Museum? “Exhibit” or “Gallery” would be more honest

A few years ago I visited the Design Museum, just down from Tower Bridge in London. It was, as you might expect, a museum dedicated to design. It dealt largely with product design, though there was some content about architectural and graphic design, too.

As you might expect of a museum largely dedicated to product design, there were lots of products which were considered iconic or interesting in their design. I can’t remember the specifics (it was many years ago), but I do recall an original Apple iMac, a Dyson vacuum cleaner, a bit about the Mini, and so on. What I particularly liked was that the chairs that were dotted around for visitors to sit on each also had a descriptive tag tied to it – they were part of the exhibit too.

Fast forward to last week. We went to London for the day, and decided to visit the Design Museum – largely based on those memories of my previous visit. What a let down! It cost £8.50 each to get in (so £17 for the two of us), and the “museum” part that I’d so enjoyed was gone entirely. Instead there was one large exhibit about design in London through the ages, which was interesting but very text-heavy, and a couple of smaller exhibitions: one showing daring architectural models (though only a couple of the designs actually seemed to have been built), and one showing the work of Javier Mariscal.

The latter, however, looked largely like a super-fan’s bedroom. Just walls of merchandise and comic books, and hundreds of drawings hanging from the ceiling of the entrance. There was little explanation or description, making it hard to follow any specific themes or development in his work. One wall, in particular, was just filled with hundreds of products themed around the Cobi mascot he designed for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. That was it: just a wall of products all themed with the same mascot.

We didn’t spend as long as we perhaps should have in the first exhibit, because we thought we would be eating into time for visiting the “real” part of the museum – but we didn’t exactly rush it either. We spent probably about 45 minutes in there – then found the other two exhibits to be so poor that we had finished the whole “museum” in less than an hour. Definitely not worth £17!

Don’t let this post stop you from visiting the Design Museum if you really want to… just make sure you know exactly what it is you’re going to see, so that you can decide if it’s worth the price. Based on my recent visit I think the name is misleading: I wouldn’t really consider it to be a “museum” anymore, at least not by most people’s common definition. Perhaps it’s time to rename it to the “Design Gallery” or “Design Exhibit”.