18 incredible design museum trips you must make

From New York to São Paulo to Singapore, these world-class design museum institutions will give you enough inspiration for a lifetime of creativity.

The design museum can be a great source of inspiration, and the great cities of the world are packed with incredible examples to get your creative juices flowing.

And museums don't have to be exclusively dedicated to design to be useful for the designer. Whether it's a collection of conceptual art or vintage posters that sparks a fresh idea, a series of events or workshops that bring the local creative community together, or even the architecture; many museums are famous buildings in themselves. In this article we've gathered together the best design museum collection featuring institutions from around the world - how many have you visited?

01. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Design museum MoMa

New York's MoMa has been called the most influential design museum of modern art in the world

New York's Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA) boasts a prominent collection that encompasses art, design, architecture, sculpture, photography, illustration and more.

Paola Antonelli does some excellent work curating design shows

Exhibitions at the design museum have covered topics such as 50 years of Helvetica, contemporary Dutch design and the Bauhaus movement.

Design museum MoMa store

It's worth visiting this design museum just for the store

Stephan Thiel, interface designer for Berlin-based Studio Nand, is a big fan of the museum, which is located in midtown Manhattan. "MoMa's senior curator Paola Antonelli does some excellent work curating design shows, and positioning the museum as an 'R&D departments of society' as she puts it," he says.

02. Cooper-Hewitt, New York

Design museum Smithsonian

The Cooper-Hewitt design museum is dedicated to historical and contemporary design

As an American institution, the Smithsonian is vast, comprising no fewer than 19 museums in total, two of which are in NYC. As the National Design Museum, the Cooper–Hewitt is the only one in the United States dedicated to historical and contemporary design, and the home of the National Design Awards.

The mansion housing the main collection is under refurbishment, but Cooper-Hewitt exhibitions are touring the country instead. Graphic Design: Now in Production explores some of the most exciting contemporary genres in the field since 2000, incorporating magazine design, posters, branding, type design and more. Currently in Houston, Texas, it hits North Carolina in October.

03. Design Exchange, Toronto

Design museum Design Exchange

The Design Exchange featured a show from Stefan Sagmeister earlier this year

Currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to iconic French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, the Design Exchange is Canada's most important design museum. Based in downtown Toronto in the city's old Stock Exchange, its rich program of events included graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show at the start of 2013.

That these lighter and deeper conversations can happen around design is a true luxury

Vanessa Eckstein, creative director of Toronto-based Blok Design, recently participated in a series of talks on the topic of happiness: "To have the DX, where these lighter and deeper conversations can happen around design in everyday life in our city, is a true luxury," she enthuses. Permanent collections span over five decades of industrial design, including furniture, textiles and electronics.

04. Gallery of Australian Design, Canberra

Design museum GAD

The Gallery of Australian Design museum hosts design events of national significance

Based in the Australian capital of Canberra, in between the rather more established creative hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the Gallery of Australian Design (GAD) hosts design events of national significance, which in 2011 included a major exhibition as part of the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA)'s poster biennale.

GAD design museum has run initiatives such as Remedy - a showcase of promising graduates in architecture, graphic design, industrial design and more - and also Young.Hot.Canberra, which elevates the city's exciting homegrown talent.

05. Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo

Design museum MAM

Brazil's Museu de Arte Moderna design museum centres on work from the second half of the 20th century

Built in 1948, Brazil's most significant design museum is modelled on MoMA in New York, and even sports a similar acronym: MAM. "Some important exhibitions and biennials happen there," reports São Paulo-based graphic designer Cristiano Siqueira.

The museum is a quiet and beautiful place

Most of the collections centre on the work of Brazilian artists from the mid-20th century onwards, and MAM also manages a well-stocked design library.

"It's a quiet and beautiful place," smiles Siqueira. Earlier in 2013, the museum collaborated with the Centre Pompidou in Paris on Crossed Circuits, which explored the fascinating relationship between styles and cultures on different sides of the Atlantic.

06. Design Museum, London

Design museum Design Museum

London's Design Museum has quickly built up a global reputation

Although it was only founded in 1989, London's Design Museum - just down the river from the iconic landmark of Tower Bridge, in a converted banana warehouse - has built a global reputation for its inspiring collections, which span all kinds of modern design.

