On Wednesday March 8th, Augment will be presenting at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas about the use of augmented reality in museums and cultural heritage institutions. The talk, “Bringing History to Life with Augmented Reality”, will take a look 3D digitisation in museums and how augmented reality can give these digital artefacts a life beyond the confines of their physical home.

Since you already know about Augment, we want you to get to know Thomas Flynn, our co-presenter, and his extensive work in this space. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Tell us about yourself.

Thomas Flynn PhotoI’m a designer, maker, content producer, and co-founder of Museum in a Box Ltd.

I’ve helped several museums share their collections in 3D including the British Museum, Horniman Museum and Cuming Museum in the UK, as well as The National Museum of Antiquities in the Netherlands.

As a digital designer in the British Museum, I designed web and video content and also tried to update some of the ways the museum’s collections is shared online (I introduced the institution to Soundcloud to host their audio, for example).

One of the (many) cool things about working at the museum is that you are able to visit some of the galleries before opening hours – imagine having the entire Egyptian gallery all to yourself! 

At about the same time, I started hearing about Sketchfab and 123D Catch. The ability to capture an object in 3D with your digital camera  amazed me and I started visiting the museum earlier and earlier before office hours experimenting with the software. The ability to capture and share 3D scanned objects online seemed like a perfect fit for a museum so I began making demo pages to share with the wider digital team – this eventually grew into the Museum’s first official (and downloadable!) online 3D collection.

SketchFab British Museum

Since then I’ve been scanning things in (and out) of  museums both as a hobby as well as professionally. Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve also been training other museum professionals in the skills they need to make 3D scans  as well.

How do you feel that innovation has grown in museum institutions?

I think museums are innovating all the time, both visibly on-site & online as well as behind the scenes

Due to cuts to public funding in the UK, museums are being called upon more and more to ‘prove their worth’ through visitor numbers or visible public interaction. 

Innovation is a way for museums — especially smaller institutions, which suffer much more heavily from funding cuts — to stand out from their peers and have their collections and museum-related work recognised by as wide an audience as possible.

The status of being known as an ‘innovative museum’ seems to be of value too — just look at all the ‘labs’, ‘lates’ and ‘resident artists/designers/game makers’ that museums around the world are hosting.

What we think of as innovation might simply be museums fulfilling their potential in new ways, showing that they’re so much more than a building full of historical artefacts.

Are museums losing to the internet?

I don’t think the two things are in competition with one another — the advent of the internet made it possible to share information quicker and more easily than ever before, and museums are all about sharing knowledge.

The premise to this question seems to stem from a comparison of a museum as a physical place vs. the museum as a digital space —and sometimes the two don’t mesh together seamlessly. While clever tech can grab headlines and help promote an exhibition, there’s also a growing trend of skepticism from museum staff towards the idea of a ‘digital cure all’ — that some things just don’t require tech in the mix.

One of my favourite museum experiences is the museum handling table: a knowledgeable staff member invites you to hold real ancient artefacts and then helps you uncover their story through good ol’ human conversation. Not a smartphone in sight!

There’s plenty of room for improving experience and offering experiences both on-site and online but just because I can search the entire collection of the British Museum on my smartphone at home (even in 3D) doesn’t mean I don’t also want make the trip to the iconic building on Great Russell Street to see these objects in real life.

Maybe we should stop concentrating on putting the internet (read ‘digital’) inside museums and instead concentrate on leveraging its awesome potential to project engaging museum experiences to remote and hard to reach communities.


Follow Thomas on Twitter @nebulousflynn and come by our talk at SXSWedu to hear more. Continue reading with Part 2 of our interview with Tom: