As I mentioned previously in our Visiting Researchers, ahoy! blog post, we were joined recently by sustainable product design graduate, Charlie Cattel-Killick. I ask for one or more blog posts from our visitors, and this is Charlie’s. It seems simpler for visiting designers to drop into the ongoing product development process in our sister company, Museum in a Box, and that’s just great. The work we do for clients at Good, Form & Spectacle is a little less steady, whereas there are always new boxes to think about and make. Thanks, Charlie – great to have you.
– George

Charlie writes:
It has taken me some time to get around to writing this post. Having now handed in all of my degree work I am pleased to say that I have finally found the time to write up my fantastic experience with the MIAB team (if you’re pressed for time those last six words will tell you all you need to know).

My name is Charles (Charlie) Cattel-Killick and I am now at the end of my three years studying Sustainable Product Design at Falmouth University in Cornwall. You may be wondering what that sustainable bit is all about but to explain it briefly, my course is really all about focusing on the important matters in life albeit environmental or as often tends to be the case in my portfolio, social.

Throughout my final year I have become fascinated with access to information and as part of that I delved in to ‘3D’ and ‘Heritage’ to explore ways in which design could be used to help increase access and experience with a particular focus on the potential educational benefits of combining the digital and physical. Whilst developing concepts for my project I got thinking about utilising 3D-printed replicas and how awesome it would be to pack mini artefacts up and let users curate their own mini museums in a box. Now I can’t exactly recall exactly how this next part went but somewhere in the process of typing in to my favourite search engine the phrase ‘museum in a box’ there in front of me in all its glory, the aptly named ‘Museum in a Box’.

At this stage, as any designer reading will be nodding and sighing in solidarity; that moment that you find your idea is already being realised by others is enough to close your sketchbook, have a coffee, build and bridge and move on with your life. But this time was different, the idea was too good to let go and so before realising what I’d done my outbox was busy sending an email off to co-founder George Oates filled with promises of biscuits and tea.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself in London still flabbergasted that the team had sanctioned my request to spend some time with them to find out what they’d been getting up to and in what way I could be of assistance. On reflection it must have been the promise of biscuits that did it.

I arrived in London not long after the MIAB team had moved into their swanky new digs in Bloomsbury and coming from three years in quiet, mildly inaccessible Cornwall writing this now I am still struggling to believe the British Museum is all of a minute away.

The experience started off with a great eye opener taking part in the BMs ‘Objectively Speaking’ conference which was a great chance to find out the latest in current approaches to object-based experiences of museums and in education with a chance to fire a few questions at the panels and also meet George for the first time, bonding over an apple and a sandwich.

Day two and it was time to get down to business, I was introduced to George Weyman which was an enormous relief knowing that having met two team members I still only had to remember one first name. Then came Tom Flynn which, in retrospect was actually a relief that he too was not called George, it was great to find out all about his Photogrammetry exploits as well as pick up a few pointers having just begun to explore it for myself.

The Bloomsbury studio was a hive of activity throughout and having spent a lot of time familiarising myself with this world through my design research it was a dream come true to be in what is fair to call the epicentre of the 3D/Museum/heritage world. We had multiple visitors each day, all with their own vision for how they would utilise the box and it seemed that for each person we talked to the possibilities for the product multiplied tenfold. It was great to be included in those kind of discussions from the word go, suggesting ideas whilst learning so much myself. I mainly brought to the stage my design skills working with George to develop a series of interactive cards for a prototype box that would be used as part of pitching to various organisations and to demonstrate the diversity of the product beyond 3D prints.

During my time in the studio I also worked on exploring box designs and started to think about new box ideas. A favourite was ‘Architecture in a Box’ which not only being a passion of mine but also having the stunning architecture all around and the breathtaking contents of the Sir John Soane’s Museum to draw inspiration from soon led to plenty of concept sketches. I was also lucky enough to go on a day trip with the team to Cambridge where we met and pitched to many great people, this also included a quick whip around the Fitzwilliam Museum, evidence for which I have provided in the image below.

Tom Flynn and Bum at the Fitzwilliam Museum

‘Tom discovers the perfect bum’

My final two days were spent working on a promotional video with Tom that we would include within an application for some funding, the completion of which was perfectly timed with a farewell curry shortly before my departure back home and then on to Cornwall.

