The Design Museum opened in 1989 in a converted banana warehouse overlooking the Thames, with a focus on design from the 20th century onwards. The Design Museum covers the evolution of design over a broad spectrum, with exhibitions that are changed around every four months. These rotations include exhibitions dedicated to particular designers such as Kenneth Grange or Terence Conran as well as exhibitions that focus on a particular era or type of consumer good.

The Design Museum Collection is made up of over 2000 objects ranging from the early Modernism of the 1900s to innovative contemporary design. The collection includes an exhaustive range of items which tell the history of design of mass produced items including furniture, lighting, domestic appliances and communications technology. It is an important account of the key designs which have shaped the modern world. 

At time of writing, there was an exhibition, This is Design, consisting of objects from the museum’s permanent collection. There were sections on the evolution of the chair and the UK road sign system; there were items of communications technology, fashion items and an iconic red telephone booth dating back to 1936.

The museum is keen to emphasise that over time, definitions of design keep shifting and here, the life cycle of electrical goods serves as a good example. In the 1950s, a typewriter or film camera were understood as lifetime purchases, whereas nowadays, the life cycle of electrical goods is substantially shorter. As a result, ideas of sustainability and re-usability are considerations that must now be incorporated into the design process. There is a focus directed on digitisation and the profound period of change this has brought to the Design world. 

The Design Museum holds an annual Designers in Residence programme which provides a platform for young designers to exhibit their work. At time of writing, the Designers in Residence programme was based on the brief In pursuit of Imperfection where finalists were asked to consider how imperfections can actually enhance an object, environment or experience. 

The Design Museum is a fun, interactive environment which will interest a wide range of people. Whilst its current exhibiting space is on the small side, the museum is planning to relocate in 2014 to the Grade II listed former Commonwealth Institute at London’s Kensington High Street. This is three times the size and would contain a purpose-built permanent gallery.

Design MuseumSarah Brooks reviews the Design Museum in London.3