Rob Sloan  Rob Sloan

Gamifying The Science Museum

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The Science Museum recently launched its ambitious new gallery, The Information Age. The opening was marked by Her Majesty The Queen making her first royal tweet.

Our involvement has been another first; we were commissioned to design and develop the museum’s first major app that connects an audience with a gallery. It’s called InfoAge+ and it’s designed to be used on location at the gallery itself, allowing the user to then review the saved results at home or in the classroom.

informationagehtcThe InfoAge+ app is available on all popular tablet and mobile device

Taking over the largest space in the Science Museum, the Information Age gallery is a rare and major development by the museum, designed to captivate visitors now and for decades to come.

The exhibit tells the story of information technology as it has evolved over 200 years. From early electric telegraphy and satellite communications, to the web and mobile data networks. It includes Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 NeXT, the first internet computer (complete with a sticker saying “This machine is a server. Do not power down!!”).

info age gallery

The Science Museum’s Information Age gallery tells the story of two centuries’ worth of technical innovation

Image: The Queen Visits The Science Museum

Her Majesty The Queen sent her first tweet during the opening of the new gallery

During the gallery’s planning, The Science Museum set a challenge. How could an app add depth to the Information Age experience? Could we find a way of allowing visitors to ‘virtually’ reach behind glass cabinets and interact with the gallery’s objects?

Our Approach

We designed playful activities that tie the gallery’s objects together through storytelling. They help visitors explore the gallery in a new way and create original content that can be taken and explored further at home, or in the classroom.

To do that we collaborated with the museum’s own audience research team and tested multiple iterations of designs with families and schools. We led ideation sessions that took some forty concepts down to a final core set of four. These concepts use established formats and behaviours, like selfies, timelines and comics, to make the app familiar and immediately engaging.

Activity One: My Timeline

infoage_mytimeline

Take a selfie and put yourself on the Information Age timeline (1800s to the modern day), then add things you think are cool.

Encourages exploration and an understanding of where you sit in context with the innovations in the gallery. Creates conversations between families and the different generations that visit the gallery.

Activity Two: Top Tech

infoage_toptech

Create top tech cards based on objects in the museum and do battle with other objects. By playing you decide what objects in the gallery are more impactful and important than others. It’s deliberately subjective, creating conversations and debate in a light and playful way.

Activity Three: Newsflash

infoage_newsflash

You play a reporter, faced with your angry news editor. He needs a report about the Science Museum’s Information Age gallery on his desk pronto. Create a video on location in the museum and tell the story of an object that changed society.

Activity Four: After Dark

infoage_afterdark

Inspired by the film Night at the Museum, it’s night time at the gallery and the security guard has fallen asleep. Two objects that you choose come to life. How would they react to each other, what would they say and do? What would an iPad say to a 1980’s phone?

The Big Challenges

Making a physical location, and the object in it, playable was key. Especially where people are prevented from touching them.

Our approach is to provide game-like activities that indirectly ask questions. By doing this people relate objects to things they intuitively understand. Is this object heavier than that object? Does this object feel cold to touch or warm? Has this object been more impactful than that object?

Through storytelling we prompt the museum’s visitors to be imaginative. And by using the activities they personify objects, creating unexpected outcomes and adding depth to their physical experience in the gallery.

Hybrid Apps and Multi-device Technology

The app had to be made available to everyone who visits the gallery and provide a good experience across practically all modern mobile devices, phones and tablets. Getting that right was a technical challenge not to be underestimated, especially as we were targeting device specific features, like cameras.

We used the Cordova framework to accelerate our development and manage costs. We maintained a single core application base that we could deploy over many devices. We tackled performance issues on some devices as special cases, and designed carefully to overcome the interactivity limitations that come with using an emerging web technology to create a highly interactive hybrid app.

Beyond Launch

The InfoAge+ app in action at The Science Museum (credit: Science Museum Learning)

The InfoAge+ app is successfully being used by schools and families who visit the new gallery. It’s been a privilege to lead the Science Museum’s first foray into creating apps for specific galleries, and just like the physical space, our app is designed to be flexible and stand the test of time. Our work is being used to further question and innovate the way visitors experience museum galleries and physical spaces.

Rob Sloan

About Rob Sloan

Rob is Executive Producer at fish in a bottle. He works collaboratively with clients to build apps and platforms that tell stories and engage audiences through playful experiences.