopping and implementing a ticketing solution for the above, making our online shop look a bit nicer and researching and implementing online donation functionality.

We’ll keep you posted with how it’s going and what we discover.

Moved by Conflict exhibition Character Points

Zahid Jaffer, Content Designer

Image of an ultra sonic sonsor
Ultra sonic sensor


The Moved by Conflict exhibition at M Shed is comprised of many different types of technology to interpret content, from projectors to speakers.  We used some new technology we haven’t used in the past to deliver this content, notably the RFID tag system.

We had several briefs, but the one that stands out is: visitors need to have a personalised experience through the exhibition; the ability for visitors to have content of their choice delivered to them in the exhibition through digital means. The idea was to have stories being told through video, and we worked with Bristol Old Vic to bring a more theatrical performance to these stories.  We had actors playing six fictional characters telling their stories, which would capture their lives before, throughout and the end of the First World War.


We needed a way for visitors to trigger the content when they wanted to experience it. Initially we wanted hidden video screens (projections) around the exhibition and when a visitor walked next to it the video magically appears for them. To do this we looked into iBeacons, a Bluetooth technology which can be used to trigger an activity from a specified distance to the user, for example playing a sound when someone gets within two metres of a loudspeaker. Our concept was when someone gets to within a metre of a screen the content appears and when they leave that area the content turns off. The trigger device would be a visitor’s smartphone or a small Bluetooth transmitter/tag.

Image of a media player
Media player

After a lot of research we found that this would cost a lot of money and would take a lot of time to develop – this technology is still very new, which is why it costs quite a bit. We looked then at long-range RFID technology, but this was also outside of our budget.  We decided to go for short-range RFID, so a visitor would need to pick up an RFID wrist band and scan it in a specific location, as we were still keen on the idea of the content being triggered when you get to a certain distance.  To do this we’d need to use a sensor, which wouldn’t trigger the main content but would trigger an intermediate screen, such as an image with instructions on it informing  you what to do with the RFID wrist band.

Once we had finalised the concept we started looking into the equipment that would enable us to do what we wanted. We looked at a number of options, ultimately what we went for worked very well.  The content is displayed on a 24 inch screen, used in portrait orientation. There is an actor speaking to camera, with their head and shoulders in shot, giving the actor lifelike dimensions.  We needed something that would play the content and to be able to accept triggers so we looked in to Raspberry Pi. For what we wanted to do there would be a lot of programming and coding, and we were also not sure if the Raspberry Pi would be instant enough on the triggering as we were informed  Raspberry Pi could have a slight delay in triggering hd content.  We wanted instant triggering and relatively easy setup/programming as we were limited on time, so we went down the route of a media player.

We selected a Brightsign hd1020 media player which has GPIO and allows you to connect buttons to trigger content, and also has USB input so you can connect a keyboard to it. The programming of this media player is relatively easy to do as it has graphical programming software you load on to your pc. These three elements were what we needed to make our concept work.

photos of the Character point (left), directional speaker (middle) and inside the character point (right)
Character point (left), directional speaker (middle) and inside the character point (right)

Concept to Reality 

The GPIO is connected to an ultrasonic sensor, which sends out a high pitched audio noise (well above human hearing) and listens for the echo to return. The sensor allows you to increase or decrease the sensitivity, meaning you can set the distance of how far you want it to trigger. It also has a ‘stay open state’ and ‘stay closed state’ feature, so when a person is watching the content the sensor will stay in an open state (as it is still detecting an object in front of it) and once the person steps out of the sensor’s range it will switch to a closed state and the content will finish.

