What's a Design Museum?

What's a Design Museum?

At the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), we like to say that we're 26 going on 6. What do we mean by that? It's our way of acknowledging that the museum has gone through various incarnations in it's quarter-century history.

MODA was founded in 1989 as the Atlanta International Museum of Art and Design, then re-founded as the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) in 2003. For its first two decades of its existence, the museum was in downtown Atlanta, most recently in the lobby of an office tower. The location provided no street visibility and the galleries were difficult to locate because they were spread discontinuously across two floors of the building. So, in an effort to raise its profile, MODA moved to a new home in Atlanta's Midtown Arts Corridor in 2011.

Our new location — directly across the street from the High Museum of Art — gave MODA a beautiful new space and greatly increased visibility. But, just as importantly, the move to Midtown pressed a restart button for the museum, igniting an extensive discovery process that is still ongoing.

After our move, we found that lots and lots of people came in the door and asked, “what’s a design museum?” And, as staff and board answered that question, we discovered that each individual did so in their own way — there was little consensus about the definition of design or about the goals of the museum. So, in 2012, in an effort to answer "what is a design museum" and to establish MODA’s place in Atlanta, the board and staff rewrote the museum’s mission and vision.

The new mission we defined is:

MODA advances the understanding and appreciation of design as the convergence of creativity and functionality through exhibitions, education, and programming for visitors of all ages.

The process of writing this mission had two important outcomes:

1) We defined design for ourselves. Though most often the word “design” refers to an object or an end result, we chose to define it as a verb / a process / an action.

2) And, we situated that verb / process / action at the intersection of creativity and functionality. 

In our vision statement, we further fleshed out a MODA-specific definition of design by calling out its power to solve problems, transform lives, and make the world a better place. The vision statement we wrote is:

MODA envisions a world that celebrates design as a creative force that inspires change, transforms lives and makes the world a better place.

Establishing our own definition of design had immediate impact. We started to rethink exhibitions and programs as embodiments of this definition and we began to consciously re-design MODA so as to provide every constituent with an understanding of the power of design to change the world.

NEXT: Read about one of the first ways we manifested our new mission and vision in an exhibition titled Design for Social Impact.

Design for Social Impact

Design for Social Impact