18 incredible design museum trips

Design museums can be a fantastic 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 designers. 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 (after all, 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

MoMA has been called the most influential design museum 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.

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 department 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.

Reopened after a major refurbishment, the Cooper Hewitt mansion is currently home to a number of exhibitions including Process Lab: Citizen Design – an installation built to give visitors first-hand experiences with the activities designers use to solve problems and develop new ideas – and a collection looking at the history of radio.

03. Design Exchange, Toronto

Design museum: Design Exchange

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

Currently hosting an exhibition exploring how the natural world has increasingly become a source of design innovation, 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 in 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.

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 main 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. 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 – recently moved from the banks of the Thames to a new home in Kensington – has built a global reputation for its inspiring collections, which span all kinds of modern design.

Design Museum

Industrial design, 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&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 Studio Nand's Stephan Thiel. "The V&A's recent Arduino workshop for children is a particularly great example."

08. Bauhaus Archive, Berlin

Design museum: BA

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

The Bauhaus Archive 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.

A recent exhibition focused on the influence of the Frankfurt Art School and its relationship with the Bauhaus, while its current major exhibition, Bauhaus in Motion, offers you the opportunity to see some of the highlights of its collection before the museum is closed for construction work in 2018.

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 Archive 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

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 75,000 objects, 45,000 drawings and 125,000 images.

It's celebrating its 140th with a special exhibition

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 celebrating the centenary of Finnish independence with a completely renewed collections exhibition entitled Utopia Now - The Story of Finnish Design, focusing on the integral role of design in the evolution of the Finnish welfare state, with five themes illustrating the history of design through living stories.

Next page: 8 more must-see museums...

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.