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Tips for entrants

Page history last edited by Mia 14 years, 8 months ago

Alison Boyle, our Curator of Astronomy & Modern Physics, has written the following tips for entrants.



We will be judging entries on

  • Use of collections data
  • Creativity
  • Accessibility
  • User experience
  • Ease of deployment and maintenance


We’re hoping we’ll get lots of very different entries. We’re open to anything, and keen to be surprised. And if you want to use our data to create something for a specialist purpose, you’re welcome. But if you want a shot at winning one of those £1000 prizes, here are some tips on what’s likely to work best for our audiences.


Use a wide range and variety of objects.

You don’t have to include every single object if you can’t find a way to fit them all in. But we’d like the website to reflect the rich range of objects in our collection – we’ve got everything from a 10cm long timekeeping instrument dating from 600BCE to a 2.5m bit of gravitational wave experimental apparatus from 2009, and there’s a mix of serious science and popular culture.


So try to include a reasonable number of objects of different types, and cover a wide historical range. Or, include all of the objects in some basic interface, and then choose a selection to get more adventurous with.


Combine storytelling with searchability.

Our visitors tend to approach objects in two ways: they’re either following a story and encountering objects as they go, or they are browsing between objects (often looking for a specific object). So it’s good to allow them to experience both.


For the browsers, familiar interfaces such as timelines, maps, categories or people lists are a useful way for them to get an overview of the range of stuff on offer. Of course, even if these are familiar ways for people to understand content, the actual interface you create for them could look really different to anything else out there.


It’s the storytelling that really tends to hook people in, and help them encounter new objects. In our galleries and websites, we’ve found over and over again that visitors like to feel stories are relevant to them. That doesn’t mean an object has to have some direct application to people’s everyday lives (it can be a bit tricky with the cutting-edge cosmology stuff); you could pick up on wider aspects such as big questions about where we all come from, or tell the personal stories of the people who’ve made and used the objects.


Remember who the website is for.

Whether you’re designing for adults or the 11-16 age range, your website needs to be appropriate for our audiences. Most of our visitors are not experts in astronomy or its history so try and avoid using jargon, and don’t assume prior knowledge.


Our audiences are keen to learn, but they want to have fun while they’re doing it, so the website experience should offer a lot more than reading a textbook or manual. Make the most of the beautiful object images we’ve provided, and include as much interactivity as possible.


If you’re entering the 11-16 competition, it never hurts to ensure that your content is appropriate to the UK’s national curriculum http://curriculum.qcda.gov.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/index.aspx, although you don’t need to be strictly bound by this (the curriculum is fairly light on astronomy, and the website will be seen by people all over the world).


The website needs to be easy to use and navigate – you’ll find some tips here

http://cosmiccollections.pbworks.com/About-Science-Museum-online-audiences .


You’ll get a good idea of the way we pitch the content and look & feel of our websites from checking out some of the object-rich websites we’ve built over the last few years. But only use them as guidelines for language, or for ideas about interactivity – we don’t want something that replicates any of these. The point of the Cosmic Collections competition is for you to be creative and make something that’s personal to you – and possibly come up with ideas we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves. (Also, these sites took years of work from big museum teams, so you’d probably go mad trying to do something similar in under a month).


Brought to Life


Our new history of medicine website.


Making the Modern World


Science and invention from the 18th century to today, based on one of our flagship galleries.

[Mia's note: a fairly old site, technically]




Stories woven around objects from the collections of our family of museums.

[Mia's note: again, a fairly old site, technicallyCurator, Astronomy & Modern Physics]


Make it easy for us.

We are a small and very busy team. So the easier you make it for us to integrate your website into the Science Museum site, and maintain it for the next few years, the more we will like you.


For that reason, we'll ask for rights to update your code as necessary.  We're more than happy to negotiate about any other licenses - get in touch if you have any specific questions.

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