Design Museum

Product/industrial design, fashion, architecture and graphic design are all featured at the Design Museum

This includes product/industrial design, fashion, architecture and of course graphic design. Past exhibitions have been dedicated to iconic figures such as Wim Crouwel, Terence Conran, Paul Smith, Alan Aldridge, and Alan Fletcher.

The museum also runs its annual Brit Insurance Designs of the Year competition to reward the most innovative and game-changing examples of design from the past 12 months.

07. The V&A, London

Design museum V amp A

Everything from Victorian art to 1980s fashion is exhibited at this design museum

The world's largest design museum of decorative arts and design, the V&A was founded in 1852 in honour of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The millions of items in its permanent collections span 5,000 years of art, while temporary exhibitions have covered illustration, sculpture, photography and more - with recent shows dedicated to David Bowie and 1980s London fashion.

Museums like this function as a hub for exchange

"I like how UK museums like this function as a hub for exchange," enthuses Stephan Thiel. "The V&A's recent Arduino workshop for children is a particularly great example."

08. Bauhaus Archives, Berlin

Design museum BA

A recent exhibition at this design museum chronicled the history of typography

The Bauhaus Archives design museum boasts an incredible piece of architecture in its own right - fittingly designed by Walter Gropius, founder of the hugely influential Bauhaus school of architecture, art and design. Within its holdings are inspirational examples from all of the above fields and more, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and models.

Recent interactive exhibition ON–TYPE: Texts on Typography chronicled the history of typography over the past century, while visitors in November will be treated to a no-doubt fascinating exploration of Herbert Bayer's graphic design in Germany between 1928–1938.

09. Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein

Design museum Vitra

The Frank Gehry-designed design museum is worth a visit in its own right

Although Stephan Thiel at Studio Nand laments that the level of engagement with the public through programmes and participatory events in German museums isn't quite on a par with the likes of MoMA or the V&A, he believes Vitra and the aforementioned Bauhaus Archives do his country proud as "a place for exchange, hands-on exploration and curated shows".

A place for exchange, hands-on exploration and curated shows

Vitra is housed in a strikingly modern Frank Gehry-designed building that opened just days before the Berlin Wall fell, in Weil am Rhein, a German town on the border between France, Germany and Switzerland. The musueum largely focuses on product design, but temporary exhibitions have to-date included everything from architecture and sculpture to topics such as pop art, contemporary Dutch design and the art of reduction.

10. Design Museum, Helsinki

Design museum Finland

Finland's Design Museum is one of the world's oldest

Celebrating its 140th anniversary in 2013, Finland's Design Museum is one of the oldest of its kind in the world (although predated by London's V&A). Its vast collection takes in industrial design, fashion and graphic design, and includes over 75,000 objects, 40,000 drawings and 100,000 images.

It's celebrating its 140th with a special exhibition

Besides holding (and touring) exhibitions on design history and other relevant topics, the museum also conducts research into Finnish design. It's currently marking its anniversary year with a special exhibition charting 140 years of design history, which runs until the end of September.

11. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Design museum Stedelijk

A striking new modern wing of the Stedelijk design museum opened in September 2012

"When I am looking for inspiration I tend to avoid design museums: it's like being a chocolate addict swimming in a bowl of chocolate," grins Liza Enebeis, creative director at Rotterdam-based Studio Dumbar. "I need to keep some distance, or I'll drown in it."

It makes you look at a design with a different perspective

Nevertheless, Enebeis can pick out one particular favourite in her native Netherlands: the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, founded in 1874 but with a striking new modern wing opening in September 2012.

"Placing design in a museum context and then next to a contemporary art collection makes you look at a design with a different perspective," she argues. "The clash or marriage is equally reflected in the building itself. These contrasts make it very inspiring for me."

12. Design Museum, Copenhagen

Design museum Denmark

Denmark's largest design museum covers a range of design disciplines

Founded in 1890, Denmark's largest design museum spans applied arts across the country and Scandinavia in general. Of particular interest to graphic designers will be its standing collections of designs for labels, packaging, record sleeves and book jackets, as well as an impressive collection of poster art, covering commercial, political and more entertainment-focused applications for film, theatre and more.

