Black and white image showing a scene from a living room with old stove and chair

Design Council Archive: Things In Their Home Setting – detail of a living room. Screenshot from Jane Stevenson, ‘Machine Learning with Archive Collections’, Archives Hub Blog, 28 Feb 2022.

The Design Archives is contributing to an innovative project run by our longstanding partner, the Archives Hub, to investigate the potential of Machine Learning and the photographic platform IIIF for its operations.  

Our relationship with the Hub, which delivers our catalogue descriptions to the Hub’s web portal and via our own microsite, continues to provide a platform for innovative content-driven research, such as the AHRC funded project Exploring British Design. Now, we are one of several partners contributing large volumes of images for the Hub to use to ‘teach’ its new machine learning technology, which, as Hub director Jane Stevenson describes, is simply a computer program that takes data and spits out a prediction. 

The Design Archives has contributed thousands of images from several collections, including a large body of newly scanned and previously unseen glass plate negatives from the Design Council Archive. Machine learning is being used to recognise and analyse visual content in photographs, with the potential to connect similar content, where such similarities may not have been identified in catalogue descriptions, or indeed where no catalogue descriptions or identifying data exists. Another project stream looks at how machine learning can extract text from documents – including visual communication such as posters, as well as hand-written letters or typed documents – to help make them more discoverable by creating tags, or additional searchable metadata. 

The project is also experimenting with IIIF (international Interoperability Interface Framework), a ‘set of open standards for delivering high-quality, attributed digital objects online at scale’. IIIF improves viewer interaction, allowing, for example, closer focus on images, and has the potential to allow users to prioritize digitally available content in their searches, or compare images from different collections side by side.   

As well as benefiting the Design Archives sharing of content with our own communities, the outcomes of this project will be applied to the Archives Hub for the benefit of over 300 institutions whose data it hosts, and their vast worldwide community of users. 

Read more about the project here: