Now that we have a proper online shop, it’s time to get (more) serious about our customer care and help resources. Combine that with our new “deep work” afternoon practice, where we turn off the internet and do work we can really think about properly, we’ll be making a bunch of How To videos to help people out there in the wild look after their Boxes.
Our deep work mechanics at this stage are that I’ve set an alarm on my phone that goes off at 2pm, and again at 5pm, and in that window, we try not to use our phones and turn off the WiFi on our laptops.
One of the main jobs we have at the moment is to think more about sales and marketing. We haven’t especially done any yet, apart from talking about our work to people who mostly already know us, so we’d like to broaden our audience a bit – hence reading about writing better newsletters. Would you like to sign up for our newsletter? We thought we’d start with our homepage, which hasn’t been changed since we wrote it, really, back in 2016. (Not proud of that!). So, we’re working on that.
During that exercise, we were flung off into a lovely exercise of pulling things off our shelves, and arranging it — or knolling it — on our big work table. It was really satisfying to see how Museum in a Box has evolved.
We’ve parcelled all the iterations up into their own labelled boxes on the shelves instead of them being all over the place, which I find comforting.
As we move into 2020 we want to take a moment to talk about the latest version of the Box, version 1.3. We’ve dedicated much of the last year to developing it, and we LOVE it!
At the beginning of 2019 we sent 40 boxes around the world in our pilot. Following the feedback from that, and coupled with a wish list we had already built up, we identified a number of ways we could improve the Box.
At the same time we set ourselves the ambitious goal to build 1000 boxes by the end of the year. Building large numbers of the previous design wasn’t ever going to be practical, it was made up of a tangle of wires that we had to hand-wire ourselves and it relied on a variety of components ordered online from a multitude of suppliers. The Boxes were also subject to the occasional injury when transported around the world, so it’s suffice to say we had our work cut out!
Some of the ways we sought to improve the design included:
Better audio – louder and clearer!
Faster assembly time
More durable design
Logging boops offline
And so we started work in the spring; Adrian worked on designing the PCB as a neat home for all the components that were previously crammed into the box, George developed the awesome instructional graphics on the board and worked on software improvements, and Charlie designed a new acrylic ‘skull’ and mapped out the positions for the electronics and how they would be mounted inside the Box. So here it is…
The new PCB…
We LOVE the new PCB and it has a few important features worth talking about. Importantly there’s no wires. Previous Boxes included a large micro-USB extension cable, aux jack, and loads of wires which got in the way. Now the jacks are tiny components that sit at the back of the board and are devoid of the tangled wires that criss crossed older versions. This means we no longer have to hand solder anything (Yay!) and the boxes will be far more durable, reliable, consistent.
The ‘Brain’ of the Box is now a neat stack of three separate boards: A Raspberry Pi 3A+ sits at the bottom, then there’s our main custom board and progress LED board (affectionately known as ‘Blinky Lights’) which slots in a right-angle socket; and finally we have a stacking header and plastic standoffs which raises the reader high above the main PCB just underneath the surface of the box. Primed and ready for Booping!
There’s now a REAL-TIME CLOCK (RTC) too. Previously if a Box wasn’t on WiFi we had no way of logging when a Boop had happened because the Pi doesn’t keep track of time when it’s not online. So this new RTC allows us to timestamp a Boop and log it next time the Box is connected to a WiFi network.
Then there’s the DIGITAL-TO-ANALOG CONVERTER (D.A.C.). As the board says the D.A.C. ‘converts digital audio into analog sound for the amp’. This along with our super swanky and loud speakers make for waaaay better audio, that is free of static and incredibly clear. This alone makes the experience of using a Museum in a Box, particularly in noisy environments, so much better.
The new speakers not only pack a punch but also weigh a lot less which in turn makes them far easier to mount. V1.3 is almost half the weight of previous versions which will reduce both the cost of postage and it’s environmental impact when shipped around the world.
The new Skull…
With our new PCB came the challenge of mounting it inside the ‘Skull’. Past versions required us to fix bits to the sides, top, and base with an opening on the underside. This was fastened by screws in the feet and some t-nuts that were an incredible pain to mount and often came loose!
The advice we kept receiving when talking enclosures was to injection mould it. The main benefits of that being a moulded enclosure is ‘preassembled’ and ready to put the electronics straight in. It’s also very scalable and would allow us to integrate snap fittings into the design for mounting components inside.
To explore this we did a lot of research into moulding and a bunch of work CADing and prototyping different enclosures. We also took a team trip to visit Protolabs in Telford and learned a great deal from the brilliant people there and received an exciting factory tour of their setup. We attained quotes but ultimately decided not to go with injection moulding for two reasons:
1. The upfront tooling cost is very high and hard to justify for the small batches we planned to initially produce.
2. The overall aesthetic of the Box has become part our identity. The ability for us to easily modify the design, and teach others to build the Box (such as our amazing Verizon volunteers!) feels much more appropriate for our scale and values.
