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Hardware History

This week at HQ, we’ve started doing something called “deep work”. The people at Do Lectures, whose book we’re reading this month about writing good email newsletters, recommend it as a way to not be distracted by all the things that pop up in our lives now thanks to our phones and the web and all that. It’s good! We’re going to persist.

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.

Here’s a wobbly panorama of the whole scene to start with. Packaging, Box inserts, the Box and its various design branches, the “brain” which is all the hardware/software inside, our progress bar, and the sound elements, from volume knob selection to amplifier design.
You can see the Box insert cards, from the very first idea of a scribbled “Updates” card, to our current TRY ME! cards, which give people who’ve bought a Make Your Own kit something to play before they’ve finished their collections.
These are the various elements of the “brain”. From earliest at the top, to most recent at the bottom. Exciting to see Adrian’s very first comp of our physical progress bar, which we developed because the Box took about 30 seconds to start up. Now it takes about 12 seconds!
And finally, we have about ten hardware versions we consider to be major milestones in the design. It’s not quite Dyson’s 5,000 iterations, but we aren’t as rich as him, so, there’s that. It’s still really satisfying to track the design evolution and how we’ve continually synthesised feedback and technical considerations.

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.

Possibly the best bit is that Charlie’s also made an awesome 3D model of the table with all the bits and bobs on it!

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audio design manufacturing myomb packaging shipping shop

New Year, New Box, New You!

“Radically better”

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!

Our new v1.3 Box design
Behold version 1.3! Think it doesn’t look much different? Think again and look under the hood…

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
  • Fewer parts
  • 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!

Our beautiful board (note the handy prompts to help you understand what’s what!)

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.

Testing the board and speakers for the first time

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.

1000 Speakers!
1000 custom made speakers!

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…

A side by side comparison of the Museum in a Box design changes from 2018 to 2019
A comparison of the Box design evolution from 2018 to 2019

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!

Get in the groove! The ledge the PCB slots and rests into, lining up with the aux & power jacks on the skull.

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.

Blinky Lights – We use these to indicate that the Box is ‘warming up’ and ‘ready to go!’

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!

New Packaging!

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!

George and Charlie building 20 boxes in 2.5 hours!

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…

First boot up of v1.3… we figured out the Zeus print, eventually!

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.

Box colours range: Cyan, Yellow, Transparent, Plywood, Magenta, Key
Box colours include: Cyan, Yellow, Transparent, Plywood, Magenta, Key

Have a wonderful New Year from all at Museum in a Box.

📦🎁🎅🎄🧦🎉🛠️🏺🏛️🔌💡🔉🌰

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brain company news design

On the ground at HQ – our 100 Box run is coming together…

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.

The Skull

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.

At the end of the day, you can see 100 skulls made!

The Brain

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.

George holds the new design in her hands for the first time!

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!

Be the first to own one of our snazzy tote bags!

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brain design

Technology is a tool, not our master

When people see and try a Museum in a Box for the first time, after they’ve been charmed by the magic and wizardry, they’ll often ask how does it work?

Once we start down that line of conversation, it also doesn’t take too long before people ask have you patented this?

The fun part is, we tell people exactly how it works. It’s a combination of Near Field Communication (NFC), a Raspberry Pi, and a few other bits and bobs, which we happily explain.

Illustration of main components, by Charlie Cattel-Killick, February 2018

We’ve also made boxes out of transparent acrylic so you can see exactly how it works. I was chuffed when I handed one of our transparent boxes to my nephew, Alex, and he was able to identify, describe, and connect each of the hardware components into the whole. And I’m not just saying that because he’s family. I was genuinely impressed.

A transparent box alongside one of our early physical prototypes for our new internal layout

In one of our recent commissions, with Monroe County History Center, we loved hearing that they thought a transparent Box in particular would be of interest to their community. The commission was about developing reminiscence collections for folks suffering from dementia and their carers, and quite a few of the men in the programme had an engineering background, so we hoped there’d be interest in the device itself, as well as the 1960s.

We also want to make our design available in an open format so students can literally make their own boxes too. I suspect we’ll end up doing this with one of our early designs which maker spaces or classrooms may have the components to hand to fabricate their own Box. As we’re marching towards higher production volumes, that’s meant developing internals that are much quicker to assemble, and can be made in large volumes. We are developing a Make Your Own kit version this year, so far focussed on the content side of things – like choosing and digitising objects, writing and recording their stories – but we’ve always hoped to extend Make Your Own to include the hardware piece too.

