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I started out writing a long meandering post about galleries, but what I came to say is this: I've really enjoyed the I Spy Nature exhibition at National Museum Cardiff, which runs until April 2015. Each time I've gone down to see it, the place has been full of families, conversations, and children dressed up as bugs and scientists, hopping from display to display.

I Spy Nature
I snapped the picture below at one of our interactive stations, only just avoiding the lunchtime rush (and sticking out my elbows to maintain our younger visitors' privacy!)

I Spy... Nature gives you a chance to see the world as seen through the eyes of a bat, a scientist, or a fly. Provided you're under 10, you can even to dress up like one as you explore the creepy-crawly specimens, 3D printed corals, interactive quizzes and activities. The giant, interactive microscope screen mentioned in David's post can be found in a beautiful cabinet of slides. For those of you who prefer 'the real thing', there's also a working laboratory microscope, with a spinning table of fascinating slides to choose from.

The I Spy... team have also been taking the show outside to different places, bringing their amazing collection with them. For example, here's @CardiffCurator with a curious object at the Eisteddfod:

 

The I Spy... pop-up museum will be, er, popping up, for one last time this summer. Catch them at the Capitol Centre in Cardiff between the 28th and 30th of August. In amongst the handbags, sandwiches and end-of-season sales, you'll find scorpions, creepy-crawlies and a seashell that's bigger then your head. Pop down to see them between 11am and 3pm to see what you can spy!

There is an exhibition showing at National Museum Cardiff called: I-Spy…Nature (until April 2015). One of the touch screens (picture 1) focuses on a selection of diverse, interesting and beautiful biological and geological slides from the Museum’s Natural History Collections. This blog is about the small aspects of the touch screen that I was involved with; plain and simple. 

Resources & Outlines

  • One general overview image of 36 slides
  • 12 very high resolution images of some of those slides
  • 27 inch touch screen
  • Complement an actual Micrarium, which would be displayed neatly above the touch screen
  • Incorporate a Victoriana style
  • Target audience: young folk

Flourishes

The high resolution slide images were always the prize, therefore it seemed obvious to sort out the zoom features first. Using the Javascript version of Zoomify (other javascript frameworks are available) gave us a good foundation to work on. We just needed to tap into their Zoomify Javascript code a little, then add our own layer of Javascript and graphical flourishes to make the design fit in with the exhibition outlines.   

All the controls were laid out in plain sight, hopefully to reduce any learning curve when approaching the interactive; and since the touch screen is quite large (27 inches) we had the space.

Five additional features were added to the zoom screen (picture 4):

  • Zoom controls
  • Navigation controls
  • Home button
  • Information button
  • Change language (English/Welsh) 

n.b. where possible I tried to avoid using words to describe button functions, hence why the home button is only an image, but this idea fell down a little when it became clear you couldn’t avoid a word or two to help the visitor work out what specimen they were observing.

Into the Arms of a Microscope

Once or twice someone may have caught me saying things like: “Plagioclase Feldspar” or “Olivine”. Anyhow, part of the fun with looking at slides is the process of selecting a new slide, I thought so anyway - you were never sure what would be on the other side of the glass.

I wanted to avoid the conventional method of changing between images, which is usually to include a ‘next’ and ‘previous’ button; so tried to incorporate some of my vague science memories with a quick reconnaissance mission (picture 5) to see the microscope that was being prepped for the exhibition.

Since there were 36 lower resolution images on the home screen, but twelve high resolution images on the slide selection screen, it gave some space to move a simple microscope stand into view, which provided the excuse to animate the microscope arms and float the slides back and forth. The iris transition between the microscope slide view and the zoom view is loosely based on the idea of looking down a microscope eyepiece.   

Intermittent Contact

The interactive was built on HTML and Javascript with animations mainly driven by CSS. Due to the amount of images used in this interactive (up to 120MB), the project was exported from Amgueddfacms CMS into a standalone ZIP file then installed onto the exhibition PC - this improves the interactive response times, since it doesn’t have to wait for any image files to download over a network connection.

We’ve been using Firefox for a while as its platform independent and has neat little add-ons (R-Kiosk and Block Site). In this case, the operating system is Windows 7, with a locked down user account which only has access to Firefox and the touch screen drivers.

Usually we use Google Analytics to record button events, to give us an indication of how much the interactives are being used, but Google Analytics is designed to work with regular domain websites, which is not the case when running locally from simple hard drive files. Therefore the button events are recorded by the web server through AJAX calls.

Thinking about it again, it might be more efficient to store Javascript events in the browser’s HTML5 web storage throughout the day and only send it back to the web server when the computer boots up in the morning. Therefore, only bother the web server once a day, rather than hundreds of times a day.

Video Demo

I've included a short demo video for posterity:

After much discussion and background work, the digital team at Amguefdda Cymru today began on the exciting path of redesigning its website.

As well as being timely (it’s been almost 5 years since our last design iteration *gasp*), there are a number of important factors driving this project, including an ambitious digital strategy to help deliver the redevelopment of St. Fagans National History Museum, as well as a comprehensive review of our institutional structure as a result of the Museums Change Programme.

Areas for development in this project will include providing greater access to online collections, increasing digital participation and also integrating today's social networking activities to encourage participation and sharing.

