London’s new Design Museum sees 100,000 visitors already

The new Design Museum has seen 100,000 visitors through its doors since opening, strong progress towards a project 650,000 in its first year. Read – and see – what it has to offer in our visual tour of the new museum.

It’s been a successful opening month for the Design Museum, which has seen more than 100,000 visitors through its doors since November 24.

This shows strong progress toward the museum’s goal of reaching 650,000 visitors in its first year of opening, and stark contrast to the Shad Thames figures between 200,000 and 250,000 annually. Local shops and businesses also confirm an increase in footfall and sales on Kensington High Street. 

The museum’s exhibition programme for 2017 includes displays on designing for our ageing population, the unbuilt architecture of Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s and a landmark exhibition exploring the counterculture of California.

We took a look at what the new museum has to offer the day before it opened to the public.

Moving from the former banana-ripening warehouse in Shad Thames to Kensington High Street has been an expensive one – around £83 million in fact. But with the financial support from the Adopt an Object campaign and Time for Design auction, the museum was able to move into the former Commonwealth Institute building near the entrance to Holland Park.

The new site triples the museum size to 10,000sqm, with a capacity increase to 650,000 people per year. It holds two temporary gallery spaces, a free permanent collection display, learning spaces, an auditorium and more. The move has been dubbed by founder Sir Terence Conran as “the most important moment” of his career in design so far.

The move has been a lengthy process. Selection of the project design team (in charge of the museum’s relocation) began five years ago. John Pawson led the design team alongside OMA, who were responsible for the overall plan, in conjunction with Allies and Morrison in charge of the refurbishment of the museum’s exterior. A two-day punk exhibition in June marked the official close of the former site, where the museum first began in 1989.

The Design Museum hopes a central and large location will help influence public response and appreciation for design – much like the Tate did for modern art. Shifting the Design Museum to Kensington brings it alongside the cultural quarter of the V&A museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Royal College of Art.

To mark the opening weekend, John Pawson will give a must-see talk on Friday November 25 when the museum will stay open until 8pm. Workshops, performances and a live game show will be held throughout the Saturday and Sunday.


The exterior of the Design Museum has been made to resemble the original blue skin of the building, with matching mullions and a fritted pattern of printed dots.

The interior design is the first major public work of John Dawson, famed for his simple spaces and refined use of materials.

His style is evident walking into the lobby. Natural light and Italian terrazzo flooring is immediately apparent. The initial concrete floors were removed and the roof propped on a temporary steel structure 20m high, which has now been replaced with double glazed skin to improve insulation and sunlight.

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Warm-toned Dinsesen oak flooring and wall panels have been used on the upper floors. 

The museum’s interior design is immensely impressive and communal, although it's slightly disappointing that each exhibition feels hidden away in corners of the building. The initial sense of overwhelming open space seems well, a waste of space. However in the future we hope the space will be used for showcasing design.

The neutral toning of the interior design will cater to the mainstream, even if considered a little clinical and lifeless, or too immaculate for a creative space.

The basement floor: This year’s Beazley Designs of the Year nominees is the first use of the temporary gallery space.

The ground floor: houses the second temporary gallery space - the current exhibition being Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World – as well as a café and gift shop.

The first floor: Where the learning centre, library and archives are situated, along with studios and a common room.

The top floor: houses the permanent free collection, Designer Maker User, the residency studio, Helene and Johannes Huth Gallery, a restaurant overlooking the park and the members lounge.

Permanent Free Design Gallery: Designer Maker User 

 The Designer Maker User exhibition looks into the development of modern design through the three interconnected roles.

The ‘designer’ section explores how the thought process of a designer informs projects small and large and the ‘maker’ section traces the evolution of manufacturing on everyday objects and notable designs. The ‘user’ section explores the interaction between people and brands that have come to define the modern world.

Almost 1000 items of twentieth and twenty-first century design are included - from design disciplines architecture and engineering, digital, fashion and graphics.

As part of this free exhibition, the museum invited the public to suggest the most important objects to them through online submissions. These are displayed on a crowd-sourced wall. There are 200 objects in total.

Stand out pieces include Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert’s British road system between 1957 and 1967. Before their unified system each council produced signs according to their own criteria, using words rather than images.

