At the National Railway Museum Vision 2025 projects are well underway, and Wonderlab is developing at a fast pace. Set to open Spring 2023, Wonderlab is an interactive gallery that gets visitors thinking like engineers as they explore the inspiring creativity of engineering. The gallery will be filled with interactive exhibits exploring different engineering concepts and related scientific phenomena.
Over the last few months, the concepts for exhibits have been workshopped and progressed with our exhibit developers, creating sketches and 3D drawings to begin to make our ideas a reality. We have now reached a pivotal point in the project where concepts are becoming practical, testable prototypes.
To make sure all new Wonderlab exhibits are as engaging and accessible as possible, we will test them in a process called ‘prototyping’: visitors will have the chance to try out early versions of new exhibits being developed for the gallery.
The prototyping process is led by our Audience Research and Advocacy team: audience research is essential in creating galleries, exhibits and experiences that deliver desired key messages and learning outcomes. The Science Museum Group has a long history of undertaking research and evaluation, and prototyping was a core element of the development of Wonderlab galleries in London and Bradford. Even London Wonderlab’s predecessor gallery, Launchpad, was developed with a rigorous research and development team in the 1980s.
When we prototype, we are learning from the visitor’s experience with the exhibit, identifying any barriers to engagement, and highlighting changes which can be made to improve the exhibit before it goes into the final gallery.
Prototyping is vital to ensure exhibits are appealing and engaging for those who will use them. In addition, our colleagues, and the exhibit developers we work with, no longer behave like general museum visitors—prototyping allows us to see how someone without the inside knowledge of the gallery, and what it intends to achieve, use the exhibits.
Wonderlab’s target audience is 7–14-year-olds, so getting school groups to test our prototype exhibits will be important in providing effective and exciting experiences.
At the National Railway Museum, we have a dedicated space for prototyping up on the workshop balcony. We have made the space comfortable and inviting for any visitors that get involved. Alongside a Wonderlab moodboard and some house plants, we have a relaxed seated area where visitors will chat about the exhibits they have interacted with.
We were very excited to welcome our first Wonderlab prototypes to the National Railway Museum at the end of October. Local exhibit developers Unusual Projects who are working on the Wonderlab gallery delivered to us three interactive exhibits.
Floating in Copper is an exhibit that gets visitors to move a magnet along a copper tube and see the magnet inside ‘float’ due to the seemingly magical force of eddy currents. We have been testing the strength of the magnet, and visitors’ interest in the exhibit.
Wheels on Track is an interactive that allows visitors to test different wheel profiles to see which shape works best on the track. We have been testing to see how easy or challenging it is for visitors to find the right wheel profile to succeed.
Lastly, Ferrofluid is a magnetic fluid that moves when visitors change the strength and distance of magnets. We have been testing to see whether visitors find it awe inspiring.
We plan to engage with schools in the local community by inviting them to come and get involved with prototyping.
And you can get involved too.
Prototyping will be happening over the next year, so there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to make an impact on the developing gallery. Prototyping will be taking place on the Balcony at NRM, and Wonderlab Audience Researcher Law Parkin will be recruiting visitors on gallery to come up to the space and test.
If you’re interested in getting involved, come down to NRM and ask at the front desk. If prototyping is taking place during your visit, our visitor experience team will be able to point you in the right direction. We are looking forward to a rigorous and thorough prototyping period and can’t wait to see you test Wonderlab exhibits out.