With these drivers in mind, we’ve been busy beavering away in the background over the last few months, researching audiences, analysing metrics, workshoping stakeholders and talking to our users. Why? Quite simply, we want this project to be as ‘evidence led’ as possible - let’s act on what our users tell us, from how they get to our website, to what they do when they get there.

time to put the user at the centre

From all this background research, we have developed a specific list of objectives that our new redesigned website will seek to provide. In summary these are;

  • Reflect first and foremost, the needs and interests of our users
  • Be focused on individual museum sites and our knowledge, not our corporate brand
  • Remove barriers to our information, including language and structure
  • Present a clear and logical navigational structure
  • Remove redundant sections and pages
  • Present a simple, clean design
  • Ensure that there are no dead ends for users - always offer an alternative if no exact content matches their search
  • provide fresh and routinely updated material

We are now in a position to take stock of our whole online offer: microsites, domains, social media connections, visiting pages, collections pages, even our in-gallery interfaces, while at the same time rethinking our traditional ‘institutional’ view of what we present online.

Most of you in Museum digital circles will know just how easy it is for websites to evolve through a reflection of internal structures. This is our chance to turn that thinking around and apply fresh perspectives, new ideas and modern technology to a website that really works for those visiting our websites - all based on evidence driven research, of course...

Timescale for all this? 8 months, so check back for updates to how this journey unfolds…

Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgeddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

Access to online content is showing a steady shift towards the mobile device. What are the implications for Amgueddfa Cumry’s own website?

There has been much discussion in the museums digital sector lately on the significant rise in websites accessed via mobile devices. It was one of the focuses of the 'Let's Get Real' Action Research project run by Culture24, of which the Museum was a part. The V&A have recently been publishing their findings on what devices people use to access different areas of their website. 

In light of this, I decided to uncover the trends taking place on the National Museum Wales own website: museumwales.ac.uk

Mobile device growth over two years

From the National Museum Wales’ perspective the rate of acces from mobile devices shows pretty much the same pattern reported from other similar institutions.

Overall, we see close to a 25% rise in visits via mobile device to the website over a two year period. This is significant, but applying this as a generalisation of the website as a whole may be hiding other, more significant trends.

Figure 1 shows that people are increasingly looking at our website through mobile devices, but what parts of the site are fuelling this rise? What other trends become apparent when we look at areas such as visiting information, or our content rich collections pages?

So, lets break this down and let's see if we can work out what’s going on here…

What are people mainly looking at when using mobile devices?

A comparison of Figure 2 and Figure 3 clearly show a markedly higher percentage of pages accessed via mobile device to our 'visiting' pages than our content rich Art Online collections pages, (which incidentally show more of a rise in tablet use than mobile.)

What this all boils down to is that our content is now being accessed (and increasingly so) through all manner of different devices, and in all manner of different environments, from coffee shops, trains, your sofa, at work etc., etc.

The devices we choose are driven by the context (or setting) we are in, also the time we have to find out what we need to know.  Think about it for a minute. How do you use digital devices to locate and find out information? Sat at a desk in your lunchtime, with time to sift through search results to find local events this coming weekend, filtering and refining on a large screen with a mouse and keyboard. Then there’s that last minute check on opening times and directions on your mobile phone whilst in a crowded train on your Friday night commute, straining to keep your phone viewable whilst jammed up against another person, typing with one finger. Come Sunday evening, you’re lying on the sofa, tablet on lap learning more about that nugget of information you picked up, or writing about your experiance on a review site.

This behaviour is quite logical if we take time to consider user behaviour on different devices, but what does this mean for our website and how we manage it?

What we must ensure when publishing our content is that we understand that the users could be anywhere, doing anything. A the moment, the evidence seems to suggest most mobile access targets visiting and location based information, whereas in depth collections data remains to be largely accessed via desktops.

The decline of the desktop (well, for visiting information at least)

Figure 2 shows that more people are viewing our visiting information from mobile devices than they are from desktops or laptops. It is therefore critical when planning content and designing websites, that areas of the website need to be thought out in separate ways, with visiting and site based information being designed and created first and foremost to be viewed on mobile devices.

In addition to functionality and design, we must also ensure that the content we provide for those areas of the website that are accessed primarily through mobile devices is crystal clear, succinct and quick to discover and understand - after all, you may only have a 5inch screen to get your information across.

Given the rate of growth from mobile devices it will be interesting to see where we will be this time next year...

Background reading:

V&A Blog

Google research

Adobe Digital Marketing blog

And they're here: for the first time, we have figures for a year of e-book sales, supplied directly by publishers. It's still far from the whole picture, as not all e-book figures are available. But we now have a much better idea of what the book-buying landscape looks like in the UK.

The figure that stands out is that e-book sales are now up to 13%-14% of all book sales. However, as their prices are cheaper, that's only 6%-7% of revenue. Print book sales are down again, by 3.4% on 2011, as are average prices.

The e-book market is still dominated by fiction, and those e-book figures track the print figures. That is, if a book sells well in print, it also does well in e-book. The stand-out example is a particularly, shall we say, shady trilogy, whose e-book sales are about 36% of the print sales. Could the success of the e-book version of these titles lie, I wonder, in the fact that no-one can see what you're reading on your Kindle...?

So, it's mixed news: more books were bought in 2012, but because more of them were e-books, publishers made less money. Good news for reading, less so for publishing.

Meanwhile, here at Amgueddfa Cymru our journey into 'e' continues...

 

With thanks to The Bookseller for the sales figures.