Jammin’ at the Museum: The “DinoJam”

The Digital Media and Marketing department at the Natural History Museum has started a blog, and this is our first post! Our department is made up of four cross-discipline product teams, with each team consisting of product managers, designers, developers, content writers, data analysts and marketeers. Our blog posts will give an insight into our work and life at the Museum and we hope you’ll find them interesting and useful!

On the 22nd and 23rd March the Natural History Museum held its first ever Design Jam. Organised by the Digital Media and Marketing department, the event was called “Dino Jam” to provoke discussion and to demonstrate a break from routine work. It had two main objectives: 1) to think of new ideas for our Dino Directory website (which we’re in the process of redesigning, by the way – keep your eyes peeled) and 2) to bring together as many people from as many departments across the Museum as possible. It was a very enjoyable couple of days where we learned a lot and took away loads of ideas which we’re hoping to progress in due course.

Over the course of the two days we were lucky enough to have been joined by colleagues from Content, Design, Marketing, Development, UX, Visitor Services, Audience Insights, Informatics, Events and Dinosaur paleontologist. We also had special guests from Pusher, Mozilla Firefox and DigitalMe, who are specialists in designing and implementing Mozilla OpenBadges.

On Day 1 our focus was to generate as many ideas as possible. We were given a quick overview about the Dino Directory API and the functionality of Pusher and Mozilla OpenBadges, all of which we were encouraged to try and incorporate into our prototypes where possible. We then participated in some rapid ideation exercises, which concluded with ‘How might we…?’ questions based on the themes drawn out of the discussions, noted and summarised into challenges by our ever-attentive organiser and facilitator Florence. By lunchtime, we had narrowed down our ideas and formed three small project teams.

Above: groups discussing ideas during the “World Cafe” rapid ideation exercise.

Above: post-rapid ideation goodness…first of five!

To validate our early ideas, we went into the Museum and spoke to visitors. This was exhausting – especially for those not used to visitor interactions – and full of surprises. The feedback helped us to challenge our assumptions and to refine our ideas. By the end of the first day, each group had something to take forward and work on during Day 2.

Above: notes and questions for use during early user testing, and a very early prototype.

Day 2 was all about prototyping, with the aim of presenting something to the rest of the Jammers at the end of the day. As part of the Jam, we would create basic demonstrations of our ideas for visitors to test out and give feedback, then use their feedback to rework the demos before heading out again for another round of testing. For some of us, the back and forth meant returning to the drawing board a few times! Even though it could get very challenging, each iteration helped us learn more about our visitors, how they use our services and how our prototypes could be improved to provide the most benefit. Using this technique of “ever decreasing circles” to focus on what can be done and what is certain can help to implement new ideas whilst keeping a creative and open environment. The daily routine of presenting what we had and continually verifying with the public kept great momentum.

The three project teams were:

  • “Become a Scientist”, whose goal was to provide visitors with a fun way of exploring the research done by scientists at the Museum. The final prototype was of a ‘passport’ to the Museum that visitors could use both to find key specimens and ‘become a scientist’ themselves, by examining and noting their observations, similar to the way they explore specimens in the Investigate section of the Museum. The passport could also provide links for players to unlock content such as videos and interviews.
  • Then there was Project 2, inspired by the challenge of how we use emerging technologies to engage dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages. The prototype demonstrated how a service like Alexa could be used in two ways – both as a way of teaching new facts about dinosaurs but also reinforcing learning by allowing you to tell it a list of clues for Alexa to then tell you the dinosaur you’re trying to describe.
  • The third prototype took a step back at how we can better connect the physical space with our digital collections using the API. At the heart of it was the idea of ‘unmasking’ truths about dinosaurs via YouTube series, events and access to content to visitors.

Above: prototyping in action!

Above: ideas from each team starting to take shape.

At the end of the Jam the three prototypes were presented and a winner chosen by the participants. In the end, Project 2 got the most votes with Project 1 coming in at a close second, but we couldn’t celebrate for long as had to make a hasty exit in time for celebrations!

So, what next? We’ll certainly be having lots of discussions about the output of the Jam, especially regarding how we can further test some of the ideas to see how wider audiences use and respond to them. The great thing was that each idea has potential to be used across the various collections and galleries we have in the Museum, and to interact with other digital services such as the NHM Data Portal. Following up isn’t restricted to just the three main prototypes though – there were plenty of other ideas raised during the early rapid ideation exercises which could be developed and prototyped further.

For the team organising the Jam, one of the most important things was exploring ways of working with cross-disciplinary teams to quickly design, test and create solutions in a low fidelity, iterative way. We were also really pleased to be joined by folks from outside the Museum, not least because we learned so much about ways of working and new solutions from collaborating with people working at the cutting edge of consumer technologies.

So, watch this space and here’s to more Jams in the future!

Florence Okoye and Theo Nicolaou

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