Design Museum Collection

The Design Museum’s collection is an important record of the key designs that have shaped the modern world. It tells the history of mass production, from the manufacturing innovations of the nineteenth century up to the digital and making revolution of the last few years. The collection spans all aspects of design including architecture, fashion, furniture, product, graphic design and transport.

What do you collect?

The Design Museum collects objects that help to explain what design is to a non-specialist audience. In addition to looking after key examples of design from the past, the museum acquires objects relating to the process of design, from drawings to prototypes, speculative designs and finished production models.

Art and Industry, Boilerhouse Project exhibition, 1982

When did you begin collecting?

The Design Museum’s collection dates from its time as the Boilerhouse Project, located at the V&A between 1982-6. One of the earliest objects to enter the museum’s collection was a Mobil petrol pump designed by Eliot Noyes in 1968. It occupied a prominent position in the first Boilerhouse Project exhibition, Art and Industry in 1982.

Are you still collecting?

Yes. In a thoughtful way. As the world’s leading museum of contemporary architecture and design, the Design Museum aims to collect that which is new, influential, innovative or experimental in design and society. But since technology evolves so quickly, products which once appeared new almost immediately become design history. Our ambition is to continue developing the collection without losing the ability to be light on the feet.

How do you acquire objects?

The museum acquires objects mainly in support of its upcoming exhibitions programme. It may buy an object directly from the designer, or the object may be kindly donated by the manufacturer or one of the museum’s many supporters.

The museum will also consider augmenting its collection via donations from members of the public. If you have an object that you’d like to donate to the museum, please follow the link to our Donations page.

How much do you have to spend?

The museum has a specific fund for the Collection, kindly donated by the Conran Foundation. There are other generous supporters including the Art Fund, who helped with the acquisition of one of Jasper Morrison’s earliest designs, the Handlebar Table.

Kinshasa Label (1989) by Bodys Isek Kingelez. Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Conran Foundation.

How diverse is your collection?

Not very. The Design Museum’s collection is heavily skewed towards Europe, the USA and Japan, reflecting the unconscious bias in the way in which standard histories of design have been told in the past. The museum is committed towards diversifying its collection as part of its ambition to tell a wider and more inclusive story of contemporary design. To do so, it has identified significant gaps in its collection and is working with supporters and funders to find key pieces to fill these gaps.

In 2022, the museum collaborated with designer Yinka Ilori to acquire a piece by important Congolese architect Bodys Isek Kingelez called Kinshasa Label (1989). It was purchased with the generous support of the Art Fund, the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Conran Foundation. This is just the start, and the museum recognises that it has more to do.

Can I view your collection database?

The Design Museum is currently building a new collections database, which it hopes to make available online soon. If you are a museum professional looking for an object to borrow for your exhibition, please do get in touch with us via the Contacts page.

Nikecraft x Tom Sachs Mars Yards, 2012. Purchased with Conran Foundation support

Studio ThusThat (Kevin Rouff, Luis Paco Boeckelmann and Guillermo Whittembury) in collaboration with Joris Olde Rikkert, Red Mud, 2018. Gift of Studio ThusThat

April Greiman, Pacific Wave, Museo Fortuny, 1987. Gift of April Greiman

Natsai Audrey Chieza (Faber Futures), Project Coelicolor, 2021. Purchased with Conran Foundation support

Ross Lovegrove, concept drawing for the Knoll World Chair, c.1990. Gift of Ross Lovegrove

Related publications

Designers Maker User

Catalogue for the museum's collection display and an introduction to contemporary design, providing non-specialists and enthusiasts with an appreciation of the objects and spaces that shape everyday life. The book highlights key designs, designers, movements, and manufacturers in spheres as diverse as fashion, furniture, and the digital revolution.

related exhibition

Designer Maker User

The Designer Maker User display presents the museum’s collection looking at the development of modern design through the three interconnected roles of designer, maker and user.