What does it mean to be a design museum today? Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection highlights how Cooper Hewitt acquires new work to shape the collection to better reflect current issues and design’s evolving role in daily interactions. The exhibition features more than 150 works, including objects that represent the museum’s collecting legacy, as well as works brought into the collection since 2017.

The national design collection, which has been part of the Smithsonian since 1967, is a living one that continues to grow and change as new works and ideas that define our times are added. What design meant in the late 19th century when Cooper Hewitt’s collection was started is not what design means now.  Once rooted in aspirational decorative arts ideals, the criteria for acquisition are now more expansive and aim to better represent previously unexplored areas. As a result, the collection showcases aesthetic values and mastery of technique, but also speaks to the importance of socially responsible practices, racial and social justice, and the impact of the digital era and the climate crisis in our lives.    

Currently, the collection of over 215,000 objects spans more than 30 centuries across cultures from all over the globe. The entirety of the collection, its offerings interwoven together, tells nuanced stories about who we are that both embrace and confront the past and help inform our possible futures.    

Exhibition Highlights


To mark the occasion of Cooper Hewitt’s reopening in 2014, the museum published an expansive book based on its unparalleled collection. Designed by Irma Boom, Making Design features more than 1,100 collection objects, which are organized entirely by Boom’s visual sequencing of images; her design and the curators’ essays weave parallel narratives throughout the book. Learn more about the publication.


The exhibition is organized by Maria Nicanor, Director; Matilda McQuaid, Acting Director of Curatorial; Christina De León, Acting Deputy Director of Curatorial and Associate Curator of Latino Design; Cynthia Trope, Associate Curator, Product Design and Decorative Arts; and Sophia Gebara, Curatorial Assistant.

Exhibition design by Field Guide Architecture and Design with Castro Watson. Graphic design by Kelly Sung.


Generous support for Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection is provided by Cooper Hewitt’s Collections Committee and by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.

A Closer Look: Displaying a Medical Model
Cooper Hewitt's mount maker discusses the challenges of displaying an object with a complex surface structure.
A Conversation with Product Designer Lucia DeRespinis
Product designer Lucia DeRespinis has been designing since the mid-1950s, creating everything from lighting for George Nelson Associates to the ubiquitous Dunkin' Donuts logo, designed in 1976 and still in use today. Join us for a conversation with DeRespinis as she discusses her long and highly influential career in design at a time when women designers were few and their work often unacknowledged.
Drop-In Sketching in the Galleries – Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection
Experience the Cooper Hewitt collection objects and exhibitions through drawing! The Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection exhibition highlights how Cooper Hewitt acquires new objects to shape the collection to better reflect current issues and design’s evolving role in daily interactions. The exhibition has over 150 works on view – which ones will you sketch?
A Closer Look: Objects from Algae
When dealing with experimental materials, such as algae and other bioplastics, conservators must consider the benefits of display with potentially unexpected outcomes.
Acquired! A Conversation on Collecting
This panel discussion explores the ways in which collections–both personal and institutional–express value systems, mark cultural shifts, and provide frameworks for organizing, understanding, and critiquing complex ideas as they are expressed by objects. Organized in conjunction with the exhibition, Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection, this program gathers experts from a range of collecting roles to discuss how and why they collect.  
A Closer Look: Porcelain Restoration
Object conservators discuss how to repair chips in gilded porcelain
Family Program | Design Your Own Collection
Gotta collect them all! Explore the exhibition Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection with a scavenger hunt. Then, drop in for a design activity: What do you collect? Whether it’s shells, stickers, stamps, Pokémon cards, or sneakers, design a way to display your favorites. Take your design home and showcase your collection!
Evolving Digital Collections and Their Stewardship: Stamen’s Watercolor Maps
A curator, a conservator, and a designer discuss the continual maintenance of Watercolor Maps, a born-digital mapping tool in Cooper Hewitt's digital collection.