That brings me to our newest design innovation, which relates to our new and improved printed circuit board (PCB). Instead of us hand-crafting the internals – because I should never be making wiring looms! – we’ve now got a super-slick, all-encompassing PCB which incorporates and unifies the amplifier, digital-to-analog audio conversion, power for the Box, our physical progress bar, and allows us to add a real-time clock to help us manage and record when objects are booped.

As Adrian and I chipped away on the PCB layout, I found myself unable to recognise or interpret what all the wiring bits actually were, and needed Adrian to label them for me. Then it dawned on me. Why not label them for everyone? Why not explain transparently exactly what each bit does? So, I designed cheeky labels for each of the main components, so you can familiarise yourself with it all.

Illustrated PCB
Our shiny new annotated PCB!
Blinky lights!!!!

We’ve also redesigned how the Box opens up, to make it easier to pull the guts out and have a look. People – often men, interestingly – tell us “but you could just do this with a phone”, and we nod politely and say yes, you could. But, a) that’s just another screen in your life, b) you can’t just pull your phone apart to understand how it works, c) we want the Box itself to be part of the experience, and d) it is also an educational element of the whole idea.

I’m still not sure if we’ll patent the hardware design, but I at least wanted to establish a state of the art on the annotation-on-the-thing idea with this blog post. That might mean we get totally stiffed by some giant megacorp, which would obviously SUCK, but, I prefer to radiate generous intent.

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company news design myomb

Make Your Own: A Visual Essay

The last few months have been nuts, frankly. We’ve made 80 Boxes, and are sending about 40 of them to our Make Your Own Museum in a Box pilots, all over the world (every continent except Antartica!?!). We’ve upgraded the Box to V1.2 to incorporate a new amp/sound design, and a much less expensive RFID reader. That’s good.

I really liked what our amp-soldering helper, Thomas Butler, said back in November:

Getting into ‘mass’ hand manufacturing of amp boards for @_museuminabox @DoESLiverpool.

80 boxes is a lot. The most we’ve ever made or had. Now we even have inventory (but even that’s disappearing!). It’s great. Next step is to figure out how to make them even more quickly, and even more cost-effectively.

Thank You

  • The magnificent and thorough Thibaut Evrard, who did the lion’s share of construction
  • Irfan & Noufal at Hamon, who have coded up the web app our pilots will need to configure their collections & boxes
  • Tom Armitage, who designed our new Amp, nicknamed “Boomer”
  • Amy Haigh, who helped kick off the Make Your Own kit design process
  • Tom Butler, who soldered all Tom A’s amps in quick smart time
  • Takako Copeland, who made our lovely WiFi cards by hand at the London Centre for Book Arts
  • Paul Beech and the crew at Pimoroni who sold us lots of hardware, but also did tons of laser-cutting for us
  • The 30 or so suppliers on our bill of materials, and of course
  • Adrian McEwen and Charlie Cattel-Killick who continue to ride on this crazy horse to find out where she’s going.

 Making Boxes

Pilots Getting Started

The boxes are making their way out into the world now. We’d post more, but there’s only £19 in the account. (Not for long. It’ll be fine.)

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company news design myomb research

“If the pilot was wildly successful, what might that look like for you?”

We’re doing an international user research pilot to trial our new version of Museum in a Box we’re calling “Make Your Own”. Our plan is to work towards having these kits for sale in time for Christmas 2019.

We have gathered 40 hardy groups from around the world to participate with us, and our first step was to interview all of them. We were lucky enough to meet some in person, and Skyped with everyone else. Here’s a map of where they all are:

Map of our 40 international pilots: schools, museums, cultural organisations, artists, home educators, libraries, and even a farm!
Map of our 40 international pilots: schools, museums, cultural organisations, artists, home educators, libraries, and even a farm!

It’s been exciting and informative to meet everyone. We’ve gathered all kinds of tidbits about their lives and work, and have particularly enjoyed hearing about how they would like to use Make Your Own to extend their own missions and work. We were particularly pleased that this group of 40 probably represents a pretty good cross-section of folks we hope will become customers (although anyone is welcome to buy one!).

We’ve used the same set of interview questions for everyone, and I’ve been most interested in the response to this one: If the pilot was wildly successful, what might this look like for you? I thought you might like to see what people say to that…

The Pilots’ Responses


If I have more students come and ask me about it, and come and ask me to participate. They’ll ask me about it. Initiating a conversation with me is a winner. If I speak to new students, that’s huge win. I’m 5 feet, most of them are taller than me.


