The Oxford University Museum of Natural History Interactives

4 minUTE read

Developing interactive experiences that enable visitors to connect with scientific research at Oxford University

At Oxford University there’s a wide variety of scientific research carried out, some of which is extremely complex and in-depth. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) houses a number of temporary exhibitions which present this behind-the-scenes data to the public.

Complicated information must be exhibited in a way that visitors can understand in just a few minutes.

The aim of these exhibitions is to give museum visitors the opportunity to explore the research in a way that creates meaningful connections. The challenge lies in presenting this complex information in a form that visitors can understand after a short interaction.

An interactive installation
An interactive installation

The Settlers exhibition was displayed on two interactive screens

We were invited by the OUMNH team to work with them to design and build a series of digital installations that allow visitors to quickly understand data through interaction and play. Since 2016 we’ve collaborated on four of these digital installations, each with very different subject matter: how the brain works (Brain Diaries), the migration of people in and out of Britain (Settlers), the world of bacteria around us (Bacterial World), and the proliferation of life during the Cambrian explosion (First Animals). Each subject has had its own set of unique design challenges but the core challenge for all of them has been to make the complex information easy to digest.

For First Animals we transported visitors back 518 million years to the oceans of the Cambrian period. In this fully animated 3D recreation of the Cambrian Ocean, visitors take control of a submarine, using a combination of three touchscreen monitor and a joystick controller, and investigate the proliferation of life during the Cambrian explosion.

The exhibitions highlight the wide variety of scientific research carried out by Oxford University, giving museum visitors the opportunity to explore the results of this ongoing research.

Planning and communication has been key during these projects. Collaborative design workshops explore the exhibition theme and how digital interactivity could be employed to make the information understandable, engaging and inspiring. Once we moved into production, the interactives were developed in line with the workshop ideas and detailed design documents.

Functionality and user testing was carried out at points during the development to check that the interactives worked as designed, that user interfaces were simple and intuitive, and that users were able to understand the subject matter. Throughout the project, communication remained high using combinations of face-to-face meetings, video conferences, telephone calls, emails and Basecamp.

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