Making a collection for a Museum in a Box involves a number of different activities: curating a set of objects, writing stories, recording audio, and writing content to the Box. It takes a lot of thought and effort to produce compelling content. With that in mind, we recently started offering Training Day Workshopsin our shop to offer support for those just getting started.
Last week we were delighted to welcome Tracy and Jo from Tees Valley Museums to HQ for a Training Day. They had purchased two Boxes to use as part of their outreach and participation with families in the local area and were looking for specific help with creating and editing great audio.
After welcoming Tracy and Jo at HQ and getting settled we talked about how the Box will be used and what the team have already started doing in preparation for using their Box. They recently bought a Zoom mic and have already been recording children’s responses to objects.
They had also been working on object lists for two different collections so we decided to use those as a springboard. We selected one object from each list that we would use to go through all the steps involved in creating and adding content and connecting it to an NFC sticker.
First we printed out the object images, mounted them on some card and added the stickers. We find this method of creating rough comps really useful as it helps to figure out whether the object and audio in question will work well. We can then make changes and push an idea along much faster.
Next we got the team set up with accounts on our Heart platform, and after a quick look round, set up a collection ready for them to start adding the objects and audio to.
Tracy and Jo didn’t have any experience of using audio editing. At HQ, we use Audacity because it’s free, does everything we need, and is quick to pick up. So after a quick walkthrough, we split into two groups to edit the children’s responses, working through things like trimming, amplifying, and adding sound effects to the tracks.
Below you can see the result of those efforts and hear the wondrous responses to the objects from the visitors! First there’s Jo’s Zebrite Grate Polish card which prompts us to remember that people like museum objects for all kinds of reasons..
and then there’s Tracy’s £5 note with responses about locomotion, George Stephenson, and ‘the biggest five pound note ever!’
It was great to see Tracy and Jo pick up Audacity so quickly, and also how a base level of digital knowledge for a tool can be all you need to get going. Both said how enthused they were to go away and do more audio editing, including with their own children! Audio editing can often seem a scary thing on the surface but once you know the basics it turns into a really creative and fun process!
After editing and exporting our .WAV audio files it was time for Tracy and Jo to upload the content they’d made to the collection on Heart. Watching how users navigate around the site is also really helpful to us as it’s showing us how we can improve it in the future.
With the audio online, we fired up the Boxes and went through the process of adding a new collection to a Box and writing stickers to make them play the right audio. There was a great sense of anticipation and excitement after we had heard the objects booping for the first time, as well as a real sense of achievement all round. All that just in time for our guests to dash off and catch their train back home.
We were delighted to host Tracy and Jo, and learned a lot from it too. We’re able to tailor workshops to your needs, so if you’ve bought a Box or are considering buying one but would like some guidance using it, do get in touch and see if one of our Training Day Workshops is right for you.
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.
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!
Well, our first crowdfunding campaign is over, and, it was a success! The campaign was shaped around kickstarting our co-design pilot for a new version of Museum in a Box called Make Your Own.
Now that we’ve been building bespoke commissions for institutions like Smithsonian Libraries, British Museum, and the V&A, our technology concept is proven. Our hardware design for the Box is now at Version 1, and the software platform we’ve developed to configure Collections and Boxes works. So, the Make Your Own product can build on these resources, and we can send kits out that connect the Box, some NFC stickers, instructions on how to make a great Collection, and the software platform. While we intend to continue making commissions for people, we want Make Your Own to be our path to scaling Museum in a Box, letting a thousand museums bloom in classrooms, libraries, museums and homes around the world.
So, we must take a moment to thank all our Crowdfunder supporters. We simply couldn’t have kicked off this ambitious pilot without this injection of capital, so thank you. You’ve really made a huge difference to our capacity to bring this thing to life!
Naomi Alderman, Cristóbal Álvarez, Nicky Birch, Alex Blood, Julie Bottrell, Stewart Butterfield, Sara Rouse Cardello, Daniel Catt, Daniel Cohen, Rachel Coldicutt, Blaine Cook, Henry Cooke, Eric Costello, russell davies, Taryn Davies, Katie Day, Martin Devereux, Molly Ditmore, Imwen Eke, Joanna Ellis, Rebekah Ford, Anne and Forbes Fowlie, Belinda and James Fowlie, David C Frazer, Rachel L Frick, Katharine Handel, Claire Hansford, Chris Heathcote, James Jefferies, Courtney Johnston, D Jones, Greta Lake, Claire Lanyon, Mai Le, Annette Mees, Fiona Miller, Evelyn Neufeld, Nick O’Leary, Margaret and Jeff Oates, Daniel Pett, Jacqueline Pease, Jennifer Phillips-Bacher, Anna Pickard, Kim Plowright, Annelynn Pyck, Clare Reddington, Jo Roach, Frankie Roberto, Cassie Robinson, Sophie Sampson, Dinah Sanders, Nick Stanhope, Jo Stichbury, ben terrett, Jennifer Tharp, Ben Vershbow, Matt Webb, Gill Wildman, Simon Wistow… and several folks who wish to remain anonymous. You shall forever be enshrined on our About Us page.
On a personal note, even though I’ve had a ton of fun developing this business over the last three years or so, and I think we’re heading in a great direction, it’s also been bloody hard, and it’s been so lovely to have friends and family support and endorse what I’m trying to do here. Really, it’s such a boost. Thank you.
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)
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