Design Museum presents product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. Founded in 1989, it claims to be the first museum of modern design. In 2007, the museum was listed by The Times newspaper as number two in their top five museums of the year. The museum attracts 200,000 visitors annually.
Unlike most large London museums, the entrance is not free, as it is not subsidised by the UK Arts Council. For this reason it operates as a registered charity, and all funds generated by ticket sales aid the museum in putting new exhibitions together. On the first floor of the museum there is the Blue Print Café, which is one of Terence Conran’s many restaurants. It boasts impressive views of the River Thames and Tower Bridge.
The museum is currently housed in a former 1940s banana warehouse. The conversion of the edifice altered it beyond recognition to resemble a building in the international modernist style of the 1930s.
The conversion of the building was funded by many companies, designers and benefactors. The museum was principally designed by the Conran group, with exhibitions over two floors, and a “Design Museum Tank” exhibition space out by the water front. A large scale sculpture titled “Head of Invention” by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi was installed in the area between the museum and the Thames. In June 2011, Conran donated £17.5 million to enable the museum to move from the warehouse to a larger new site at the former Commonwealth Institute in west London. The museum plans to transfer there by 2014.
The small size of the museum means that all the exhibitions change frequently. The first floor houses the main attraction of the museum as it provides the biggest space. Previous exhibitions here include a retrospective of Peter Saville’s Graphic Design, Manolo Blahnik’s Shoe Design and the History of Video Games.
The ground floor is the foyer of the museum, which consists of the admissions desk, Design Museum shop and Design Museum café, as well as the only toilets in the building. These toilets were designed by Australian product designer Marc Newson, and are viewed as an attraction by some tourists.
On the mezzanine floor between the first and second floors is Design Museum Space. It is not generally accessible to the public and it is primarily used for Design Museum talks, which are lectures on design/designers, or hired out for events such as weddings or business conferences. It has a rather jarring shade of light blue, as the theme of the space is supposed to be “the swimming pool”.
The second floor is normally split into two subsections, a larger space towards the windows/river with a smaller walled off space at the back. A semi-permanent exhibition on historic design is generally at the front, which is usually themed for coherency – such as different decades of design. The rear of this floor houses a private room called the “Education Centre” which is where the Education Department of the museum teach children, who are taken to the museum for a school visit, in workshops.
Brit Insurance Designs of the Year is the Design Museum’s annual exploration of the most innovative, interesting and forward-looking designs produced over the last twelve months from around the world and celebrated in seven categories: architecture, transport, graphics, interactive, product, furniture and fashion.
A number of internationally respected design experts are invited to nominate up to five projects, each of which, in their view, represents the best or the most interesting designs produced or launched in the last year. A judging panel made up of renowned design experts decide the best entries in the seven categories, with Individual category award-winners announced in February to then go forward to compete to be the Brit Insurance Designer of the Year, which is announced at an Awards Dinner in March.