Well, if we’re successful, that means like you’re successful… we’d make more connections with other pilots… we could get more resources from all over the world, we’d be pilots… You’d get more funding so everyone would benefit.

It just hopefully opens up the program so more people and schools can participate, so more schools and kids can benefit.

“You’ll need to appreciate art and music and the past and why you shouldn’t knock everything down.”


Seeing Museum in a Box in campuses and students create collections by themselves and spread them out


It will be a success, maybe if a student thinks we can do something bigger. Maybe we can make a big Museum in a Box! We can also present this to other schools around – there are about 20 small schools near us.


Anything successful would be being able to demonstrate learning, this is part of why I want to make a study to prove it. There are also a lot engagement  for the students for culture and everything. But the main reason for me is proving that it works.

It’s not just about if it works but more to show me that it demonstrably increases learning. If you do this then schools want it. Teachers listen to teachers and listen to research.


We would like to create something that would be able to see scale sustainably. Every single time we have a new museum collection, what could we put on Museum in a Box? I would love to see and understand the business model. Really about what we scale and what the students are going to create at the end.


People engaging with it during the market. Asking more questions, trying more cards. Having Laura (market master) want to take it and use it outside the market. Inspiring envy, obvs. If nobody is interested I will have failed.


That the box can create that kind of ongoing engagement (with young adults) that goes beyond the interaction with the box. We would like to see that after interacting with the box, there is some kind of ongoing engagement with the subject. Don’t know how to measure it yet. Maybe it’s an ongoing affiliation with the project. 40% of the visitors are repeat visitors.  Develop engagement/affiliation with MB and stay active and develop their own collection or pursue direct action with the artists. Can MB trigger that kind of interaction? Enable a deeper connection at large.


That I have played a role in this successful project. It’s a privilege to have helped. It would be a good reflection for me, and for my school.


I talked with the local museum, and they might be interested in purchasing it, and they’re really exciting about reproductions. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I love this open access tech, and helping people encounter the world in this way.

Success for MB would be repeatable programs/lessons.


People wanting the box everywhere!
I know a lot of art teachers around Portland. Would be good if our box could travel around the city, and have other teachers interested. Giving the students some pride at their collection. Sharing it will be the best.


It would be something I can present as a new way to experience sound and to interact with it. A new medium for sound. Knowing how it works and can be used in different context, could it be something people can have in their homes? Could it help people?


I don’t know! Just people enjoying the fungi collection all over the place. Getting excited about fungi.


I think that I don’t have to touch the box too much. It just wanders around, without me, and it doesn’t sit in my house… there’s demand to see it and use it. Potentially, a proliferation of Boxes or Collections.


The children would be able to find a way to learn and create their own experience that they can then share with their families.


I need to figure out how to put it in front of people. We frequently do prototype testing… I can imagine setting it up in one of the halls – see what the response is.

For me, I’m interested in seeing the ease of using the Box, the variety and richness of using it, how visitors respond to it. Would we do pop-ups or offer for sale in our gift shop. Can we offer to visitors to create their own? We’ve tried various citizen science projects… esp for the collections, it’s not just a bunch of stuff. They tell you things.


Success would be kids getting knowledge or study drive from Museum in a Box. if they can be inspired by the role models, it is already a win! Get them willing to stay involved and do more.


Would be around outcomes for the Young People’s Programme. They feel they’ve had ownership, developed understanding of collections and exhibition-making and digital side of things. Practical skills and comprehension of how galleries and museums work.

Internal conversation continuing about what we’d do around our collection.


We would want to find a way to keep the Box at the end, and send it out ourselves. I would want to be in a position where we can send it. Could be used by locals, or make connections all over the world. Maybe with other composers or other forms of music.


Success would be getting a lot of people interacting with the project and increasing the audience of the museum. being able to expand. getting more people involved in the creation and engagement with content. Getting the kids to want to be part of the project.


I don’t know how it will be successful, but it would be nice to build upon it, maybe a Katakana version (simplified). It’s quite a commercial, ready idea. Could be arty; more ambitious.


A tool that the audience would find useful. Also all the team of the museum to get ideas of how to use this box. How can we help people that collect stamps?


To make the pilot successful the pilot would need multiple people involved, as well as information sharing, to interest other programs to implement the box more widely in the system. I would love to see   a Museum in a Box project every semester in the class.


