Welcome to Designerly Learning

New Design Museum picture on Designerly Learning the Design Museum Learning team's blog

A cheery welcome to Designerly Learning, the Design Museum’s freshly baked learning blog, launching today as part of our Heritage Lottery Fund Activity Programme for Learning and Participation.

We are the Design Museum Learning Team and we warmly invite you to join us, and a lively range of thought-provoking contributors, on the professional journey from the museum’s current site on Shad Thames to our new home www.newdesignmuseum.tumblr.com in the former Commonwealth Institute in South Kensington, scheduled in 2016 in what promises to be an elegant and sensitive redesign by John Pawson. I’m Helen Charman, Head of Learning at the museum and I’ll be posting and responding regularly here along with my high-kicking colleagues in the learning team.  This blog aims to be a shared reflective space for cultural learning peers, design educators of every stripe and all others who share a genuine interest in the role and value of design education in the museum context.

What IS Designerly Learning?

Glad you asked.   The blog’s called Designerly Learning for two reasons.  First, our programmes aim to model the way designers think and work within the unique context of the Design Museum as a site for learning.

Design thinking as a tool for programme and audience development is enjoying a moment in the sun within the museum community internationally – long may it continue. For example, www.designthinkingformuseums.net, which emerged from a partnership between SFMOMA and the Stanford d.school, features Design Thinking for Visitor Engagement,  a paper written by Dana Mitroff Silvers and Molly Wilson and presented at 2013 Museums and the Web.

Exploration of the role of design thinking in museums continues in Suse Cairns’ museumgeek.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/on-the-paradoxes-of-empathy and is the topic of conversation in the monthly podcast Museopunks 2, Flip the Script.  If any of this makes your design education ticker tick quicker, may I humbly direct you to my paper in Design and Technology Education: an International Journal 15.3 on designerly learning as a model for teaching and learning.

Secondly, the process of producing a new museum is in many ways a designerly one.  Without wishing to over-simplify the process, there was a problem (we have outgrown our current site); a solution/opportunity (create a new museum) and in-between a veritable ideas–led smorgasbord of consultation, exploration, experimentation, iteration, co-creation (including you, contributing to this blog) evolution, refinement, production, delivery, experience… all of which is taking place within the necessary and productive constraints of resource, because design = creativity within limits.

This blog is our way of pressing pause amidst the whirlwind of delivering a live programme at the current site, integrating this with our HLF Activity Plan for Learning and Participation, focusing on Audience Development, and shaping future programmes for the new museum.   It’s a space to ponder rather than plan and produce.  We do hope you will join us on the journey, helping shape the new Design Museum’s learning programmes for the 21st century and rethinking what design education in the museum can be in today’s complex world. #newdesignmuseum

Which topics would you like to see designerly learning explore?


  1. Suse Cairns   •  

    Hi Helen! Congratulations on the new blog, and thanks for the link to both Museumgeek and the Museopunks podcast. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how your thinking develops about learning and what design education can be. Is design education necessarily different from other forms of education in museums? If so, how? Does it include approaches that non-design based institutions can learn from?

    • Helen Charman   •     Author

      Thanks Suse – great question. Funnily enough, the extent to which a museum’s collection informs institutional approaches to learning was the subject of a research paper I did in the early years of my Ed Doc (i.e. a long time ago, so not current findings, but still jolly interesting!). I interviewed Heads of Learning across a range of different museum typologies (art, science, ethnographic and literary) and found that distinct pedagogic characteristics emerged – all of which were closely informed by the typological specificity of the institutions. So … in the art museum the concern was about promoting multiple interpretations; in the science museum notions of accuracy/inaccuracy were writ large; in the ethnographic museum the focus was on authenticity of representation; and in the library the emphasis lay on research skills and critical thinking. It was utterly fascinating. Given the heterogeneity of museum collections, I think there is much to be gained by exploring and evolving pedagogies that emerge from the content – but you can’t force it. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t shared dimensions to the way learning happens – certainly the loose cyclical model of designerly learning’s ‘explore, experiment, evolve’ approach could apply across a range of areas. Over to designthinkingformuseums on this one I think…

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