In 2018, the product development team will begin defining requirements for an updated collections search tool. Currently, there are 2,335,338 records available, which represent more than 4,000,000 objects. 1,018,471 records includes one or more images. I have a hypothesis that this search tool is not used just by academics and researchers. But instead, everyone who has an interest in the collection probably uses this tool for information discovery. I can imagine though that the records are not written in a way that is accessible to the majority of the public.


The British Museum serves many different audiences, so the expectations for a potential search query, like the Rosetta Stone, would likely be equally varied. How should a search tool prioritise the results for these audiences? Who defines the prioritisation in the backend? Instead of relying solely on assumptions and in-depth user research into the motivations around using a search function (though very important!), I believe that context can play a vital role in determining the search results for a potential query, as well as providing the foundation for image discovery in the future.


Below are a few sketches laying out my thinking. I think that if a search tool could understand the context around the search query, then the tool could prioritise the results in a much more useful way. Maybe I am a tourist looking up the Rosetta Stone because I can’t seem to locate it inside the Museum. Or maybe I am a teacher looking for online resources from the Museum on the Rosetta Stone for an upcoming lesson. If the tool could look at some factors like browser history, time of day, location, calendar, or even biometric information, the search tool could make intelligent predictions as to what the search query is before the user even begins to ask the question.


This level of thinking is aligned with one of our principles for digital experiences at the British Museum: Users should complete what they came to do, as quickly and effectively as possible. When users use a BM digital product, they find what they are looking for and complete their tasks.