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Design Museum app showcases designs that changed the world

April 3, 2012

The new free Design Museum Collection app for iPad launched last week, soon to be followed by iPhone (available 3rd May) and Android (available 5th June) versions. As you’d expect from an institution committed to “better design, better use of scarce resources, and more innovation”, the interface is quite neat. There’s something strangely compelling about being able to swipe your way through images in a checkerboard style. So far, I’ve spent almost as much time playing with the randomly ordered images and scrolling through them both vertically and horizontally as I have actually exploring the content.

When you do finally click through to a specific object, it’s supported by:

  • a large image, which you can isolate and zoom into
  • some descriptive text. For a handful of objects, I have to take responsibility for this, since it seems to have come from the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year exhibitions and catalogues that I once edited
  • a short video clip (under a minute) putting the object in a broader context. These snippets are presented by the Design Museum Director Deyan Sudjic or the Head of Learning Helen Charman.
  • a supporting quote from another design luminary
  • a set of additional images, which can be scrolled through, isolated and zoomed into
  • information about the object’s category, type, date, designer, manufacturer, place of origin and colour
  • the opportunity for users to add the object to their favourites list, share comments and distribute information via Twitter and Facebook

The layout is clean and consistent throughout, so you always know what you’re going to get.

Once you’re bored of playing with the checkerboard browsing interface you can get more serious by exploring the objects through a range of filters, which are accessed by pressing a simple funnel icon. The option to browse by category (architecture, furnitire, graphics, product or transport) appears automatically. Unfortunately the myriad other options – to browse by type (for instance bicycle, bulb, camera, car or chair), date (using a slider control to choose a start and end date) and more (designer, manufacturer, place of origin, colour and material) – were unbeknown to me until I watched the Museum’s launch video below. Nothing on screen hinted that scrolling in the thin left-hand menu bar would reveal them. This is a shame, since exploring the collection in this way helps you to make connections between different entries and ultimately understand the objects themselves to a greater degree.

Aside from the navigation options hidden under a bushell, I have two other minor gripes:

  • the long line length and lack of margins makes all the text quite difficult to read
  • given that the hidden navigation uses the tags included at the bottom of each object entry I was expecting to be able to click on any of these terms to see other objects tagged in the same way. Instead, you have to go back to the hidden navigation to find, for instance, other objects by the same designer, or from the same period, dampening your motivation to explore those all important connections.

Perhaps these are issues that can be addressed in version 2? For now, this is an appealing and accessible free app that opens up the Design Museum’s extensive collection to anyone. Until 2014, when the Museum is finally able to display its permament collection in a new Kensington home, this may be the only way to discover, talk about and share some of the key designs that have shaped our world.

The Design Museum Collection App was designed by TwentySix, with films by Dezeen.

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