Kinneir and Calvert started introducing their signs on the new M1 motorway, and then went on to redesign Britain’s entire road sign system.

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Harry Beck’s 1920s original map of the London Underground propsed a radical new approach to helping travellers understand the system.

Beck drew on his experience of designing electrical circuits, and his resulting plan is considered a simplified drawing, or diagram, rather than a map.

The diagram is absolutely genius and well worthy of being featured in this permanent collection.

We thought these epic logos hanging from the roof was a nice touch.

Temporary Design Gallery: Beazley Designs of the Year

One of the temporary design gallery spaces can be found on the basement level of the museum. It currently holds 2016’s Beazley Designs of the Year.

The nominees have designed an impressive range of products in areas such as architecture, digital, fashion, graphics and transport. We’ve written a list of our favourites, such as David Bowie’s album cover, first aid kits for refugees and the Dreamland Margate amusement park.

Now in it’s ninth year, the competition celebrates design that brings about change. This year’s design will be on display for a small fee. Check out ticket prices here.

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Stand-out nominees include the Unicode Blackstar symbol for David Bowie’s most recent and last album, Blackstar.

Designed using open source elements, it became open sourced itself following Bowie’ death enabling fans to engage, interact and use it.

The goal behind these Adidas running shoes was to up-cycle ocean plastic debris in partnership with Parley for the Oceans.

This particular shoe design created from illegal deep-sea gillnets and recycled ocean plastic.

The Gogro Smartscooter uses swappable batteries. Developed to drive the transition from fossil fuels to electricity in cities, the Gogro Energy Network is a modular battery-swapping system. It allows everyday commuters access portable energy through battery vending machines.

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Temporary Design Gallery: Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World

Eleven new installations of newly commissioned works are on display from November 24 until April 23 on the ground floor of the museum. They explore a wide range of current societal issues such as networked sexuality, sentient robots and settled nomads.

The exhibition was curated to show how design is "deeply connected to urgent underlying issues". It aims to establish the Design Museum as the home of design debate.

Click on the link above to find out ticket prices.

OMA’s Pan-Eurpoean Living Room is one installation.

It's furnished with a piece of design from each of the 28 EU member states. The installation proposes that even domestic interior has been shaped by an ideal of European cooperation and trade. Taking centrepiece is a vertical blind in the form of the OMA-designed barcode flag for the EU.

These death masks, called 'Vespers', use HD 3D printing. Designed by architect and professor Neri Oxman in collaboration with the Mediated Matter Group, the pieces revive an ancient ritual object traditionally made using wax or plaster. The pieces have been designed for The New Ancient collection by 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys.

The installation speculates on how wearable accessories might help to transform us at the end of our lives.

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Christien Meindertsma’s installation Fibre Market showcases the lost value of 1000 discarded woollen sweaters, turning their fibres into colourful yet confronting mounds. There is currently almost no culture of textile recycling.

Pittsburgh-based designer Madeline Gannon is behind this 1200kg industrial robot called Mimus. Mimus is able to send and respond to human presence near her enclosure – scary!

The robot explores fear and anxieties surrounding the relationship between robotics and humans.

Designers in Residence 2016: Open

This programme is in its ninth year and continues to be a core part of the museum. Designers in Residence exists to provide emerging designers across any discipline with time and space away from their regular routine to research new ways of developing their practise.

This year’s designers in residence will present installations that explore human behaviour, collaborative construction, local suppliers and food. The residents are Alix Bizet, Clementine Blakmore, Andrea de Chirico and Rain Wu.

 The theme for 2016 is simply ‘open’ – aptly chosen to mark the opening of the new Design Museum.

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The Making of the Design Museum

The atrium mezzanine level showcases photographs by Koto Bolofo, documenting the conversion of the former Commonwealth Institute into the new Design Museum.

 Over four years Koto visited the site 40 times. The 15 photographs on display represent 15 days in the building’s transformation.

Gift Shop

And of course, it wouldn’t be a museum without an epic gift shop. Check out these cork stools.

We spotted these at Designjunction earlier in the year, when artists like Jon Burgerman and Anthony Burrill decorated the stools to raise money for Movement on the Ground – a foundation that supports refugees.

Get your hands on one of these books to put on your coffee table.

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