Get other teachers involved with my department. Like the art classes upstairs.


If people engage with the collection and find way to interact with it then it would be successful. Then, I can try to push the concept and pitch it to local indigenous libraries in order to try to help them experiment with Museum in a Box.


It’s about making sure the children realise why they’re doing something, and give them the opportunity to showcase what they’ve done. It’s key for children to share, too… it’s not just “Miss” at the front telling things, but the kids are making the stories…


It would give us a sense of pride, for working it, and it taking off. A sense of connection and achievement for being involved. The excitement of contributing to something that’s worked.


First of all, awesome. If it works, I wouldn’t mind using this tool in different museums, and have the tool in different museums to allow people to interact with it. Can we use it inside our projects/exhibitions? That would be a success, actually. Let’s see how this will be useful for us. I think it will. Maybe in the next year, if this works, let’s see how we can expand.


We’d like to make many more pilots, and disseminate music to as many spaces as we can. 

It will be really interesting to see how kids react, and develop something around that. It will also be interesting to teach the kids to figure out what to make. Maybe the kids could start making their own thing, about their places.


If it’s successful we would have a permanent display in each of the museums, and they would run programs and create new collections that would be on display.


How about that? SO MUCH FUN.

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commission company news design education

New Commission: Smithsonian Libraries!

It’s a sign of a crazy last few months that I haven’t been able to write properly about our biggest project yet. At the end of April, Charlie, Adrian and I went to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver 11 Boxes to  Smithsonian Libraries.

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This commission is huge for us in several ways:

  1. It’s the Smithsonian Institution.
  2. It’s the first time we’ve been commissioned to deliver more than one Box.
  3. It’s the first time we’ve been able to bring in folks from the creative industries to join the crew  specifically, two writers, three actors, and a big fancy-lookin’ recording studio. This allows us to demonstrate our content creation capacity (so if a museum wants to commission this service from us, we can show them great work).
  4. The deployment is being formally evaluated (and that’s already really interesting).

This is the first of a couple of posts I’d like to write about this commission, one other perhaps about how we’ve also been able to level up in our Making Boxes skillz.

Background

Back in 2016, Martin Kalfatovic was in London to celebrate the 10th birthday of the magnificent Biodiversity Heritage Library project, and I asked if he’d like to pop by our office to say hi and see what we were up to with this weird little box thing. He came, he liked it, he paused for a second, and then said “What if…” It wasn’t long after that when he introduced us to Sara Cardello, the Education Specialist at Smithsonian Libraries, whose job it is to get Libraries’ content into the hands of kids.

It wasn’t long after that when Sara and Martin asked us to make a Box for them to show to their Board, to get the idea across and pique their interest. We made what remains one of my favourite Collections to date, Frogs in a Box. It’s a favourite because of the name, frankly, but also because it does a very simple thing well: it blends the collections of two different parts of the Smithsonian into one place. There are photographs of North American frogs from a book published in the early 20th Century combined with Sounds of North American Frogs, an incredibly detailed and rigorous audio commentary in Smithsonian Folkways by a American herpetologist called Charles who, as I understand it, basically spent the 1950s travelling across American recording frog songs.

We decided to go for it, and trial the idea on a smallish scale. Small scale for Smithsonian, large scale for us! Sara – who has proved to be Herculean and brilliant – spent the next 18 months looking for a way to fund developing more boxes to support the development and distribution of the SI Libraries UNSTACKED programme. And then, success! She secured support from two different funding bodies: the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, and the Youth Access Grant supported by the Gates Foundation. And then, wow! We were ready to go. Incredible.

Here are the project specs:

  • 11 Boxes
  • 2 Collections for each Box
  • 7 schools and 2 “discovery spaces” across the USA
  • 40 postcards and 4x 3D prints in each Collection

Collections

We planned to create two new Collections for the project, and each one shared the same structure of four main themes + 40 postcards + four 3D prints, but the content was very different.

Stories of Migration from the Asia-Pacific to America

Following the stories of four characters in the form of letters to and from their families. Ben from China, Hong from Vietnam, Abraham from Bikini Atoll, and Rhea from New York (with family from Trinidad & Tobago and India). Sprinkled with facts about rules and regulations for migrants new to the USA, and hints of cultural expression from home countries, this set is an emotive and personal look at what it would have been like to make the big journey in search of something better.

