Located in the heart of Kensington’s world-renowned cultural district, the Design Museum is one of Europe’s most innovative and critically acclaimed institutions. This constantly evolving museum is home to a remarkable array of cultural artifacts collected from across the world of design; it features striking works of architecture, fashion, graphic design, furniture, and much, much more. The Design Museum is also famous for the quality of its ever-rotating temporary exhibitions.
History of the Design Museum
The Design Museum was founded in 1989 by Sir Terence Conran, the venerable designer responsible in part for the establishment of the Boilerhouse exhibition space at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum’s first home was in a former banana warehouse in the Shad Thames area of London. It soon developed a reputation for cutting-edge shows and attention-grabbing exhibitions; as a result, within two decades of its opening plans were already being drawn up in order to create a new, larger museum.
In the fall of 2016, the Design Museum moved into its current home in Kensington, not far from the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2018, the European Museum Forum awarded the Design Museum its coveted European Museum of the Year Award, cementing its status as one of the most forward-looking cultural institutions in all of London and beyond.
Design Museum Highlights
The permanent collection of the Design Museum contains all manner of mass-produced items that have influenced the course of modern life from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Since this collection has been built in such a way as to try and encompass all aspects of design, it features pieces from the worlds of fashion, furniture, architecture, transportation, and graphic design, just to name a few.
The Design Museum’s impressive collection is on display throughout its permanent exhibition, Designer Maker User. Within the eclectic galleries of Designer Maker User, you’ll encounter approximately 1,000 design items from throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century; notable entries include such diverse objects as historic British road signs, robotic arms, Olivetti typewriters, vintage Vespas, and a whole lot more. Many of these items are presented at various stages of their design and development in order to underscore the creativity and labor that went into their production.
The Design Museum is perhaps best known for the buzz-worthy temporary exhibitions it stages. These exhibits are always coming and going, so what’s showing will depend entirely on when you visit. Still, for some context, recent popular temporary exhibitions have included REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion, an Alexander McQueen-sponsored show celebrating the leading role London plays in modern global fashion; Amy: Beyond the Stage, a collection of notebooks, clothes, guitars, and more that once belonged to the late great Amy Winehouse; and Football: Designing the Beautiful Game, which explored how design has shaped the world’s most beloved sport, namely through the creation of iconic jerseys and groundbreaking stadiums recognized across the planet.
More to See and Do at the Design Museum
No matter when you have the opportunity to visit, there’s always guaranteed to be something new and different taking place at the Design Museum. Continue reading for more things to see and do at this acclaimed institution.
*The Design Museum is home to not one, not two, but three distinct shops: High Street Shop, Atrium Shop, and Gallery Shop. Be advised that each one of these stores has its own set of hours; regardless which store you choose to shop in first, you’ll find a terrific selection of gifts, souvenirs, books, prints, clothing, accessories, homeware, and all manner of items pertaining to the museum’s many special exhibits.
*The Design Museum’s calendar of events is full of informative talks, educational courses, and arts workshops. From programs that permit participants to screen-print their own tote bag or tea towel to fascinating lectures by renowned public intellectuals like Owen Hatherley, you never know what noteworthy event might be taking place when you’re scheduled to visit the attraction. For the most up-to-date information, check out the Design Museum’s official website in advance of your trip.
*For those individuals interested in enjoying a meal or drink during their visit, there are two dining options located at the Design Museum. The Design Kitchen is on the attraction’s second floor, occupying a Matthew Williamson-designed lounge space overlooking nearby Holland Park; it serves breakfast, lunch, light snacks, and wine by the glass or bottle. The ground-floor Design Café has grab-and-go coffee, snacks, and dessert options.
*There are several complimentary wheelchairs available for use at the Design Museum. Individuals desiring to use one of these wheelchairs should contact the attraction via phone or email at least 24 hours before their visit to make a free reservation.
Why the Design Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List
The European Museum of the Year Award is seen in many quarters as the most prestigious award a European museum can receive; the Design Museum won this tremendous honor just a half-decade ago, and in the intervening years its stature has only grown as it continues to stage headline-grabbing shows and exhibitions. If your taste in museums runs toward the eclectic, or you’re already planning on being in the Kensington area to experience nearby attractions like Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, and the Science Museum, you’ll regret not making time to explore the Design Museum.