Project: Chrome browser extension
Role: Co-creator, experimental design, product development
The V&A museum covers 12.5 acres, has 145 galleries, and a collection that spans 5,000 years of art across Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. There's a potentially overwhelming amount of objects to see, yet it's relatively easy to explore and discover items in the physical space, simply by wandering around, following signs or gravitating towards places where other people have clustered.
The same is not true of the digital space however — with such a huge archive to explore, where do you start? If you don't have a specific search term or topic in mind, how do you discover new items, the most uncommon, and the most unexpected?
In collaboration with fellow designer Gala Jover, a concept was developed for a tab-based Chrome extension which would retrieve an object from the V&A collection at random and display a new item, each time you open a new tab. No need for searching, nor even to depart from your usual desktop routine — objects would be placed in front of you without any input at all.
With a few tweaks and some reading of the API docs, we were soon able to bring back an artist name and date too.
Seeing a new image with each new tab was exciting, yet not intrusive, because it didn't interrupt the regular flow of using the browser– it didn't slow the opening of a tab and whatever came up was dismissed as soon as we entered a URL into the address bar, as per usual. Most importantly, as we’d hoped, we were consistently discovering new and unexpected items from the collection. There were a few things lacking though—
In our second version we addressed these issues through code, and at the same time began to develop the visual design—
Cole has been live on the Chrome Webstore for nearly 2 years and in this time we gathered lots of feedback. Where version 1 was delivering everything we’d hoped for our MVP —
Version 1 also provided us with feedback from users, suggesting some clear improvement opportunities for Version 2, among which —
These key points formed the basis of our approach to the re-design...
From early in its life, the development of Cole has been very kindly supported by the digital team at the V&A, who have provided us with feedback and tips on using the API, as well as blogging about the extension.
This exposure has helped build attention on social media and extend reach beyond our immediate circle to art curators and historians. We've also been approached by other arts institutes to talk about developing similar ideas to help discovery within their own collections.
Cole is still helping us discover great objects every day, especially as the V&A actively updates the collections online, with exciting initiatives such as the museum's Rapid Response collection adding modern and politically-relevant items into the selection.