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By Charlotte Howard on

Developing interactives

Discover what goes on behind the scenes as we create new interactive exhibits for our new exhibition, Switched On: 100 years of broadcast innovation.

This year we’re celebrating the BBC turning 100 years old with a special temporary exhibition, Switched On: 100 years of broadcast innovation.

Switched On is filled with many broadcasting stories spanning the last 100 years. The stories are presented in a variety of ways, including object displays, interactives, videos, images, commissioned films and soundscapes.

Interactives are popular with visitors as they offer something hands-on to do and being actively involved makes the stories in the exhibition more memorable. This blog is a case study of how we developed three of our new interactives.

You on TV

One of the main themes in Switched On explores improvements in technology which make the viewing experience better for audiences. This interactive, named ‘You on TV’, shows how picture quality has improved over time from 30 blurry vertical lines in the 1930s to colour in the 1960s and then the HD of today. A webcam allows visitors to see themselves inside four televisions in varying picture quality.

White man with a beard and glasses presses a button to operate an interactive exhibit.
Senior Maintenance Exhibition Technician Ben Haith views himself in 30 lines in August 2022.

The interactive was developed by Senior Maintenance Exhibition Technician Ben Haith and was built using Unity, a game development tool. The television effects were created using shaders, computer programs that calculate light, dark and colour values on a screen and can be used to manipulate them. Ben created shaders for each of the technologies we wanted to show to the audience.

Screengrab of a web of data in a computer program
A shader ‘graph’ used to create the effect of seeing an image on a 405 line black and white television.

To be able to slide from one screen output to another, Ben created a digital room with 3D-modelled televisions spaced around the outside and a virtual camera in the centre. When the program receives an input from a button, the camera rotates to the next television and code tells the screen to activate.

Screengrab of game development software modelling historic TV sets
The digital 3D room with the virtual camera located in the centre. Below is a view of what the camera ‘sees’ and outputs to the screen.

The televisions are modelled on objects in our collection. Initally the idea was just to show the televison screen element, but during development it became clear that it would make more sense (and be more interesting) to also include the surrounding television model it would have been viewed on. We were really happy with this inclusion as it allows us to represent more of the collection on gallery.

Testing early prototypes is an important part of development to ensure the usability and functionality of the final interactive. The program went through a few iterations where we improved the positioning of the screens, the placement of the descriptions and other tweaks to make the experience as polished as possible.

Laptop screen showing computer model of old TV screen displaying a webcam feed of a woman waving
Interpretation Developer Charlotte Howard tests the webcam function at home in April 2022.

Mixing Sound

This interactive forms part of a story about how the iconic Doctor Who theme tune was created at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop back in the 1960s. The premise is based on taking an original sound and manipulating it to make a new sound.

Woman adjust the controls on a tape deck while a man in a suit looks on
Electronic music composer Delia Derbyshire creating new sounds on tape in the Radiophonic workshop, 1965.

Exhibition Maintenance Technician Jamie Proctor created a touch-screen interactive to demonstrate this idea. He selected a sound on and used Logic Pro X, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), to alter the original sound to be reversed, sped up and slowed down.

Screenshot of a video editing program; the screen is titled 'mixing sound' and has buttons with options to create effects
To create the audio wave effect, video editing program DaVinci Resolve and a plugin called reactor were used to analyse the audio file and output a reactive frequency graph.

Subtitling and Audio Description

This interactive (developed in collaboration with ITV) focuses on access services in television. Visitors can have a go at learning how to subtitle or audio describe television programmes of varying difficulties. Once we had worked out the content and messaging, we hired an external interactives company, Blynk, to make our plans a reality.

Two white men sit in booths with video screens wearing headphones
Maintenance Technicians Ben Haith and Jamie Proctor testing the functionality of the subtitling and audio description interactive.
Two yellow booths with video screen and three coloured push buttons
An early concept of what the interactive could have looked like and the inner workings. All the controls and wiring fit inside the recess of the tabletop below the buttons

Blynk provided us with two options for how the main screen could look. We preferred the retro television surround as it links to the content and was more likely to draw visitors in to have a look.

We paused at several points to double check the workflow and language used, tweaking each instruction so they didn’t rely on the previous page. To give more context we filmed an introduction with a professional explaining how they do their job for each activity. A skip button was added to this to give visitors more control in their experience.

Graphic of 6 1970s-style television sets showing different text and images
Workflow for the audio part of the interactive.

Buttons, buttons and more buttons

We spent more time thinking about buttons than I thought we would on this project. Which type is the best fit for the interactive and visitors? Big, small, round, flat, circular, square, colour, plastic, metal? Does it need text inside or should the button be lit up?

In the end, we used a variety for different purposes. Larger interactives (You on TV and Subtitling and Audio Description) got big round colourful lit-up buttons that are satisfying to press and very robust – so they can take a few hits! All reset buttons are small, white and flat with the word ‘reset’ printed inside. Setting the reset button back slightly from the large colourful activity buttons means it’s less likely to be hit by accident and wipe your progress.
There’s much more to see and do in the exhibition, so visit and try these interactives for yourself. The exhibition is free and open until January 2023.
Find out more about Broadcast 100 on our website.

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