The magic number: three design studios team up to create a 'Wonderlab' in Bradford

'Wonderlab' neon sign.
’Wonderlab’ launches at Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum.
(Image credit: Luke Hayes)

Bradford's newly renamed National Science and Media Museum has been going through a metamorphosis of late, sparked by the shedding of its previous title, the 'National Media Museum', earlier this year. The change came after the museum controversially lost its 400,000-strong Royal Photographic Society photography collection to the V&A, prompting it to make a dedicated move into the sciences.

The museum has embraced the shift in focus – as proven by its new £1.8m Wonderlab gallery. The dynamic space, aimed at children, explores the science of light and sound through state-of-the-art exhibits. Visitors will be able to see an array of mindbending, interactive treats, including live performances and world firsts.

Take Japanese artist Akinori Goto's 3D-printed zoetrope installation. When static, it is a mysterious hollow drum, but at the touch of a button, blades of light beam onto the spinning zoetrope to reveal human figures that multiply and dance (to the gleeful joy of children standing nearby).

An exhibit at Wonderlab, called 'Can you hear through your teeth?'

An exhibit at Wonderlab, called 'Can you hear through your teeth?'

(Image credit: press)

In total, 22 exhibits (including an anti-gravity mirror and a musical laser tunnel) compete for attention in the gallery. Designing a space to hold them all was no mean feat. The task was taken on by three British design firms – Michael Grubb Studio (which took care of lighting), Ab Rogers (3D design) and LucienneRoberts+ (2D design, gallery identity and art direction).

David Shaw of LucienneRoberts+ was the project lead. 'We all wanted the space to feel both exciting and sophisticated. It is dominated by dark, intense blues punctuated by small amounts of very bright colour,' he explains. The space emits a futuristic aura; it's a hive of genuine scientific activity, reflecting the museum's renewed focus on education and discovery.

Unlike a stuffy, clinical science lab, kids are encouraged to explore freely – nothing is behind Perspex or off-limits. 'It has to appeal to both children and their parents and carers,' Shaw says. 'We were determined not to talk down to children, and to be as inclusive as possible.' To achieve this, the typography is clean and unfussy while the illustrations – courtesy of Adam Boardman, whose work is inspired by graphic novels – depict visitors of all ages, races and abilities.

Apparently, three is not necessarily a crowd when it comes to design. The studios worked collaboratively to pull off the wide-ranging project. 'From the start we shared an idea of how the gallery should feel,' Shaw says. 'We talked about it as akin to visiting Piccadilly Circus for the first time — being excited by the mysterious streets and bright, colourful signs. There was a shared ambition and belief that we could achieve something fresh and special.'

'Can you make the biggest splash?' and exhibit at Wonderlab

'Can you make the biggest splash?' encourages visitors to create volume and frequencies, in the form of sound waves, to disturb the water surface

(Image credit: press)

UV light room at Wonderlab

'Move the pieces and create a face' investigates the electromagnetic spectrum in the UV room

(Image credit: press)

A view of 'Wonderlab' from the gallery's entrance

A view of 'Wonderlab' from the gallery's entrance, including 'Science on a Sphere' - a 6ft globe that offers viewers a closer look at the surface of the sun

(Image credit: press)

'What colours are the parrots?' - parrot shapes in changing UV lights

'What colours are the parrots?' explores ultraviolet light, and why you can see its glowing effects but not the light itself, in the UV room

(Image credit: press)


For more information, visit the LucienneRoberts+ website, the Ab Rogers website, the Michael Grubb Studio website and the Wonderlab website


National Science and Media Museum 

Little Horton Lane 

Bradford BD1 1NQ


Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.