Life Online, designed by the NRN Design, is a gallery to explore the social, technological and cultural impact of the Internet. This permanent gallery traces the history of the Internet, looking at how it has changed people's lives and tracking the latest trends online.
The gallery covers two spaces within the National Media Museum; a permanent exhibition on the ground floor and a changing temporary exhibition space on level 7.
The permanent exhibition tracks the history of the Internet, from the first experimental messages to the rise of modern social networking. A range of interactives explore the story of the Internet, whilst a timeline of objects showcases the evolution of Internet and computing technology.
Lead Designer Roy Crone of NRN Design brought together a creative team, including Graphic Designer Rachael Lightowler and Creative Narrator Andy Spence of Netmonkeys, to work with the Museum's exhibition team headed by Joe Brook. The name Life Online was agreed at the early stages and the gallery identity developed around it. This informed the design of the built environment, most noticeably in the use of the forward slash in various components from angles of walls to the construction details.
The design team's intention from the outset was for visitors to both view and interact with the content and therefore the space must provide a calm, neutral environment to allow visitors to self-navigate through the space. The design is very much a journey, but it was also recognised that different visitors move through the space at different speeds with contrasting objectives. The alignment and positioning of walls, interactives and object displays gently help to move people through the space. A common visual language for section panels, display heights and interactives was also set, but contrasting against bespoke, tailored design for specific content. The floor was levelled through, taking the opportunity to form an object display trench depicting a time line of personal computers from the 1970s to the modern day.
Freestanding displays were designed, fitting between the planar glazing structures of the glass cladding to the front of the museum and although each fixture is bespoke, each element is visually linked allowing the format to exhibit various AVs, touch screen interactives, graphics and projections. The use of materials throughout the space is clean, simple, timeless and robust. With a white backdrop, black and white glass surfaces with stainless steel trims and large format charcoal floor tiles, the space allows the content and colours therein to come to the foreground. RGBA LEDs have been used within sections of the gallery to colour-code to the mood of the content, with associated artwork by Chris Kemm.
Interactive terminals allowing access to content from the Internet were positioned below large-scale overhead projection units, the Cloud Browsers, allowing the visitor to immerse themselves in a rich multi-media content archive and browse the web. This design allows the content to be projected onto screens above visitors' heads whilst the structure provides shade from unwanted daylight. The content represents a mix of an ever growing collection of video, images and pages from web sites around the world, plus articles written in-house by the museum's curators.
Manchester-based NetMonkeys were chosen to develop the Cloud Browser software, and whilst the system is bespoke, it is written upon standard components which may be easily amended in the future and can be easily transferred to another museum or similar environment. The system "learns" what content is the most popular and over time presents this with higher priority. The intention is to develop the Cloud Browser software to be accessed from the web in due course - so millions of people around the world will be able to enjoy the unique and informative system.
Dublin-based Martello Media devised the software for six of the interactives in the gallery, with keynote installations being Destroy The Network, where multiple players to attempt to slash the connections in increasingly-complicated networks, HTML Builder, introducing users to the language of the web, and Online Privacy, which explores how much information we give away on the Internet. The development process included multiple rounds of audience research testing, to make sure the key messages were being communicated effectively.
The area towards the end of the gallery is designed to be flexible and evolve through the 10 year life span of the space. Development of how we access the Internet, on what equipment, and the social development and impact that has on society will be exhibited in this space, which will run in parallel with the temporary exhibitions in the gallery space on Level 7, exploring individual topics in greater detail.