I may be yet to graduate however spending time as a visiting research with Museum in a Box has by far been the best experience I have had as a designer. I am so grateful to all of the team for giving me a chance and welcoming me with such open arms. I understand George has grand plans for the visiting researcher programme so as the programme’s voluntary guinea pig I would recommend it fully… just be sure to bring the biscuits and plenty of tea.


George, Charlie, Tom @ Bloomsbury Place

Milk and one sugar (caffeine in the morning).


Charlie Cattel-Killick contacted me a while back because he’d been thinking about 3D and museums and boxes, and saw that we had been working on it a bit already and could he come and say hello and work with us for a bit. Yes.

It was great to have Charlie around, and if I’m honest, he made me feel really old! He was insanely productive during his stint with us, and came along to some client meetings too. We’re about to release a video about Museum in a Box, and Charlie shot and edited it (while Tom did the sound beautifully). There are a handful of rough box designs from him, and he was able to help us move a prototype idea forward into a demonstrable state. I’ve also asked him to write a post for us on what it was like. He’s in the throes of final hand-ins now, but will hopefully put something up soon, if he can still stand to write.


Thank you, Charlie! It was our pleasure.

I’m excited that our Visiting Researcher program seems to be gaining a little traction. I met with Jen Smit last year in Tasmania, when I was (very luckily) there to visit MONA and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery while I was in Australia for Museums and the Web Asia 2015. It’s brilliant that she’s decided to come to London to work on research into libraries as a ‘primary user interface’, and her work also dovetails spectacularly well with a commission I’m working on with Het Nieuwe Instituut about digital archives of the famous Dutch architecture firm, MVRDV. You might call it a perfect storm.

From Jen:

The research topic to be investigated concerns the Library of the Future.

Both public libraries and libraries attached to educational institutions are seeing their role as ‘receptacles of knowledge’ shift in an era that progressively adopts  the ‘digital archive’ in favour of a physical one.  In this scenario the library becomes less a repository for a catalogued collection and more a portal to that collection. Its role as ‘portal’ is an interesting one as it suggests the notion of gateway: that there may be something physical that organises access to the ‘archive’.

The focus on the curatorial function of architecture as the primary user interface is of interest here. How might architecture provide a framework, indeed a gateway to accessing information? Does the architecture itself provide the first moment of interpretation of that archive?

Researchers in the field of education are suggesting that the library’s role is one of providing a place for learning rather than a storehouse for books: a ‘Learning Commons’. A recurrent area of discussion concerns whether the ‘digital’ is supplanting the ‘physical’, as if the two realms might be not mutually compatible. A better question may be ‘how might the digital collection extend on and reframe (or provide an intelligent or curatorial portal for) the physical?’

Another relevant issue for the future of the library concerns the value of the physicality of books— the primacy and importance of the physical collection in an increasingly digitized environment. The question of how the collection is organized and displayed seems more important, rather than less so.

Does the phenomenology of the book become foregrounded? Recent examples of libraries might indicate that this is so: MVRDV’s “Book Mountain” in Spijkenisse, The Netherlands, centralizes the collection such that not only the envelope of the building is a direct expression of the size and organization of the collection, but its very transparency communicates the importance of the accessibility of the collection to the community.

It’s brilliant. Part of the support G,F&S will provide is to host a salon with interested design/architecture/culture folks, and Jen and I are hoping to co-publish a paper together. Can’t wait.



We’re beyond thrilled to welcome Professor Bill Sherman to the board of Good, Form & Spectacle. The fact that Bill is Director of Research and Collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum makes all this even better.

sherman3Bill Sherman is Director of Research and Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he is leading the development of a V&A Research Institute. He moved to the V&A from the University of York, where he was Director of the Centre for Renaissance & Early Modern Studies. He works on the ways in which objects come down to us from the past, what they pick up along the way, and how they speak across time and space. He is best known for his work on marginalia and has published widely on the history of reading and the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Our eyes first met across a crowded project called “History of an Object in 100 Worlds”, which I’d discovered in my own research around The Small Museum idea. The project’s brilliant, and back in September 2014, I left a note on its blog saying hello and could I please learn more. From there, I went to meet with the project’s leader, Lina Hakim, who introduced me to Bill.