Here’s one of the stories from Ben:

Crew

Curation & Writing: Louise To
Actor: Suni La
Sound Recording: Offset Audio
Sound Post-Production: Charlie Cattel-Killick
Director: George Oates

History of STEM from the Dibner Collection

Four sets of cards aligned with the STEM categories: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, this set tells various stories of the history of STEM through imagery in some important scientific texts from The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology mixed with first-person accounts and other dramatisations of scientific subjects.

What might it be like to actually be a Black Hole?

Crew

Curation: Liz Laribee
Writer: Tom Bowtell
Actors: Becky Wright, Hemi Yeroham
Sound Recording: Offset Audio
Sound Post-Production: Charlie Cattel-Killick
Director: George Oates

Now what?

I’ll plan to write a bit more about the design, production, delivery and evaluation of this commission – it was a big step for us in terms of our production capacity. In the meantime, here’s a quote from one of the kids we met in DC:

“This is actually my first time enjoying a museum” from Museum in a Box on Vimeo.

Categories
audio brain commission design

Our First Upgrade!

The Jewish Museum London (JML) commissioned a Box from us last year, about remembering Jewish people who served in WWI and WWII.

They got in touch with us again this year to see about doing an upgrade of their Box – our first upgrade!

Since we delivered the initial commission, the Box’s core design has seen some important changes, and in fact, we declared V1.0 of the physical design back in February this year. We’ve also been gradually improving the software that runs the core Box interactions, so this was a good chance to upgrade the code on the JML Box while we were poking around.

Physical upgrades

  • The plywood ‘skull’ has been simplified with the speaker and power jacks now exposed on the back of the box, along with access to one of the Pi’s USB ports. (We’re not sure what we want to do with that yet. One idea is to incorporate a microphone into the mix.)
  • Most of the previous perforations across the older ‘skull’ have now been filled in, to focus the sound (so it doesn’t just bounce around inside the box), and most importantly,
  • We’ve replaced the old tiny stereo speakers with one beefy new mono one (see below)!

Our beefy new speakers!

So, to do the upgrade, we took back the museum’s old Box, gutted it, reusing  what we could before cutting them a new V1.0 Box in plywood, reconstructing it with the new sound components, and handing it back.

There were two other important aspects of the upgrade: the audio clips and the software. The museum had tested their Box in schools and found the audio was too long. We’ve been evaluating this challenge across all the Collections we’ve made, and developing a much better understanding about audio duration and content types that work really well with young children. Our main conclusion is – perhaps unsurprisingly – if clips are too long people begin to disengage and switch off. Therefore, the museum trimmed some of their lengthier tracks down and we republished them to the Box.

Now, with WiFi!

It’s now possible to configure each Box in situ to get on to a WiFi network, so we made the cheeky addition inside the shiny new packaging – a WiFi card! The card allows the box to connect to a local WiFi network with the assistance of a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The upgrade gave us the opportunity to test the new wifi configuration out in the wild  for the first time as well as update the shortened audio tracks onsite using the museum’s WiFi.  Once the box was online, and after a little troubleshooting had been done, the box automatically pulled down and updated the new audio tracks!

What WiFi means for the future

Upgrading the Jewish Museum London’s box has been a great testbed for us to learn how we can retro-fit and improve upon older boxes as well as provide on-site updates to content without the need for physical intervention from us- this is an exciting development that’s heading towards our long term goal, where we can offer subscriptions to people who have Boxes. Say you like Natural History” and you subscribe, every month (or so), you get a new set of things delivered from museums all over the world, and your Box just knows about the new set of things because we’ve been able to update it in the background.

Huge thanks to the JML crew for inquiring about the upgrade and for being patient while we figured out a method of best practice!

Charlie

Categories
company news design research

Register your interest: Make Your Own Museum in a Box pilot

In case you don’t know, Museum in a Box is a tactile, interactive device you can use to explore museum collections from around the world. You can watch our How It Works video if you haven’t seen it before.

Just about every teacher we meet wants a Make Your Own version of Museum in a Box, and we’re ready to respond to that demand. We’re looking to place Boxes into a creative classroom process, as a project-based learning tool, where students select and print their own objects around any subject or theme, produce audio responses, and connect everything up with NFC stickers and our software.

Make Your Own will help kids learn skills like curation, collaboration, critical thinking, writing, audio production, digitisation, information & media literacy, and maybe even 3D printing.

We’re also looking for small cultural organisations to try it, and hopefully an artist or two as well. It’s not just for a classroom setting, and we’d like to see if it’s useful for small museum outreach too.