So, having decided to stick with our laser cut look we needed to find a neat way to mount the PCB inside the Skull. The solution was to switch from a bottom opening to a front loading Box. We created a neat groove on the back panel for the PCB to slide into and sit neatly in the middle of the box, lining up with openings at the back for the micro-USB and aux jacks. The Box can now be opened, the PCB removed, and replaced in mere moments!
The extra front and back panels are held in place and made removable by using some neat snap rivets which can be removed from the outside. We used these rivets for speaker mounting too where before we’d faffed about with tiny nuts and bolts and a laser-cut stand.
Other new features include a new progress LED board which is slicker and uses some recycled acrylic offcuts for the shims that we sent to the PCB manufacturers European Circuits. We spent a long time looking for the perfect light pipes to use with surface mount LEDs but ultimately decided to stick with through hole LEDs and our big green green LED. Why? Because they look bright and amazing!
A new Box deserves new packaging to go with it. We revisited a previous design using a more compact container and an insert that conceals the power plug and various admin and try me cards so all you see when unboxing is your shiny new Box!
Finally there’s the latest version of the software. We’ll talk about this in more depth another day but we’re chuffed that the Box now boots up waaay quicker than it used to and includes more audio guidance when working through steps like WiFi and updates.
The new assembly time…
With our new design manufactured we decided to assemble the first 20 Boxes. We were blown away to discover that assembly now takes ~7.5 minutes per Box – a 2000% increase from the old design!
In future this saving will enable us to fulfil orders quicker than ever before. The Box was intentionally designed for disassembly and as a result we proudly no longer use glue during the assembly process. The Box will now be much easier for people to disassemble and recycle at the end-of-life and we will share a breakdown of the parts and materials inside the Box in due course to make safe and appropriate disposal even easier.
And so with our shiny new Box design came our first test…
So there you have it, our new Box and the culmination of over nine months hard work. I hope that proves an interesting insight into some of the design decisions we made in developing v1.3. We love it and we hope you do too!
Our shop is now online so you can buy your very own v1.3 Box with a Make Your Own kit now! Kits are available in Individual, Educator, Small Org and Large Org options and colours include CMYK, Transparent, and Plywood.
Have a wonderful New Year from all at Museum in a Box.
One of our Make Your Own pilots, Auckland Museum, created a Box that they have now tested with two local primary schools, and they made this brilliant video to share what happened, and what the students and teachers thought:
We were especially excited to hear how the teacher towards the end leant very naturally into:
how much easier it is when the museum comes to the classroom, and
that Make Your Own is a fluid extension of a museum sending a Box into a class.
Thank you very much to Mandy, Claire, and Tom at Auckland Museum for this wonderful record.
Quotes from the transcript that stood out for us:
“It converts objects into stories and audio.”
“Yeah, the boop box is really fun cause it’s like having playing and learning combined.”
“I really liked the fact that they didn’t have an insight into what it was going to be. They had to listen, they had to use a different sense, rather than just looking or sitting at a device.”
“One of the things we’d really love to see is this becoming part of an interactive piece of work for the kids, where the kids get to experience the objects, hear about the objects, link that to their own inquiries, but even being able to take the next step and being able to perhaps code their own little tags, so that they can take what they’ve seen from this and then use that as a way of sharing their own learning rather than just purely receiving the information, being able to create and share information through that medium as well.”
“The greatest benefit to us of this kit and this program is the availability to our teachers in their classrooms. And to our kids being able to access this information without necessarily having to go to the museum. And, I think, when we think about how we want to engage our children in learning, every moment counts, so the opportunity for the kit to be here and travel to us and for our teachers to have time with it beforehand, to experience it and think about how they are going to use it really has much wider reaching implications than the traditional model of going to a museum, seeing an exhibitions and talking about it when we come home.”
Turns out the Tower of London is literally one of the most inaccessible cultural highlights on the planet. That’s because it’s the Tower of London: Fortress, Palace, Prison.
This presents the Community Engagement Team with a particular challenge: how can they help people understand what a visit might be like? Particularly those who are local? Obviously, the Tower is a huge tourism hotspot, but there are also Londoners nearby who have never visited, and are unlikely to because it’s difficult to access, physically, financially, and culturally. Enter our new Collection, developed in partnership with the Community Engagement team at the Tower, and in particular, Jatinder Kailey. We have created a Collection that explores the three historical themes of the Tower, exploring its existence as a fortress, a palace and a prison. We were also able to repurpose quite a bit of audio that the Tower had produced previously for other contexts, which was good.
This is what the postcards look like:
Being an Aussie, I particularly enjoyed contributing research and copywriting for the 18 postcards in the collection, studying a bunch of the stories and characters from within the walls, either living there by choice, duty, or force. As I researched, I learned how many people have had been beheaded there, which gave me an idea for the custom container we built to hold the Box and the Collection. What if the Box looked about the size of a head? Grey on the outside, blood red on the inside!
