Most of my students will know by now that I have a real passion for museums; just wind me up and off I go! The reason museums are so useful for designers is that they hold a wealth of amazing primary research material that you just cannot see anywhere else. The massive bonus for students is that there are loads of free museums and most of the rest offer discounts on admission with your student ID card.
I could have done a top 10, but instead I thought it would be more useful to give you a taster of different subjects; i.e. what you can find and where. Basically these are some of my favourite museums in the UK
Natural History: insects, shells, eggs, animals, birds, fish, minerals/geology
- The Natural History Museum, London
- Tring Zoological Museum, Tring, Hertfordshire (a branch of the Natural History Museum with amazing Victorian displays)
- The Manchester Museum, Manchester (also includes Egyptology)
- Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley, West Yorkshire ( a brilliant small collection, with excellent archaeology, fossils and geology)
- The Victoria & Albert Museum, London
- Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester (re-opens to the public next weekend)
- Fashion Museum, Bath
- Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (wonderful textiles gallery, also extensive reserve collection)
- Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford - ethnography (objects made and used by people around the world such as weapons, baskets and vessels, jewellery, masks, dance costumes...)
- Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London (preserved medical specimins of human and animal bodies, organs, tissue, disease, etc.)
- Museum of brands, packaging & advertising, London
- Royal Armouries, Leeds (weapons, armour, warfare, pagentry not to mention the most beautiful Japanese armour)
- The National Media Museum, Bradford (history of communications, photography, TV, radio, etc)
My top tips for a good research day at a museum:
- Check opening days and times.
- Do your research beforehand - does the museum have what you want to look at? Is it something on permanent display or do you need to make an appointment to look at something from a reserve collection.
- If you want to look at something specific make sure it will be there. Sometimes museums may be doing conservation work and remove exhibits for cleaning, or loan them to another exhibition.
- Wear comfy clothes and shoes and remember you may need to check bulky bags etc into a cloakroom
- Find out if you can take photos, if you explain you are a student you may be asked to sign a special agreement to say the photos will only be for your own use.
- Take appropriate drawing materials; hard-backed sketchbook, pencils and/or drawing pens, pencil sharpener, coloured media. Some museums will not let you use wet or messy media or pens. Watercolour pencils are a good compromise as you can always draw with them at the museum and then put a watery wash over when you get home.
- When drawing don't feel that you have to draw every aspect of an object - what is it that you want to capture about the exhibit? The shape of an animal, the construction process of a woven basket, the colours in mineral specimins...
- Make good notes to go with your drawings - what is the name of the exhibit you were drawing? when and where does it come from? Also make written notes about aspects such as construction, texture, colour, size, etc.
- Allow yourself time to look around and then focus on a few items to draw. Take time with your sketches, really study the exhibit. Remember that you should spend more time looking at the exhibit than at your sketchbook page.
- Have fun and become engrossed - museums are amazing places!