So, we’re like to ask you if you’d be interested to participate in our Make Your Own pilot programme, which we’d like to run in the first six months of 2019. You can be anywhere in the world!

The rough schedule looks like this:

  • End of 2018: recruit participants, design initial materials, prep software, gather hardware stock
  • Jan-Mar 2019: conduct baseline evaluation, build hardware/boxes, send out Kits
  • Apr-Jun 2019: continue evaluation, design iteration as needed, conduct short term completion evaluation, determine scaling requirements

Our target is to work with 20 schools or smaller cultural organisations in the pilot, but, if this registration of interest process shows a lot more demand, we’ll see what we can do about expanding that ambition!

What we’ll provide, at no charge:

  • One free Make Your Own starter kit (contains a Box, 20 NFC stickers, our software platform)
  • An iterative set of progressive curriculum outlines that can be adapted to your students’ age
  • Lesson plan suggestions to facilitate producing materials for the box (objects and content)
  • Good cheer!

What we expect from you:

  • A willingness to Really Try The Thing with us
  • Availability for either in-person or online interviews
  • Creative and critical feedback about what’s working and how you could make it better
  • A certain amount of classroom time with your student (or organisation time with your crew) to think about making a great Museum in a Box
  • Possible public feedback and/or video interview and/or guest blog posts and things like that

What you’ll get:

  • Excitement and gratitude!
  • Credit where credit is due, as early adopter, innovative cultural capital builders
  • A network of like-minded cultural/educational professionals

So… if you’re interested, do please let us know using this simple Google form!

Categories
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Looking back on 2017

Last year was a huge second year in the life of our small company. I remember meeting my friend Tom for a drink one day, and as I told him about everything, he noted that I’d begun calling us a startup. It’s been a busy, interesting and largely really productive year, and I thought you might like to see all the stuff we’ve done.

Our 2017 goals

I’m a big fan of the dictum “aim low, succeed often.” If you’re able to construct goals that you know you can reach, you might just be more satisfied. We set three goals for the year, and we’ve practically reached all of them. Along three themes: user research, sales, and product design.

  1. Develop educational strategy
    As we’ve talked with more teachers, it’s become much clearer that we need to continue developing and refining our educational strategy. We’re big fans of the idea of 21st Century Skills and Object-Based Learning, and broadly feel like those two themes are a great fit with what we’re hoping to achieve. We’re doing a great pilot deployment with the Education team at Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) in 2018, and that’ll be our first major unattended deployment, in about 10 schools across the USA. We’re looking forward to collaborating with the teachers and students around our general materials, as well as the fabulous SIL content. We also have a list of teachers who’ve expressed interest in joining in the fun. The challenge there is creating enough Brains and Collections to be able to send around!
  2. Sell something
    We’re calling 2017 a big success, largely due to the fact that we’ve completed box commissions with lots of great partners. There’s more information below on these, and how they’ve worked out. We hope to grow our commissions program into 2018 and beyond, not only for income for the company, but to build content that consumers might like to make use of down the track. I also feel personally that, as a small startup, having actual customers differentiates us somewhat from the inflated types of tech startups you might find sniffing around for investment. Even though we’re not exactly profitable yet, having customers is a big win!
  3. Declare Box V1.0
    We’re so close to this, largely thanks to Charlie’s superb CAD skills. We call the container box that sits around the Raspberry Pi and other peripherals (NFC reader, speaker etc) the Skull. We’re nearly at V1.0, which is brilliant. Keep your eyes peeled for a blog post about all that soon.

Things that didn’t quite work or have been difficult

I’ve been struck this year by two major challenges:

  1. We are able to move at light speed compared with the traditional cultural institutions out there. The “sales cycle” )or ability to move quickly on a small purchasing decision) is sometimes months long for museums and libraries, and that’s hurt us a bit, since we’re bootstrapping our operations at this stage.  But, we’re no different from most small businesses in that regard, as cash flow is always a challenge.
  2. It’s often a David vs Goliath dynamic. This mostly relates to work like making agreements with large, old institutions. It takes a lot of energy for a little shop like ours to process and respond to standard terms and conditions from huge organisations. Even though we’ve also been developing our own documents and agreements as templates, it’s very rare that we can engage without also signing a giant contract that’s not especially written for a startup at our stage. And then if we have adaptations or amendments we’d like to incorporate, that takes a long time, too.  I am fantasising about perhaps doing a small conference called David vs Goliath, to discuss and raise consciousness around these challenges, and perhaps even to develop some strategies around mitigation. (Let me know if that sounds interesting!)

