Hello! 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! On 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!
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!
Right 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.
We’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.
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: http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/ 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.
We 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.
We’ve been beavering away creating characters for our app. Creating a style for this exercised our grey matter somewhat!
We needed to create a look which complimented the very clean visual style that our lead designer for the project, Sarah Matthews created for the app. However, from our years of experience in creating characters for apps and games we know that younger children react much better to characters with an element of realism to them.
In user testing we trialed 3 potential styles:
A photographic style, using photographs of artifacts from around the museum:
A silhouetted style, which fits very well with the UI design, but is much less realistic in style:
A geometric style, which is stylised like our UI design, but has much more realism:
The overwhelming vote was for the geometric style, which thankfully our production team all liked too – so we decided to go down this route.
Next we had to decide what our characters should be – we had some ideas and Gail was great at helping us to hone these down. We wanted them to really represent the diversity of the exhibits at the museum, and also be appealing to all age groups and both males and females. So we settled on the ubiquitous dinosaur, George Peppard the boxkite pilot who flies the plane in the main hall, a chinese dragon head as represented in the chinese dragons over the stairs int he main hall, a roman goddess to represent the museum’s wealth of roman artifacts, a female Egyptian Mummy with gorgeous coloured paint and… Alfred the Gorilla (obviously!)
Here are the results!
Still a bit of work to do on the Mummy to make her a little more female, but more or less there.
(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.
At it’s core, our Hidden Museum app takes users on a tour around the Bristol Museum, guiding them to places in the museum they might not ordinarily go, and revealing hidden information as they progress through the game.
To simulate this experience our assistant creative director, Rich Thorne, behaved as the app, using one of the story-tours we had created; he did this by leading the group around the museum around a range of artifacts on a theme (in this case ‘horses’) and engaging them in conversation about each artifact as they went – explaining how they were linked and telling them an interesting story about each artifact once it was found.
The aim of this was to:
See how long it took them to get round the journey as a group.
Get feedback from the children on any standout points of interest on the tour.
Key observation points for the supervisors of the tour were:
Is the tour engaging, interesting?
Is the tour too long/short?
Which object was the favourite on the journey?
Have they visited the museum before?
Have they ever been to the top of the museum?
Is it more fun having a checklist? As opposed to walking around the museum looking at everything.
Do they have ideas for trail themes which would they like to go on?
What we found:
We discovered that the tours which we had devised contained too much identification in advance about what the group were going to see. For example, the horse trail said in advance that the group are going to find objects about horses in them. This was taking some of the excitement out of the tour. We needed to find a way to work on the themes in order to broaden them out to become more subjective and feel less curated.
We also learnt that this kind of curation meant that we were not making the most of the ‘hidden’ metaphor of our app. Whilst we were leading the group to areas they might not otherwise have gone to, it did not allow for enough free exploration of rooms and free thought around the objects themselves – getting lost in the museum and ‘accidentally’ discovering something hidden should be a desirable side effect of the app so we needed to find a way to allow for this.
The groups, particularly the kids, were very interested in collecting and counting. They were also particularly keen on emotive subjects – picking out items which were ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ or ‘scary’ or ‘cute’.
On Friday 21st November, the Hidden Museum team were lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a part of a Kids in Museums take over day. Kids in Museums are an independent charity dedicated to making museums open and welcoming to all families, in particular those who haven’t visited before.
This was a great opportunity for us to test our app in production with real users, over 30 kids and 6 adults who had never seen the app before! A real coup for us as developers – a chance to get some real insight into how our app might be received on completion.
However we were conscious that we did not want to take advantage of the day and it’s main aim of making museums more open to kids and families. So we took great care to plan the day with the education coordinators at the museum, Naif and Karen, to ensure that we were providing a fun experience for the kids, as well as testing elements of our app. As there were adults supervising the kids we also tested all elements with the supervising adults to get an impression of a family group’s opinion of each element (rather than kids opinions only) – very important as our app is aimed at a mixed-age group.
Naif and Karen suggested that we warmed them up with a ‘fingertips explorers’ activity – where the kids felt an artifact blindfold, and had to describe it to their friends – their friend’s guessing what it could be. (A fun game which the kids really enjoyed and we have used as an influence for one of our games as a result!)
We decided that after the fingertips explorers warm up the kids would be ready for app testing!
As the app was not yet complete, we decided to test elements of the app broken down, rather than the experience as a whole. We decided to break our testing down into 4 elements:
This decision was reached mainly through necessity since the app was not complete. However, we found that it really worked for us, and allowed us to get some really in depth insight into our app. This was for two reasons – firstly it allowed us to break the group of children down into smaller more manageable groups so we were able to have real conversations with each of the children in turn – and secondly it allowed us to assess which elements of the app they struggled with the most and so exactly where we should be making our improvements.
There were lots of great testing outcomes to the day around each of the app elements outlined above – I’ll update the blog with how we tested each of the app elements (and the associated learnings) over the coming days.
Since our initial review of user research, I’ve been busy developing information architecture and navigation ideas. We’ve worked up an initial information architecture and navigation which is geared towards getting museum visitors the information that they need but which will allow the site to expand to accommodate content for other users in later phases of the project.
We’re committed to testing our work with users throughout the project and for these early stages we’ll be using an interactive prototype built with HTML and CSS for this. Building and testing with a prototype in this way allows us to
work quickly and iteratively
experiment, keeping what works and throwing away what doesn’t
design and test across devices: everything we build must be fully responsive
quickly, easily and continuously share our designs with members of the team, stakeholders and everyone else who is interested (see the URL below)
More details of how we build our prototypes will come in a later post or, in case we forget(!), on request.
We’re working on setting up a development site to publish the prototype on Bristol Museum’s hosting but until that’s sorted, you can access it here:
Last week we ran the first tests with members of the public. We set ourselves up with a laptop and an iPad in the cafe at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and invited users to test the IA and navigation. Volunteers who could spare us 10 – 15 minutes were asked to complete a theoretical task by navigating the prototype whilst talking through what they were thinking and doing.
We tested with a number of individuals or couples and gained some really helpful insights into our early stage designs. We’re incorporating changes to the navigation as a response to these insights at the same time as starting to populate the prototype with features and content for further user testing.