The Waddesdon Bequest website

Towards the end of 2015 I helped create a website for The Waddesdon Bequest, a collection at the British Museum, with Good, Form & Spectacle.

(I’ve realised how behind I am with posting about work I’ve done, and so in the interests of having some record of it all, here we all are.)

The Waddesdon Bequest is a collection of nearly 300 objects left to the British Museum in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild. It’s all exhibited in a single glittering room and so makes for a nicely contained set of objects, and associated data compiled by the museum, to work with.

Screenshot of the home page

The foundations of the site are what we might, without diminishing their importance, think of as “The Basics”: a page per object (e.g., The Holy Thorn Reliquary), browsable lists of objects (e.g., all objects that include rubies), simple explanations, responsiveness. That kind of thing.

Beyond that, there are a number of things I particularly like about the finished site:

Representing the physical space

Part of the point of the website was to create something useful for visitors to the museum, not just those at their computers/phones who are curious. Consequently, it’s possible to view the objects according to where they are in the room, with a clickable map oriented according to how visitors enter. For example, here’s the case of objects a visitor sees when they enter the room.

Screenshot of the page for Case 3a

Often digital versions of physical things, such as exhibitions, seem like entirely separate experiences. I think it’s important to relate the two kinds of experience more closely. If you’ve been to the museum then this makes it easier to find information about something you remember seeing, because you can probably remember roughly where it was, or what it was near.

Representing the objects’ physicality

Another way in which we tried to bring the physical experience to the website was by making it easy to compare physical aspects of the objects. Thanks to the detailed data kept by the museum we were able to create lists of the objects ordered by size, height and weight.

Screenshot of the 'By Height' page

To help visualise the size of objects we created graphics that represent the three dimensions with a cuboid next to a graphic of a tennis ball. We chose this as a fairly internationally-recognisable object and it helps make clear the largeness or smallness of objects, which isn’t clear from their very detailed photographs.

For example, this Ram amulet is pretty small:

Screenshot of part of the Ram Amulet page

While this statue of St George and the Dragon is much larger:

Screenshot of part of the St George and the Dragon page

Showing everything

The museum keeps a huge amount of detailed data about every object and it was great to be able to make all that visible in clear and simple ways.

In addition the museum has very detailed photos of the objects, and some objects have been photographed a number of times over the years. We could have just shown nicely-sized versions of the very best photos. But why not show it all? So, if there are many photos of an object, you can see them all (e.g. the Holy Thorn Reliquary has 46). And for each photo you can zoom in very close which, given how intricate many of the objects are, can be fascinating.

Screenshot of part of the Holy Thorn Reliquary page

So there you go. A lovely little interesting project. The rest of the team was Good, Form & Spectacle’s George Oates and creative technologist Frankie Roberto.

Go and explore the collection and read more about the work on the Good, Form & Spectacle work diary.

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6 Feb 2017 at Twitter

  • 12:28pm: Londonist have stopped their daily News Roundups (e.g.…). Anyone know of an RSS-friendly replacement? It was handy.
  • 3:30am: This late night, “oh the [competition] is all over, the result’s certain, phew… … … wait, what?!” thing is getting repetitive.

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