Inside a New Museum (Part 1): Digging Into Data

George Oates
M+ Labs
Published in
6 min readAug 6, 2019

In part one of ‘Inside a New Museum’, designer George Oates writes about her two-week data residency at M+ along with developer Dan Catt. Read part two here.

Lara Day and I first met in 2015 at Museums and the Web Asia, just after she’d joined the M+ crew as the founding member of the museum’s digital team. It was lovely to hear from her again when she was visiting London a few months back, and we got together to discuss me doing a residency at M+ through my agency Good, Form & Spectacle (G,F&S). We decided on a two-week placement in the M+ offices, in the fantastically named Cyberport in Hong Kong. I was also joined by Dan Catt, a lovely engineer colleague and friend from our days together at Flickr.

The M+ digital team — which has since grown in size — are making all the right moves as they look towards the opening of the new museum building in Hong Kong: working in public, releasing their catalogue metadata under a CC0 license, providing a public API to access it, running hackathons, making great online content, and generally being birds of a feather with other museums around the world doing forward-thinking digital work. Our residency with the team culminated in Dan and I coaching attendees of the museum’s second Hackathon, celebrating the second version of the public API and more data therein.

G,F&S specialises in these sorts of commissions, where we are brought into a cultural institution to investigate its metadata quickly, productively, and roughly. We are interested in the formation of metadata to describe collections, and in representing that knowledge visually and interactively. Through this work, we’ve found that new insights into the structure and organisation of a museum’s collection becomes possible. We’re able to show the collection as an interactive whole, instead of it being locked up inside a hard software interface that expects either record-by-record enquiry, or a report-style interrogation — neither of which allows you to wander through the collection, and discover its shape. The basic outcome of this work is called a spelunker, a functional but rough web offering to allow exploration and wandering, and hopefully seeing the metadata with fresh eyes.

A New Museum for the World!

M+ is a rare bird. It was created in 2012, has a growing collection of twentieth and twenty-first century visual culture, and is currently building its new home on Victoria Harbour in the heart of…

George Oates
M+ Labs

Designer interested in what Museum means. Loitering with intent. Director of @goodformand, CEO of @_museuminabox, thinking out loud at @thesmallmuseum.