20 unexpected places to find design inspiration in London
London is the perfect city for a designer because whether you are a newcomer or a born and bred local, you can always find unusual creative inspiration in the buzzing capital.
From internationally renowned museums to hidden corner cafés, the streets are filled with a fascinating clash of past and present. Cutting edge design, the latest fashion and modern street art sit side by side with classical architecture, historic typefaces and iconic structures.
Here we count down 20 of our favourite places to find design inspiration in London. And you might some of our choices somewhat unexpected.
1. Design Museum, Tower Bridge
The first stop is an obvious one – there is always a new exhibition or residency to explore at the Design Museum. Founded in 1989, this local icon is now located at its brand new home in Kensington. The building, which was once the Commonwealth Institute, is set to become "the world's leading institution dedicated to contemporary design and architecture".
2. Present and Correct, Islington
A stationery lover’s dream that should be visited in person at the Islington store and online for its beautiful Instagram feed. This is where you'll find graphic design influenced stationery and retro items to drool over.
3. DIY Art Market, Hackney
A celebration of London’s independent publishers and emerging artists, the DIY Art Market at the Hackney Flea Market champions originality and oddness. Expect to discover emerging and established artists, championing unique items such as art prints, ceramics, independent publications, photography, jewellery and everything hand-crafted.
4. V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green
The Museum of Childhood is an excellent hub to explore, full of some awesome examples of vintage packaging and branding. Based in Bethnal Green in the East End of London, there are four main galleries to discover, including the Moving Toys Gallery, the Creativity Gallery, the Childhood galleries and the Front Room gallery. Take a trip back to childhood for some extra inspiration.
5. Twenty Twenty One, Islington
A haven for modern product and furniture design ideas, Twenty Twenty One showcases everything from Marimekko to Sandquist. Founded in 1996 by Simon Alderson and Tony Cunningham, it aims to supply the very best design-led furniture, lighting and accessories.
6. London Transport Museum, Covent Garden
A great source of historic design and type inspiration can be found in the wonderful vintage poster collection at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. You can also explore the story of London and its transport system over the last 200 years, discovering the powerful link between transport and the growth of modern London, culture and society since 1800.
7. Roman Road Market, Bow
Sometimes bad design produces good ideas, so take to the streets of this proper East End market full of local characters, rough hand-drawn signs and real life. The Roman Road Market is a traditional street market selling clothing and everyday goods piled high with a food court area.
8. The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, East London
Inspired by the Victorian Wunderkabinetts that refuse to attempt classification or comprehensiveness in their eccentric collection, The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities is a wonderland of oddness that is sure to inspire.
9. Tate Modern, South Bank
History meets the modern world at the heart of the Thames on the South Bank at Tate Modern – Britain's national gallery of international modern art, all housed in the former Bankside Power Station. Take in the galleries inside or lose track of time in one of the world’s finest art gift shops.
10. The Hunterian Museum, Aldwych
Discover a grisly history of surgery and medicine with gruesome instruments and preserved specimens amongst the bizarre collection of human and animal body parts at The Hunterian Museum. You'll find a visit there oddly inspiring and refreshingly different.
11. Broadway Bookshop, Broadway Market
This renowned local and independent bookshop has a gorgeous collection of design, illustration and photography books as well as some amazing second-hand books full of interesting types and layout examples. As described by The Guardian: "It's the sort of place that captivates you as soon as you walk through the door".
12. The Pavilion, Victoria Park
The best way to clear your head is to get out of the city and into the wonderful parks. The Pavilion in Victoria Park is the perfect thinking spot for a coffee and a break all year round. It's also not a bad place for a spot of brunch in the famous Pavilion Café.
13. Leila’s Shop, Shoreditch
A lovely hidden little café that feels like sitting in your nana’s kitchen. Leila's is the perfect place to pause and reboot. Expect rustic, simple dishes with ingredients from neighbouring greengrocers. Have that moment of inspiration while helping local businesses and the planet.
14. The Barbican, Barbican
The Barbican houses a gallery, theatre, cinema, leafy conservatory garden and so much more. You can take in a talk, explore an exhibition or join in an event, but sometimes just enjoying the architecture of the place provides solid inspiration.
15. Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey
This lovely local market under the railway arches in Bermondsey, south-east London is a great stop for local food but also a fun place to browse hand-drawn signs and incentive packaging from independent sellers. Very popular with the locals and is now considered to be one of the best markets in London.
16. Labour and Wait, Shoreditch
Get some order and calm for your creative brain at this wonderful little shop of simple, classic, quality stuff. Labour and Wait is a real gem for the orderly and organised. As described on their website: "We believe in a simple, honest approach to design, where quality and utility are intrinsic...". Perfect.
17. Material Lab, London
Material Lab is a vibrant and exciting place for the architecture & design community, where you’re free to explore hundreds of different materials for your projects, discover the latest trends and innovations, get expert advice and be inspired. Founded and run by Johnson Tiles, it's full of the latest materials and is always open to anyone and everyone during working hours. Pop in next time you're in Soho.
18. Cartoon Museum, Bloomsbury
One of London’s many odd museums hidden right in the heart of town, The Cartoon Museum houses a fascinating collection of British cartoons and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. Launched in 2006, there are three main galleries to explore and look out for regular events and workshops. There is also a library of over 5,000 books on comics and cartoons which is available for research purposes by appointment only.
19. Artwords Bookshop, Hoxton
Artwords Bookshop is one of the city’s best resources for design books and magazines. Established in 2001, the store covers the subjects of fashion, graphic design, architecture, photography, fine art and visual theory. Sorted. Follow the nice peeps on Twitter @ArtwordsBooks.
20. The London Design Festival
Design takes over the city every September for the London Design Festival with exhibitions and events from the best, brightest and newest designers and artists—the people, as well as the actual exhibitions, make it a great place to be for young designers.