There were a few other specific things that were tricky last year too…

  • Science Museum tender – how to measure reach? We were thrilled to be asked to submit a tender around building “Science Capital”, but were essentially overlooked because the (current) cost of sending boxes and objects into schools is very small if compared to the potential of “digital reach”. Our contention, though, is that the quality of the interaction generated by tactile, social interaction is really different from a hit on a website. There’s lots to think through about measuring stickiness and success and engagement with Museum in a Box.
  • Innovate UK – We put our hat in the ring for the 3rd Open Round of funding from Innovate UK. It took ages to put the proposal together, and apparently, we scored a “70” (out of 100?). It was a bit disheartening to see the feedback from the assessors, since it was split 50/50 between “this is a brilliant idea, we should fund it” and “I don’t know how this benefits the taxpayer”. But, the silver lining was that the act of creating the proposal helped us refine our thinking around business models, and how we describe ourselves, which has been useful.
  • Fast hardware iteration – it’s hard not having Adrian in the office with us, but in Liverpool (which I’m sure he’ll never leave!). Even though we’ve made some strides in the design and layout of the Brain, each time there’s an update or a treat from Liverpool, it makes me wonder how much further we could have come, and faster, if we could afford to have this work happen much more. It’s all related to general company cash flow and where to place effort, and again, our commissions are what’s helping us drive all sorts of work forward, so we look forward to more of those into 2018!
  • Software development – Similarly, it’s fast approaching the time when we need a better public-facing UI to help people buy their own boxes, configure them, and even make their own. Finding resource to fund freelance software folks is hard! (And I’ve personally found this part difficult, since my background is in software, and a) I am most useful when I can pair directly with an engineer, and b) I know fairly well how much work there is to do on all this.)

Fleshing out the business plan

As I mentioned, we have a pretty good strategy around how to build out other products, and the three main products we’re thinking about (or selling now) are: Commissions, Make Your Own, and Direct-to-Consumer collections. As we continue to build our commissions portfolio, we also want to package and sell what you’d need to make your own box (object selection, content research/production, and tech stuff). There’s huge demand for Make Your Own from teachers, and we feel like it might tickle the holy grail of actual cross-curricular learning if we can get it right. Then, we’re hoping to allow anyone to buy a Brain and some Collections, and we’d like to design and develop some of those Collections ourselves, to be best-of-breed examples for everyone, and also a possible container for new collaborations with writers, artists and other “agents” all over the place.

There are so many ideas that easily attach themselves to this Museum in a Box idea it can be a challenge to focus on the right next steps! That’s another reason why the commissions are useful to us, because as well as developing the features of the product, we’re also able to do market/user research with our commissioning partners, to learn what they need and want in a partnership like ours.

We’d love to do a first release of Make Your Own mid-2018. That’s a goal and a half for this year!

Boxes

We now have a list of 26 boxes in total in our archive. Some are simple prototypes, like our Statues of Women in London, and others are full-blown commissions. This year, we’ve created 10 new box sets.

  1. Jewish Museum London – a custom-designed box to house 3D prints and postcards remembering Jewish service people in the wars
  2. Healing Through Archives – a brilliant box with archivist, Abira Hussein, exploring “mother tongue” perspectives on Somali objects and audio held at the British Museum and British Library
  3. London Borough of Camden – AHRC-funded program to increase awareness of Camden’s art collection, included several workshops with kids, and culminated in an exhibition which drew together original works, 3D prints with artists’ impressions, and recordings about works made by kids in workshops
  4. Phonics – a prototype idea, to help young people learning to read to understand and sound phonics
  5. How the Ear Works – a quick box Charlie prepared for our pitch to the Science Museum using vintage illustration and audio, and a jigsaw element to help you see all the bits of the human ear
  6. Greek Gods & Goddesses – we’re developing a new product line, where we would like to sell boxes direct to the public, containing engaging narrative and fun 3D/2D materials from institutions around the world already making their collections available for open reuse
  7. Haunted Objects – our visiting summer intern, Michelle, helped put together a first prototype of what a box of scary objects might be. We learned a ton about  bad narratives and what we’d need to do to make this really fun
  8. Climate Change in a Box – a new commission with Jon Christensen, adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, and centred on the Los Angeles area, in particular the tar pits at La Brea
  9. Smithsonian!!!!! – Oh, wow! After nearly 18 months in development, we’re just beginning to start on two separate grants with Smithsonian Institution Libraries in Washington DC. We’ll be making 10 boxes to distribute to 10 schools across the USA, and then delivering two different sets of objects to each class, over the course of 4-6 weeks. We’re so excited to connect with the teachers and students who will be using the box, and also curious about building this first step into a much wider deployment!

