Digital Culture – Selis
We recently caught up for a chat with client, polymath and all round digital enthusiast, Malcolm Sutherland. His company, Selis, are consultants to the cultural sector, working with organisations to create compelling digital solutions that are robust, elegant and technologically sophisticated, and that will engage, expand and monetise audiences. The depth of Malcolm’s knowledge and his enthusiasm for the arts, his work and the potential for digital technologies to educate and inspire is phenomenal and evident in Selis’ award winning work with the V&A.
The V&A Digital Map, designed to help visitors plan their trip and navigate their ways around this famously complex building, won the 2014 Museums and Heritage Innovations Award. While the map is optimised for tablet, it also works on desktops and most mobiles, and provides visitors with a simple and enjoyable interface to explore the V&A digitally. It shows practical information, including details on accessibility and facilities like cafes, shops and toilets, and provides schedules for what’s on today at the museum. You can even discover some of the treasures in the V&As collection by navigating to the room they are displayed in.
Driven by Az Mohammed and the digital media team at the V&A, the map had to be created from scratch to ensure accuracy, and include data on the eccentricities of a building where you need to know in advance which staircase to take to get to a particular destination. It also needed to leverage the V&A’s open APIs to pull in information about the collections. The result is a living model of the museum with a lot of potential for future development including routing options based on a user’s needs, real-time location based services and location analytics.
Media Rich Magazines
Modern Theatre in 100 Plays is a companion iPad app for the V&A’s Theatre and Performance collection that takes the form of a media rich digital magazine and explores the history of British theatre since 1945. The scholarly research of Dr Kate Dorney and Frances Grey, which won the David Bradby TaPRA Research Prize, is illustrated with the photographic archives of Douglas Jeffrey, audio recordings with actors, directors and designers, original cast lists and first night reviews from The Guardian and Telegraph.
The aim was to raise the status of one of the museum’s least known collections, to leverage the extensive knowledge of the curators and use the wealth of content available in the V&A and elsewhere to make something that was visually engaging and encouraged the user to explore. Content creation was the largest challenge, but also under consideration was how to make something that looked good enough to bear the name ‘V&A’ that would come in under the file size limitations dictated by the delivery mechanism. In the end the decision was taken to use a platform call MagPlus, rather than develop a proprietary solution. Even so, the depth of work meant the project took just over two years to go from the visual prototyping stage to completion.
So what next for Selis?
“I love projects that really engage this passion I have for digital as an enabler. There’s something great about being able to take on these things and wrestle with them and build something that is both of value and beauty. There is a bigger narrative there than just the commercial, although that is important.”
It was clear from our conversation that Malcolm is truly excited by the future of digital technologies in the cultural sector and always looking out for the next big project that will help Selis to explore the boundaries of what is possible. We spoke about location based services as having potential to enhance a user’s visit to a museum or gallery, as well as helping the organisation to understand their audiences’ interests and requirements in a way that would both help them to improve their exhibits and collections and build a viable commercial structure that will help our cultural institutions to survive and thrive in the future.
We also talked about things that seemed like real blue sky thinking, but that Malcolm insists are perfectly possible and not far over the horizon. He can see a day when you could not only turn up to a museum and have your phone suggest an itinerary for you based on what you’ve previously seen, the time you have to spend, the amount of walking you want to do and whether or not you have children with you or would like a cup of tea part way through your visit; but that you could also arrive in a city with a day to spare and an interest in seeing a particular exhibition, and have your device suggest other establishments, collections and displays within a geographical area that would enhance that experience.