George Oates: Making and Remaking Collections Online

Excited to let you know that the work I’ve done at G,F&S has made its way into academia.


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:

Visiting Researchers, ahoy!

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.