Geffrye Museum

Never underestimate the power of a fridge magnet.

Last Friday, I went to the ACE Study Day ‘Aspects of Publishing: Guide and Souvenir Books’ at the Geffrye Museum. We’re in the process of redeveloping our guidebook at work, and it was interesting to see how other organisations and museums had come to their decisions about the kinds of books they produce, and who they are for.

It was great to hear people speak openly about what had and hadn’t worked in their institutions, and how they dealt with external factors, such as placement within their shops and ticketing areas, and the ways that staff help sell them as part of a visit. It was also interesting to hear people speak honestly about the tensions between commercial and curatorial needs within the institution, and the strategies for overcoming them. The title of this post comes from a response to a question about the needs of museum shops to ensure they make money while maintaining the voice of the institution.

The range of publications was wide, and raised a lot of questions about where we might go with our guidebook, what its function might be, and who it is for:

  • Does it need to act as a guide? Is its main function to help guide people around the exhibition and interpret the pieces on display? Does it need to contain a map? Is the intention that the book is used while at the centre?

Our current guidebook has a spread for each of our galleries, with key objects to see, as well as a map, and information about our other business activities, such as Education, Venue Hire and Weddings. We were shown examples of books which offered ‘A quick look’, and ‘containing 10 trails’, which were specifically intended to guide the visitor on the day.

  • Does it need to focus on the collection and exhibits? Should the book be specifically tied to aspects of the collection and the exhibits we have in the space, or should it be used to open up wider themes?

Prejudice and PrideIn the case of the Space Centre, could we use impressive images from Hubble or NASA’s archive to frame themes we address in the exhibition, rather than focusing on objects we hold or display? This potentially gives the guidebook a longer life, as the exhibition changes over time.

The National Trust recently published Prejudice and Pride, which celebrates and focuses on LGBTQ Heritage across the National Trust sites.

By focusing on a theme in the context of British heritage, the book is not a guide to a visit, but rather a resource that reflects on hidden or previously untold histories as part of a wider discourse on heritage, representation and visibility.

  • Who is it for? Should the guidebook be aimed at the reader who wants more in-depth information to supplement their experience at the centre? Should it be a visually led document that triggers memories and discussion about the visit? Is it aimed at all visitors, or targeted at a specific reader? Is it for kids?

Our current guidebook is a mix of all of the above, which over time (and with incremental changes) has become a tangle of information, voices and intention. One of the triggers for this new redevelopment has been the recognition that we need to focus the guidebook and ask who and what is it for.

  • Do we need more than one? Does it make sense to divide the guidebooks into separate smaller pieces which can appeal to different readers, uses and price-points?

100 PortraitsWe were shown great examples of institutions’ range of books, from text-heavy interpretations of the museum, to pocket-sized books selling at £5, to kids’ activity books, which were created in response to audiences needs.

A great example is the National Portrait Gallery’s 100 Portraits book, which is small (150mm x 150mm), image-focused paperback, and retails for £6.95. It sits within a range of other publications from the National Portrait Gallery and is the kind of thing that would make a great gift or souvenir.

As we approach our new guidebook, these questions will help us form our ideas and work out the best way forward. I’m hoping that eventually we will develop a range of books which enable us to tell our stories in different ways and appeal to different audiences with a credible and confident voice.

BSA Icons

BSA Scientist Top Trumps

I’ve just finished working on a set of Scientist Top Trumps for the British Science Association : Brighton and Hove Branch. They were launched on the 5 September, as part of the British Science Festival 2017, with different cards being placed in venues across the city, encouraging collectors to visit the different spaces and take part in the talks and activities there.

It’s been a really fun project to work on, and it was great to have the opportunity to work with the BSA. I really liked the diversity and range of scientists who were featured, and enjoyed reading their stories. The colours and fonts were chosen to fit the BSA branding guidelines, and I made an icon pattern for the back of the cards. The portraits were found on Wikipedia, with the background headers coming from stock, or public domain libraries.

Here are some of my favourites. If you’re out and about in Brighton, try to collect the set!



Eden: Journey into Space

Earlier this year, I worked with the Eden Project on their new summer holidays exhibition, Journey Into Space. The exhibition formed their summer programme, and included an Alien Encounter, Astronaut training, a Solar System Safari and a VR Theatre, alongside talks and activities.


The key areas we were involved in designing were the Solar System Safari, and the VR Theatre.

The Solar System Safari is a walkthrough exhibition which takes the visitor through the Solar System, starting from the Sun and returning to Earth at the end of the journey, via ten interlinked spaces. Each space in the exhibition uses elements of sculpture, lighting, audio and video to give the viewer an experiential view of the planet or Solar System object.

The process of working with the team at Eden involved collaborating (mostly remotely) to fix ideas, scope the needs of the individual rooms and to design the piece to make a coherent journey. It was important that each room gave the viewer a different experience, and that the story of returning to Earth was key to the exhibit.

Our initial process involved using Mural to throw together visual ideas and inspirations. The advantage of using Mural, especially in remote meetings was the potential to update live and add new elements as they were discussed. From this early collaboration, we were able to map out the space, and to begin to design the elements of each space.

I mapped out the space in Sketchup, which allowed us to get a real sense of the space, and to begin to work out the sizes and technical needs for the projections, as well as the set elements.

Eden Sketches

Sketchup designs of the Solar Safari exhibit

Our team at NSC Creative was responsible for creating the media elements for the exhibition, which included an animated Sun, volcanoes on Venus, a Pepper’s Ghost projection of Saturn, and a five screen animation of the Earth as seen from the ISS.

On-site install.

In early July, Kyle and me headed down to Eden to spend a week installing the media and helping to get the exhibition ready for opening.

The Solar Safari is built on the stage area of Eden, a temporary exhibit space which is used for Eden Sessions, holiday exhibits and special events. This meant that the exhibition was installed in a week, from start to finish! There was a large team working throughout the day to build, install, troubleshoot and tidy the space. The atmosphere was great, and the team was fantastic.

It was great to see the exhibit forming around us, and to be involved in such a concentrated burst of activity.

It’s been an honour to work on such a large and fun project, and to spend time working with the team at Eden. It’s been great to see people’s reactions to the project too!