We have a shared interest in objects’ histories. The History of an Object pilot project resulted in a short series of V&A staff presenting their own stories about favourite objects in the museum. It’s a great read, and I hope it gets circulated more widely. Having met quite a few subject experts by now, it’s one of my favourite, favourite things to have the privilege to listen to them tell me about the objects they study.

But, back to Bill. He’s already been hugely helpful to me, both as an advisor and know-er of most of the London cultural sector. He’s also largely responsible for the successful instigation of the new V&A Research Institute (VARI), “a new programme of research and teaching partnerships that will enhance access to the V&A’s collections and develop new approaches to research, training, display and interpretation.” Given that G,F&S is also heavily invested in R&D, it just seems like a great fit.

Bill says, “George and G,F&S are full of great ideas for making collections more accessible and more interesting to a wider range of people–inside and outside the walls of museums.”

Watch this space! Welcome, Bill.

We’re excited to have moved into a new home for all sorts of reasons. It feels great to have a home base, an HQ; somewhere where people can visit and spend a moment. I’m not the sort of person who likes working in cafes or on hot desks. Frankly, I like to spread myself around a bit, and settle into a groove.

440px-Hans_SloaneWe’re in Bloomsbury, and if you can believe it, we’re in the very building where Hans Sloane used to live. There’s a blue plaque for him out the front. He lived from 1660-1753, and for almost 50 years at Bloomsbury Place. He was a physician to the rich and famous, and is notable for giving his collection to Britain, to help found the British Museum. It’s really a thrill to walk in his footsteps each day, and dream about how the place would have looked full of his books and bits and pieces from Jamaica, amongst all sorts of other things. I popped into the Enlightenment Gallery in the British Museum last week just to have a look at the bits and pieces they have out on display from him. It was nice.

Bloomsbury really is very handsome. I have loads of ideas (that may never come to pass) about getting to know the area. At the very least, we should try to install a Hans Sloane pop up museum in the foyer of our building. A friend, Amelia, suggested a “heritage hang” of a bunch of his works that are now squirrelled away in various cupboards in museums across London. That would surely be better than the shit 80s hotel art we have there at the moment.

We’re gradually filling it up with things, and are slowing needing more storage… but it’s a nice sunny space, and we’re fantasising about getting a teeny bbq for the patio. Yes, PATIO.

2016-03-02 16.18.24

2016-03-30 11.23.39

Before all that (temporary) mess trying to move into a sublet office in Whitechapel, I’d thought that Bloomsbury seemed like a good spot for a weird little museum-y company. And now we find ourselves mere moments from the front door of the British Museum.


Mischief awaits!

June 20 note: This post ended up being an intro and rough list of ideas. It will stay that way. Here’s Part II.

I am thrilled to have received one of five research commissions about New Archive Interpretations from Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. I’ve been working with Annet Dekker to shape the commission, and this blog post is the first blob of thoughts on my research so far. It’s rough stuff, and a new type of work for me, but part of my commission is about sharing work in progress.

Here’s how the commission is described:

In 2014 Het Nieuwe Instituut launched New Archive Interpretations, a series of commissions for artists, designers and researchers to examine the influence and impact of the digital archive in relation to its analogue predecessor, the paper archive. Over a two-year period they investigate the challenges and opportunities of digital archives.

[From Annet’s introduction:] The primary focus in this research project is on looking at the invisible layers of digital archives, seeing archives as systems. We ask the artist, designer or ‘archive thinker’ not to build a new archive or analyse an existing archive, but to view archives as systems that are in a constant state of flux: some parts are largely invisible, and yet at the same time an archive symbolises monumentality, authority and can be found everywhere in this day and age.

I think it was as early as 2005, when I first began giving talks about my design work on Flickr, that I proclaimed an interest in organic information systems. We were all part of a huge information system, with photographs as nodes, which many separate humans were able to classify and organise. That folksonomic data system was supported by auto-generated metadata about the photograph and its (digital) camera too, which has only increased in volume and facet as cameras continue to improve. (See Tom Coates, Native to a Web of Data, 2006-2008.)

