George Oates is a web designer, producer and developer who has been working with digital collections since 2003. She was one the founding team of Flickr, and the originator of Flickr Commons. She currently heads heritage design studio Good, Form & Spectacle, working with institutions including the British Museum, the Wellcome Library and the V&A. In this interview with Mitchell Whitelaw, Oates discusses her developing practice in making and remaking digital collections, spanning web-scale services, unsolicited interfaces, messy metadata and gentle interventions in institutional practice.
Oates, G. & Whitelaw, M., (2018). George Oates: Making and Remaking Collections Online. Open Library of Humanities. 4(1), p.32. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.325
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.
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.
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.