A Detour to the Design Museum

When one of those rainy weekends rolls around, we all know that everyone stuffs themselves into a museum during the day.  The National History Museum, the British Museum, the Tate Britain and Tate Modern, the V&A, etc.  All worth a visit, natch.  But we’ve been on the lookout for some lesser known destinations of late.

This past weekend, we fought through the crowds hovering around the base of Tower Bridge (on the south side) and kept pushing east through Shad Thames (a cool area to explore in its own right).  On the river there sits the Design Museum, looking a little isolated as the tourist throngs thin out.

This one caught our interest, as we once visited the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York City and loved it.  London’s Design Museum is a bit smaller – the main floor has a shop and a cafe, while 2 of the 3 upper floors are used for exhibits (the other being used as an event/lecture space).  The museum is a fascinating showcase on the intersections of art, science, social awareness and economics.  There are things that make the world prettier, cleaner, safer, healthier, more energy (and time) efficient and cheaper to live in.

There are so many cool things to learn about.  We learned about the history of chairs (think manufacturing materials over the years, comfort, style, ergonomics), affordable computers for use in developing nations, the evolution of personal music players (from the Sony Walkman to the Apple iPod), computer games, typefaces for magazines, self-driving cars, software, architecture and fashion.  And, of course, about the people that make these things happen.

A prototype of Google's self-driving car.

A prototype of Google’s self-driving car.

On our visit, there was a temporary installation about Camper, the Spanish shoe company.  We had no idea quite how interesting this little company is: their broadly-open-minded approach to product marketing (with plenty of examples making us wonder who their Don Draper is), to the way they allow their stores to be designed differently all over the world to reflect local culture and taste, to their quirky approach to making distinctive shoes.  One installation showcased their effort to challenge the notion of symmetry in footware design: one pair had a picture of a baby’s face on one shoe, and a pacifier on the other.  Another had a chicken comb on one shoe, and an egg on the other.  Others had different patterns on each side (and/or different colours).  Fun stuff: shoes with a subtle sense of humour!

A wall display from the Camper store in Istanbul.

A wall display from the Camper store in Istanbul.

This museum is a lot of fun, and a great way to spend a few soggy hours.  Just be aware that admission is not free (we paid the adult entry of £13 each), but we felt it was well worth the price.

Bonus 1: Maltby Street Market is a 15 minute walk away, and a great place to stop for some chow on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Bonus 2: If the weather is nice, you can keep wandering east towards Rotherhithe and check out the Angel and the Mayflower, two cool and historic pubs on waterfront (both with limited seating overlooking the river).  If you look closely at the grassy area across from the Angel’s entrance, you’ll see the ruins of a manor house built by King Edward III in 1353.

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