Five fascinating archives for learning about design history

Whether it's stamps, logos or rave membership cards, here are the best design archives to bookmark for research or late night scrolling session.

3 August 2022

Why are design archives so important? From the educational to the more left-field, they teach us (often overlooked) lessons about what’s come before, and to help us to imagine what could come next. Beyond that, the ‘gotta catch em all’ joy of seeing a never-quite-finished scrapbook, or satisfaction of seeing rows of shiny ephemera laid out neatly by category, is just plain fun. Looking through any one of these collections, you might catch a glimpse into the storied history behind a peculiar object – or a curator’s growing obsession.

In the design world, there’s no shortage of archives that began as hobbies or side gigs, only to become full-blown practices. Take Grafis Nusantara, an archive of Indonesian stickers spanning the 70s-90s, or the Syrian Stamp Archive spotlighting exactly what it says on the tin. From digital archives of cassette tapes to books delineating the history of rave membership cards, we’ve come across some incredible design collections over the years. Below, find out how each can serve as an educational resource – and perhaps offer some unexpected creative inspiration to boot.


La Patria: Exposición Páez Vilaró, Art, Carlos Páez Vilaró, 1951 (Copyright © Carlos Páez Vilaró, 1951)

La Patria

La Patria is the place to go if you’re looking to learn about Uruguayan graphic design. Founded by graphic designer Amijai Benderski, the archive is available to peruse easily through its website, where you’ll find a collection of historical Uruguayan design pieces split into categories like Transport Tickets, National Library, Logos, Posters and Music. It’s extensive and full of crucial work.

The archive is also as an excellent research resource. Contextualising a wonderful array of design materials by date and artist, La Patria “seeks to value the heritage” of Uruguay. “It can be argued that the tradition of native design, if any, is not narrated, recorded or told,” the site explains. “Uruguayan design would seem to have no tradition or history.” With La Patria, Amijai is filling in these gaps.


Mozaika: Irena Terese Dauksaite-Guobiene in the book Vasara su peliuku Miku by Sigitas Geda, 1984 (All the rights to Mozaika’s illustrations belong to their authors)


Great archives allow us to understand a discipline better, but the best allow us to see it in a whole new light. This is what founder Miglė Rudaitytė does with Mozaika, an archive of Lithuanian children’s book illustrations, available to explore online and categorised through the names of 27 artists.

Worlds apart from the carefree silliness we expect from this medium, Mozaika celebrates Lithuanian children’s book illustrators operating during the second half of the 20th Century – those who did things quite differently. In this period, Miglė explains: “Children were treated as clever individuals who could understand and be exposed to high artistic expressions.” Not only are the works beautiful, they also teach us about how designers and illustrators have found expression under authoritarian rule throughout history.


Copyright © Grafis Nusantara, 2022

Grafis Nusantara

The rise in archives becoming digitalised – and typically free to access – means audiences can now lay eyes on the vivid graphic histories once tethered to books alone. Grafis Nusantara, for example, brings Indonesian design lessons to the world as it boasts one of the most excellent collections of stickers we’ve come across.

“Despite the abundance of Indonesian vernacular graphics in our surroundings, they are often overlooked, forgotten and even underestimated because of the assumptions of them being low-brow and kitschy,” says designer and illustrator Rakhmat Jaka Perkasa, who runs the archive. Now functioning as a zine and online site, Grafis Nusantara is providing a space for Indonesian graphics to be appreciated as it offers users the option to contribute to the collection. Feast your eyes on juicy prints, fruit stickers, fun characters and decades of design diligence.


Collaborate: Members Only, Shoom, 1988 (Copyright © Collaborate, 2022)

Members Only

There's something about treasure that's been passed through many hands which feels all the more visceral. Such is the case of the intriguing items found within Members Only, a collection of rave membership cards. When graphic archivist Rob Ford began collecting these cards at the height of the acid house era, he knew the collection was rare. But even he didn’t know how large it would become. With fellow rave enthusiasts lining up to donate their own personal cards and become part of the collection, it quickly grew. Now, Rob says: “I believe it’s the largest in the world of its kind.”

From classic clubbing smileys to early Windows graphics, the cards themselves showcase a plethora of DIY and more polished design experiments over the decades. We particularly love Members Only for the mystique behind the collection – like the small laminated designs first clutched between sweaty hands during club nights $$long forgotten. Make sure to check out the archive in the Members Only book, designed by Collaborate.


Nathir Nabaa: Children’s stories stamp from a series printed in 1976 (Copyright © The Syrian Stamp Archive, 2022)

Syrian Stamp Archive

The curators behind Syrian Stamp Archive are a force of the archival world. Kinda Ghannoum, Hala Al Afsaa and Sally Alassafen have spent years documenting Syria’s design history, and the results are myriad of projects. This includes the Syrian Type Archive, which explores typography via signs through projects such as Syrian Media Archive – documenting typographic title sequences – and of course, the Syrian Stamp Archive.

Many of the entries within the collection date back over 100 years. In fact, if you take a gander through the online archive, you can see how the practice has evolved over a century. “Many of the designers who practised design in Syria were artists by profession,” Kinda explains. Publishing the names of each creative who worked on these wonderful pieces, the archive is shining a bright light on designers and artists alike who contributed to the richness of Syrian culture.

Share Article

Further Info

Mozaika is a non-profit project, supported by the Lithuanian Council for Culture. All the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors.

About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.