21 design museums around the globe

Maya Lekach

Whether you’re a tourist abroad or a tourist-for-the-day in your own town, it’s important to remember that if you take a look around, there is almost always something around to inspire your design.

Design museums are an awesome place to start. Whether you’re looking to see the works of the greats, your contemporaries, or get involved in a local community, these beacons of art and culture will spark your creativity. And who knows, maybe some day soon your work will be hanging on their venerable walls.

1. Moravian Gallery (Brno, Czech Republic)

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Marius Corradini

The Moravian Gallery is the second largest art museum in the Czech Republic, and is host to the International Graphic Design Biennale Brno. It even has a collection of art for the blind if you want to get experimental!

2. Moderna Museet (Stockholm, Sweden)

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My Monster by Niki de Saint Phalle

The Modern Museum in Sweden houses only work from the 20th century and after. With a permanent exhibition including works from stalwarts like Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso, the museum is proudly modern and excited to display the transition from modern art to the contemporary technological visual landscape.

3. Trienalle di Milano (Milan, Italy)

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from the Senza Pericolo! exhibit

In the heart of Italy’s fashion capital, the Trienalle di Milano has been hosting exhibits in fashion, industrial, decorative and graphic arts sine 1923. It has since become a mirror to the artistic culture of design in Italy.

4. Museum of Decorative Arts (Prague, Czech Republic)

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The Museum of Decorative Arts is well aware that visual crafts other than those deemed fine art are still significant cultural forces and important artifacts. On site are posters and typography from both the Czech Republic and around the world, exploring the design behind the everyday.

5. Bauhaus Archive Museum for Design (Berlin, Germany)

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Joost Schmidt poster design for Bauhaus Chess

The Bauhaus School of Design was always more than just an art school. The Bauhaus manifest states that “art alone is not able to be taught” – Instead they sought to teach art through its many mediums; like architecture, industrial design, handicrafts, etc…

They have continued to be a huge influence on the graphic design styles of the West from the 20th century, continuing right up until today. The museum brings you a dose of history as well as a taste of the present in one of the artsiest cities in Europe.

6. The Design Museum (London, England)

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The Design Museum London houses the collection of Peter Saville designs, including this one for New Order’s album cover for Power, Corruption and Lies

If London is good at one thing, it’s museums (see Tate Modern and British Museum for references). Not only are they free, but they also contain some of the best collections from such a wide variety of artistic and historical periods.

The Design Museum London was built to inspire creative thinking and problem solving, so as to bring international design trends toward a more sustainable and innovative future. Exhibits include the entire works of master graphic designer Peter Saville (see above) and book covers from publishing house Penguin Books, among so much more.

7. Museum of Craft and Design (San Francisco, USA)

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The design museum obviously needs to have a sweet typographic logo

The museum closest to our home here in the 99designs SF office, is the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design. Located in the Design District (read: lots of warehouses and near the freeway), this museum offers San Francisco tourists and locals a chance to interact with, create, and view contemporary breakthroughs in arts and crafts. The museum’s distinct purpose is to invite creativity in young and old, for design and crafts in all mediums.

8. Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (New York, USA)

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Talking Heads album design for Remain In Light. Concept by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, design by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Google ‘design museum [any country here]’ and you’ll be sure to land on a page from this international design powerhouse. The museum has collections from almost every country as well as amazing album cover designs like this classic from the Talking Heads (classics themselves). It boasts that it is the only museum in the US to be dedicated exclusively to design from past and present.

9. The Design Exchange (Toronto, Canada)

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From the Happiness exhibit by NY-based graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister

If the commitment to design at Toronto’s design exchange doesn’t get you happy as a designer, I’m not sure what will. It’s the “only (Canadian) museum dedicated exclusively to the pursuit of design excellence and preservation of design heritage.”

10. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (Houston, USA)

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Flieger by cyan

Currently featured at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is an exhibition entitled ‘Graphic Design – Now In Production.’ The exhibit showcases some of the best in graphic design in the contemporary era, where so many graphic designers are making the stakes ever higher in order to stand out. Those exhibited here are hitting the top of the pops and give you the inspiration to fly to their heights.

