Google Web Lab

Bringing the internet to life through physical interaction experiments

A year-long exhibition at London's Science Museum exploring the magic of the modern web

"Museums worldwide struggle with trying to understand how the digital can expand their reach to engage a wider and more diverse audience. Web Lab offers the possibility of making the online experience integral, not secondary. It offers new opportunities for richer experiences online and physical spaces that expand beyond the walls of the museum"—Jason Holley quoted in Dezeen

Created in collaboration with Google Creative Lab, our sister studio Map, interaction designers Tellart, digital agency B-Reel and graphic designers Bibliothéque we created an immersive and inherently optimistic setting; a place of enthusiasm for testing and experimentation that referenced the hands-on and no-nonsense feel of a laboratory.

Google Web Lab existed between the online and physical worlds and throughout the year-long exhibition, museum guests collaborated with millions of online guests on a series of ‘experiments’ designed to explain how the internet works, and inspire a sense of wonder at how its underlying technology allows us to explore, create and communicate with each other in new ways.

The design approach focused equally on the physical experience of the space as well as the online experience, creating new architecture and design archetypes in the process. Using these various tools, we were able to deconstruct the internet’s complex technology and make its inner workings visible for all to see and show how digital and physical realms are connected. These new archetypes separated the users from their familiarity with the objects and allowed experimentation and play to be foregrounded.

Interview: Matt Cottam, Founder of Tellart in-conversation with Jason Holley

Making and testing was the main driver of the design in this exhibition. We worked in close collaboration with a diverse range of disciplines, embracing a circular process of make, test, improve to develop the design. All of the interactive pieces were prototyped from the outset, becoming a living experiment.

The experiments took apart the workings of Google’s then new browser, Chrome, and let users learn through active engagement with particular aspects of it. For example, teleportation stations live-streamed 360-degree footage from various places across the globe; ‘Universal Orchestra’ was an eight-piece instrument array that let online and offline guests create music together; ‘Sketchbots’ was a robotic system that transformed digital photos of guests into sand drawings; and an interactive map let users visually trace origins of images across the Web. Specially created ‘Lab Tag’ cards gave guests an opportunity to record and share their experiences while controlling their own data. The ‘Lab Tag Connector's’ large-scale glass wall served as an introduction to the exhibition, showing museum guests the scale of the exhibition’s online participation and creating a sense of social presence between digital and onsite guests.

In order for online visitors to easily interpret the space, architectural planes are clearly and directly articulated. The ground plane maps out the territory as a graphic surface, providing an additional narrative layer to the exhibition, creates zoning and flow of movement, and adds a supportive description of each experiment’s function. The ceiling plane consists of a bright yellow steel grid delivering the network of cables that service the experiments and articulates the physicality of the web, illustrating its data flow. A secondary skin of semi-transparent wire mesh lines the walls of the museum gallery, blurring the distinction between the existing building and the new installation.

Google's Web Lab experiments are going strong with 5 million visitors —The Next Web