Sadly, I suspect the quality of description of photographs on Flickr has degraded considerably since the user interface has hidden the tagging and other annotation features almost completely in favour of “sit back” interfaces for browsing big photos. I can confirm that the quality of metadata on my photographs there has degraded to practically nothing.

Het Nieuwe Instituut

As I understand it, Het Nieuwe Instituut (HNI) is a 2013 amalgam of four separate institutions, including the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Annet asked me to do my research using the archive of the Rotterdam (and now global) architecture firm, MVRDV. MVRDV is transferring its archive to Het Nieuwe Instituut now-ish, and it’s the first major archive to be added to the HNI, which holds the collection of national architecture and built environment. The archive consists of primarily of digital materials. This commission is hoped to provide some prompts about working with born-digital stuff, and ongoing born-digital acquisition policy. (I was very sorry to miss an panel event at HNI about this acquisition, along with the Zaha Hadid archive! I wonder if it’s archived.)

I’m still learning about the firm, but the basics are: formed in 1993, three founders at the core, hundreds of projects, lots of design output, several manifesto releases, lots of blue foam modelling blocks, and many new buildings in the world. There’s a continuing theme of stacking and layering present in their work, across different scales. They’re also known as early pioneers of “datascapes,” and continue to push the boundaries in the way they animate their future plans with exceptional, beautiful digital design and affect, like this:



Field trip

In November, I went to meet HNI to discuss the commission outline with Annet, Arianne and Suzanne, the archivist who will be responsible for the MVRDV archive. From there, we all went to MVRDV to have a look around, and thank you very much to Jan K and Isabel P for being so welcoming and generous.

The head office is on a side street, and it’s a big old warehouse building that is light and open. Amusingly, the three directors are sequestered off in the smallest working space, since they’re out and about so much, and don’t really need big workspaces. The office is full of project displays, computers, blue foam models and colour.

The company keeps an archive downstairs, which we had a look around. It looks messy — as every good archive does — but the organisation slowly revealed itself…

The office is also designed to entertain clients, and show off previous work. The foyer places the visitor immediately amongst models and cases full of interesting colourful things. It’s fun and engaging.

Physical history traces

There was also a wall right there — and Jan had a name for it, something like “the highlight wall” — which was a grid of about 50 gorgeous images for those highlight projects. I became interested in how that wall was also an artefact of the company, and noticed that it changes over time, as new highlights are overlaid on top of older projects.


Preliminary thoughts, threads to pull

  • survey – expected results
  • project centric; output centric
  • 5% of projects built; lots of speculative design
  • what’s it like INSIDE the firm
  •  working at a small company, it’s all about the people
  • interesting to see now how they’re represented in the press – no formal archive of Flickr, as far as I know
  • inspired by Zoe Padgett’s work
  • BPMA – development of postal service written down
Archives are not particularly about object-level description; they’re often described through sets of things like boxes or folders.
  • dance – humans must be there
  • leila @ rambert
  • New Movement
  • how do we show people in an archive?
  • people, subjects in wellcome – 233,000, mostly old white guys
  • who worked there, when, what projects?
  • long term live performance?
  • “Getting to Good” Erika Hall
  • design of an archive – about the why, not the how?
  • what is the objective of this archive? if it’s to represent the output of the studio, then list of projects might do that. If it’s to represent the studio, then we need more.
  • what are the “rules and relationships” underlying the studio? that will make the archive endure
  • we can connect with multiple subjectivities now; we’re now in a worldwide dialogue
  • Ranganathan’s fifth law
  • MVRDV 93000 followers
  • People ID systems
  • Digital metadata is often very thin, and doesn’t feel especially deep. It’s been interesting to (finally) become an actual researcher of a few different cultural collections.
Things to think with:
Simone Forti, New Movement, Brecht on Theatre, Paper Knowledge, The Facilitated Collection, OMA/Progress catalogue, Archive or Memory? The Detritus of Live Performance, Library of Congress Architecture, Design & Engineering Drawings collection
Things to do:
Look more deeply into MVRDV online presence, visit RIBA, sketch some visual archive ideas?