We enlisted the considerable talents of our Maker of Special Things, Takako, who made a beautiful container fit for a King’s head. We supplemented the Collection postcards with some replica objects, like a giant diamond and a coronation anointing spoon, and wrapped everything in red velvet, which usually makes anything way more fun.
Now, Jatinder is reaching out to local groups in the community to visit them, and share the treasures of the Tower with folks for whom a visit is difficult, and we can’t wait to see the results!
It was also a pleasure to drop it off in person at the Tower. What a thrill.
We’re thrilled to announce that Abira Hussein has joined the Museum in a Box Advisory Board.
We first worked with Abira back in 2016, when we assisted in developing the “Healing Through Archives” Collection, which she took around to lots of different community spaces and educational settings. It was a brilliant and fun project, gathering and presenting stories told by older women in London Somali communities, and combining them with photographic, sound and music archives from the British Museum and British Library. It was also really our first foray into the development of a Collection where objects were described by people who had used or experienced them, and described in the ‘mother tongue’ (instead of a Professional Expert). Since then, this work has blossomed into her award-winning NOMAD project, developed in collaboration with Mnemoscene.
Abira is a seasoned public speaker and seasoned academic, now undertaking a PhD at UCL entitled The Archive and The Community: using digital technologies and participatory approaches to co-create new archival spaces and knowledge within Somali communities in Britain. She’s also an Associate Producer at All Change and a Research Associate at Culture&andKing’s Digital Lab!
She’ll bring a new dimension to our Advisory Board, thanks to her wide-ranging network, expertise in developing social impact projects, deep familiarity with the UK/EU funding landscape, and her reputation and ability to speak truth to power.
It’s been a while in the works, but things are looking very good to build out our biggest run yet: 100 Boxes!
It was our goal this year to figure out how to make 1,000 Boxes, and, well, even though we’ll probably only build 100, that work has allowed us to understand and have a way forward to making Boxes much, much more quickly.
Charlie has done the lion’s share of the work associated with making the “skull” or exterior casing of the Box even better. The shape itself has been simplified and optimised so it’s much quicker to assemble. We were lucky enough to have a hardy bunch of volunteers from Verizon Media help us build 100 skulls in a day a few weeks ago. The first time we made skulls, it took about a day to make three.
The Brain is what we’ve always called what’s inside the Box… the electronics. Here is where we’ve done a ton of optimising… and revealing the tech. Before, we would have gathered all the various electronic components from all over the place, from wires to resistors to washers to everything. We assembled them by hand here at HQ.
But now, we have our very own PCB design, largely laid out by Adrian with a few design touches from me, and it’s a thing of beauty, and, importantly, not made by us, but by trained professionals at European Circuits.
And here’s Charlie turning it on, mere moments ago.
The very best part is that we’re still on our production schedule track to make the 100 Boxes next week, and then SELL THEM ON THE INTERNET.
We have our shop online now, at shop.museuminabox.org, so if you’ve been wanting to buy a Make Your Own kit, or a Museum in a Box tote bag, or even our Greek Gods & Goddesses collection (although you’ll need a Box to play that), now’s your chance!
When we formed the company back in October 2015 – four years ago! – we opened up as a stock-standard company limited by shares. It’s something I had done before – in 1998, in Australia – and a system of governance I am much more familiar with than, say, a charity.
Part of our raison d’être was to do good and make money, and we’ve always had a commercial bent, as our few years of successful commissions with our partners attest. We had also – somewhat naïvely in hindsight, I think – presumed that we could join the ranks of those working towards venture capital investment, but that never felt like a good spiritual fit, and I was always discomfited by conversations with finance folk who were pressing us for the now-conventional strategy to scale, scale, scale.
I think this fetishisation of scale is really destructive and actually antithetical to building a real, profitable bricks-and-mortar business. The ease with which one can scale up a software service cannot be mapped on to a business that makes things. But, that’s another blog post for another time.
The thing we wanted to tell you is that we’ve become a Community Interest Company. We got the certificate from Companies House this morning.
If you squint at it, it’s basically the same as a company limited by shares, except there’s an asset lock in place (so if we go under, our assets are passed along to another CIC), and our social purpose (getting cultural education into hard-to-reach places) are now enmeshed in the company’s articles of association. Our purpose is also no longer individual shareholder profit (and frankly, it never really has been, actually), but to state that overtly feels good.
We’re very happy to re-emerge as one of about 14,000 Community Interest Companies in the UK. It’s fun to watch the list of last month’s new registrations… feels like the right crowd to mingle with. And let’s just say we’re eating lots of Celebrations at HQ, and a special thank you to Bee Kelly, who’s volunteering with us at the moment, and helped push through the paperwork.
Yes, that’s right! We’re busily preparing ourselves to sell our new Make Your Own kits online! We hope to open up the shop before the end of the year so we can send out early sales before Christmas. It’s exciting to know that some of the kits are already spoken for – headed for a teachers’ association in Spain, and a museum at Harvard, and more places!