The USB port on the media player is used to connect a USB close range RFID reader. This reader detects the RFID wrist bands that visitors pick up.  We’ve also used a directional speaker to limit sound spill in the gallery and to give the visitor a more personal experience.  With all these elements combined, the way it works is;

  1. On the screen the visitor sees a static attractor image
  2. As the visitor gets closer to the screen, the motion sensor will detect them
  3. This will trigger the content on the screen to change to an image with instructions asking them to scan their RFID wrist bands on the pink square (the RFID reader is directly behind the pink square)
  4. This will trigger the content.
Photo of a Media player and audio amplifier
Media player and audio amplifier

If visitors read the instructions and decide they don’t want to view the content they can step away and the sensor will detect there is no one in front of it and switch to the attractor image. If a visitor decides to trigger the video content with the RFID wrist band and decides that they’d rather not watch any more, they can step away and the sensor will detect there is no one there, so the video will end and go back to the attractor image. In the exhibition we have six of these RFID interactives; we’ve named them Character Points.

Concept to Reality Issues

We quickly realised that there was an issue with the triggering. We found that the sensors were not staying in the open state; they would go into a closed state and open state repeatedly which meant the content wasn’t staying on the screen for long. To overcome this we bought a timed relay and wired it in to the sensor. The relay activates when the motion detector senses a person and holds the sensor in an open state – we set the time of this to 10 seconds. The relay gets activated even when it’s holding, meaning it will continuously reset the timer to 10 seconds as long as it’s detecting something. Now when a person steps away from the sensor’s range the content will stay on screen for 10 seconds then switch back to the attractor screen.

Photo of the internal components  of the character points
Internal components

Another issue we had was that some visitors decided to poke their fingers through the holes that the sensor’s microphones stick out of. These need to be visible otherwise the sensor will not work (you can see these microphones in the photo of the sensor above). The sensor would get dislodged and fall inside the character point. We tried using glue and silicone to stick these sensors to the door, but visitors still managed to push the sensor through. We found good old gaffer tape held the sensor in place and can withstand a lot of force if someone tries to push the sensor through.

Now that we have the equipment to do this kind of interactivity, we’ll be using it in other interactives. Hopefully in the future we can expand on this to make it in to a long-range RFID system.

Video Subtitling – making content more accessible

We aim  to make the museum more accessible for all visitors and adding subtitles goes a long way to help us achieve this. For example see the video below, of the audio description DiscoveryPens, in use in the French Art Gallery, at their launch event.

DiscoveryPENS launch – at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

I realised that our museum videos too, can and should be made more accessible! – and I don’t just mean spreading all over the world web – but for all our visitors of our website!
Our aim: to increase the accessibility of a video’s content -by using subtitles for all video and audio content.

The simple task of subtitling.
I’ll tell you now: It isn’t too difficult, but it can be considered a monotonous task. I have detailed what I did, with some advice how you can do this effectively. So bear in mind, that in my personal experience and if you have found a better way then let me know:

About 1min of video = 1hour of transcribing

Therefore, before you start, you can estimate how long it will take to subtitle your video. It does depend how long your video is, and how much of it is dialogue! Essentially it is a small thing to do, to advance the accessibility of your video content.

What I did:
• Watched the video and listened to the person talking.
• Paused the video and wrote down the speech in a document.
-this is for record keeping and to make sure there will be no spelling and grammar mistakes! When I copied this to subtitling my video on Youtube.
• I needed to make the subtitles match up to the visuals (usually the person speaking).
• But to have to enough time on screen to be read.

*Helpful tip: -to check if the timing was correct I would turn off the sound and see if I had enough time to read it.

• I would cut the dialogue to a sentence length which I thought looked well on the screen,
• fitted appropriately to the natural pause in the speech,
• and to not repel the editing cuts when the subtitles would change from sentence to sentence.

The cuts between shot to shot should be in accordance to the cuts between sentence to sentence.

Both words and visual cuts should appear smooth and not resisting each other.

• When the sentences were added to the video, in the appropriate place, I would record their start and end time.
• I would add this to the word document next to the deciphered speech.

*Helpful tip: To avoid your transcription document looking like a mass of unapproachable entries, I suggest separating the different parts of your video.

Written dialogue

• For example: Beginning, Middle, and End.
• Or of different people speaking if they are speaking in separate chunks.

This is usually where the video cuts, to a different part – your word document should try and reflect this.

• I also suggest doing this as you go! Your document will look a lot better and doing at the end will be a harder task.