The museum is currently running a special exhibition dedicated to post-war British textile design, while recent shows have included album covers, Danish design, and inspiring retrospectives of various fashion and furniture designers.

13. Museum of the Image, Breda

Design museum Breda

A recent exhibition looked at the middle ground between fashion and graphic design

Based in Breda, The Netherlands, the Museum of the Image (MOTI) was formerly known as the Graphic Design Museum, but has since broadened its horizons to become "the leading authority on visual culture", encompassing film, design, photography, fashion, visual arts, architecture, science and gaming too.

Its permanent installation, entitled 100 Years of Dutch Graphic Design, is supplemented by a range of temporary and touring exhibitions, which recently included Couture Graphique - looking at the middle ground between fashion and graphic design. Past topics have covered branding, typography and all other aspects of graphic communication.

14. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris

Design museum MNAM

The Musée National d'Art Moderne design museum is part of the visually stunning Centre Pompidou complex

It goes without saying that the French capital has more than its fair share of incredible art and design museum buildings where designers can soak up inspiration - the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Galerie Design Museum being two such examples, covering applied art (from textiles to advertising) and industrial design respectively.

But there are few better places than the Musée National d'Art Moderne, part of the Centre Pompidou complex in all its ultra-modern architectural splendour. With almost 100,000 items in total, its collection of modern and contemporary art is second only to MoMA in New York. Currently on show is an exhibition about pop art master Roy Lichtenstein; in October 2012 it hosted the launch of iconic design studio M/M Paris' new monograph.

15. ArtScience Museum, Singapore

Design museum Singapore

The ArtScience Museum is currently hosting a photography exhibition by National Geographic

According to Felix Ng, creative director at local design studio Anonymous, Singapore's brand new ArtScience Museum is a real source of creative inspiration. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the design museum opened in early 2011 and is shaped like a lotus flower.

Its architecture is an iconic Singapore landmark

"Its architecture is already an iconic Singapore landmark," explains Ng, who draws attention to a recent Essential Eames retrospective as a particular highlight. "It has huge potential to curate more successful design-centred exhibitions," he adds.

16. National Media Museum, Bradford

Bradford's National Media Museum has three cinemas, including the UK's first IMAX

Bradford might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of design, but the UNESCO City of Film is the place to go for a visit to what aims to be the best museum in the world for inspiring people to learn about, engage with and create media. Originally known as the National Muesum of Photography, Film and Television, the now more snappily-titled National Media Museum is home over 3.5 million items of historical significance, and looks after the National Photography, National Cinematography, National Television and National New Media Collections.

Spread over eight floors, the museum features eight floors of permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions, as well as the UK's first IMAX theatre and two other cinemas showing a varied film programme.

17. HR Giger Museum

The picturesque Swiss village of Gruyères is a brilliantly unlikely setting for Giger's biomechanical creations

Iconic Swiss artist HR Giger died recently, but his work lives on at his very own museum. The HR Giger Museum came about after Giger held a 1990 retrospective of his work at the Château de Gruyères in Switzerland, and fell in love with the region. A few years later he bought the Château St. Germain in Gruyères and opened the HR Giger Museum there in 1998. It features an extensive collection of his artwork from different creative periods, including most of his film designs. And if you fancy a drink while you're there, it's also home to a Giger Bar, themed and modelled in his trademark biomechanical style. Cheers!

18. Museum of Design, Zürich

If you can't make it to Zurich's Museum of Design, visit its eMuseum instead

Part of the Zurich University of the Arts, the Museum of Design in Zurich features four extensive collections centred around posters, graphics, design and applied art. Since 1875 it's been collecting posters, graphic design and objects that represent both day-to-day design and more high-end design culture. Later this year the museum's opening a new location, the Schauepot, in the west of Zurich, where it'll hold all its collections under one roof. It's marking this with an exhibition entitled 100 Years of Swiss Design, featuring over 800 objects from its collection celebrating the best of modern Swiss design.

The museum also has its own eMuseum where you can browse its exhibits online, so if you can't get to Zurich to see the current exhibition of Wolfgang Weingart's groundbreaking modern typography, you can look through a selection of his work here instead.

Have we missed your favourite design museum off our list? Let us know about it in the comments below!


Nick Carson is editor of Computer Arts magazine.