It’s been really interesting and revealing to see how our commissions (and prototypes) can fit comfortably in the construct that is Museum in a Box. It sounds cheesy to say, but you really can fill this idea with anything that works for you, and we look forward to sealing the deal on our current set of leads for more commissions into 2018, so stay tuned on that!

Brain-raising

photo of skull pieces laid out for constructionWhile we’re still working on getting good names for all the bits, we’ve been calling the hardware that you place objects on the Brain. Therefore, we call the casing of the brain the Skull. We had a ton of fun earlier in the year putting together six new brains, with their skulls, to be deployed for our various commissions, and our use for demonstrations and events and such. We’re looking forward to our next Brain-raising session in January 2018, so if you happen to be in London and interested to come and help out for a day, please get in touch.

Collaborators

Gill Wildman has been a fantastic supporter and design guide for our work this year.  Her incredible experience in listening and questioning and designing for years has been such a useful resource. Thanks Gill.

Ben McGuire has helped us with all our legal challenges this year, and co-developed our agreement docs and thinking around resource re-use and potential for royalties and such with our commissioning partners. Thank you, Ben!

MOO HQ has been a generous sponsor of our endeavours, helping us with printing resources, and expertise around packaging. Thanks to Chad, Phil T, and Richard for everything.

Pango Studios is a company full of talented artists who we’ve sub-contracted to make some of our commissions really sing. Their skills with spray paint and brushes really makes 3D prints look amazing, and we’re looking forward to more! Thanks, Pango! Onwards.

We were pretty clear from the start that we didn’t particularly want to get into the 3D printing business, so were really happy to meet Steve from Amfori, who has helped us with printing this year. He’s also up for doing experiments around materiality, which we’re keen to start on soon.

We’ve also had a ton of student/post-grad visits: Kate Chan, Michelle Wong, Rosie Parker, Lozana Rossenova, Angeliki Symeonidi, Angela Difede. Thanks especially to Michelle for helping design the first instantiation of a Haunted Objects box!

Also thanks to Michelle, for connecting us to Winns Primary in Walthamstow. We really enjoyed our play testing there, and were happy to leave two boxes there for a week to see what the kids did (and what the teachers thought).

Thanks too, to Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, for her continued support of the company, both with offering us speaking gigs ar the brilliant @IoTLondon meetup, and offering us a table at her Christmas pop-up. People really liked Museum in a Box! If only we could sell them one!

Looking forward to some collaborations around inclusion and accessibility in 2018, particularly with Nicolas Bonne and the Tactile Universe program @ Portsmouth University, and Stacy Rowe, geometry and accessible design @ RNIB.

Birds of a feather

It’s both exciting and a bit nervous-making that we’ve spotted other folk doing similar work in the same space, or nearby. Overall, we think this indicates some trending movement back towards tactility and object-based interactions and learning, and gathering different points of view, all of which are central to what we’re doing. It also feels like the race is on!

Work we’ve seen that looks great includes:

Press

photo of the Raspberry Pi magazine on our work table surrounded by boxes and objects and other office detritus

It was a thrill to be picked up and interviewed by some of our friends in the press this year! Even in print, if you don’t mind!

Looking forward…

So, to sum up, our 2018 is looking pretty good already. We’re about to move from Bloomsbury to a new (and more cost-effective!) office in Hoxton. We’re looking forward to more lunch options, and seeing if there are simpatico companies nearby who might like to collaborate on some of the hardware stuff, laser cutting, or even software development!

We’re watching the Young Foundation Academy program with interest. It’s one of the few “accelerators” that has a focus on social good, and importantly, measuring the effectiveness of companies in that sector.

We’re really excited about a possible collaboration with Stacy at the  Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). We’re talking about prototyping a box around geometry, and it just so happens while Stacy is the liaison between RNIB and external companies, she’s also a mathematician with mad skills and a ton of personality!

If we could do a first release of Make Your Own product sometime in the summer that would be Super Fantastic!

And, there are almost too many leads for commissions… this is obviously a good problem to have.