11. National Gallery of Indonesia (Jakarta, Indonesia)

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Going to the Angels’ Freedom by Heri Dono

The national gallery of Indonesia aims to increase awareness of national Indonesian artistry. For designers such as yourselves, a museum so focused on powering creativity and one that features artwork not often featured in the Western canon, is not an opportunity to be missed.

12. OCT Design Museum (Shenzhen, China)

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The OCT Design Museum from outside by Studio Pei Zhu

The OCT Design Museum is the only museum on this list that is pictorally defined by its edifice. And I think you can see why. Looking like a giant space hen just laid an egg in China, this museum’s greatest accomplishment is its architecture, showing how museums can be the most modern piece in their own collections.

13. red dot design museum (Singapore)

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The museum’s own branding

Red Dot designs strives to promote good design for business on an international scale. They hold an annual competition for the best in a series of design categories, and showcase the cutting edge in corporate design. If you want to know whats new and be ahead of the game, this is the place to go. They are in the know.

14. Design Museum Holon (Holon, Israel)

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Fashion photography from a past exhibition featuring works of Lea Gottlieb; photo by Ben Lam

Renowned as one of the top design museums in the world, the Design Museum Holon hosts annually shifting exhibitions featuring some of the top international works of design in furniture, jewelry, architecture and more. The museum seeks to teach visitors about the important role that design plays in every aspect of our lives.

Additionally, the museum takes on as its goal the effort to challenge the perceptions of current designers. A museum geared towards you!? Now that’s what I’m talking about.

15. Powerhouse Museum (Sydney, Australia)

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Poster for Utopian Technology Fair by Mark Arbuz

This museum has got it all. Most often considered a science museum (always a blast) it also has a large collection of decorative arts and postern designs, especially from historical Australia. Check out some cool designs and learn a little bit about the history of Aussieland while you’re at it.

16. Australian Museum (Sydney, Australia)

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Detail of ‘Batik Tulis’ from the Traditional Textiles of Indonesia Collection

Here at 99designs we are huge fans of batik, the ancient Indonesian textile printing method. Its a great way to inspire yourself in pattern design as well as learning about the importance of detailing. Luckily the Australian Museum has a whole collection of batiks in their Pacific Culture collection.

17. Egyptian Museum (Cairo, Egypt)

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Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Egyptian Museum’s collection

While not necessarily a design museum, the Egyptian Museum houses some of the world’s oldest visual works. Papyruses such as the one pictured above show hieroglyphics, one of the first forms of typography. Check out this historical treasure trove for some super old school inspiration.

18. Montebello Design Centre (Newland, South Africa)

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Although not your traditional design museum, this collection of studios, located in the wooded landscape just outside of Cape Town, is uniquely inspirational. You can watch as sculptors, painters, and jewelers work on their crafts, taking away valuable insight on the creative process across multiple mediums and perhaps receiving some new ideas on how to spur your imagination when you’re at your own work.

19. Museo de Arte Contemperaneó (Santiago, Chile)

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Palabras al Viento by Lidia Kalibatas

Featuring modern artwork from Chile and around the globe, this museum’s contemporary themes and innovative artistic styles span the realms of both design and fine art.

20. Museo Mexicano de Deseño (Mexico City, Mexico)

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Explore the heart of Mexican design in the heart of the country. Exhibitions range from poster competition showcases (as above) and look at design history and present. The museum was founded by Mexican designer Alvaro Rego García in order to promote new and upcoming designers (like yourselves!) in a public platform in Mexico.

21. São Paulo Museum of Image and Sound (São Paulo, Brazil)

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Matt W. Moore for the São Paulo Museum of Image and Sound

This museum in Brazil’s capital city strives to illuminate the modern combination of art and technology. This ranges from film archives to new media projects and, of course, graphic design! The museum’s goal is to have its pulse on the modern while also focusing on history. Come here for inspiration from past and present.

There you have it. Now get out there and start exploring.

Which museums do you find inspiring?

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