Let’s face it, it’s been a long year. The last thing you have mental space for is figuring out the perfect gift to give your brother-in-law or coworker during your mandated Zoom holiday party. Fortunately, for even the least giving and least talented gifters among us, there’s a gift guide waiting to smack you in the face in every magazine you open and on every Instagram feed you mindlessly scroll through. Smack! That’s the sound of our gift guide slapping you back to your senses again. Hand-picked by our editors, you’ll find nary an overpriced set of coasters or extraneous kitchen gadget in the lot—just things made by some of our favorite designers and illustrators, perfect for the picky designer or illustrator on your list. Or their kids. Or your kids. Or yourself, who are we kidding?
Mag mag mag: For the hoarder who can’t stop adding to that pile of magazines on the coffee table…
You can pick up any old magazine at your airport newsstand, but these publications take a little more effort to find. Artful in design and concept, our favorite titles are the types of mags you’ll spend hours flipping through before nestling them into a hallowed home on your bookshelf.
- Deem Journal: Started this year by Nu Goteh, Alice Grandoit, and Marquise Stillwell, Deem is the new design magazine everyone’s been talking about. Its first issue explores what design can be if it’s community-driven and focused on social justice, making it the perfect present to round out one hell of a year. ($25)
- Desired Landscapes: A favorite from the Athens indie publishing scene, Desired Landscapes is a pocket-sized publication that brings together the imaginaries of a diverse mix of cities, “exploring the sense of a place and the visual representation of the urban experience.” It’s a city guide in the most expanded sense, and it’s the perfect way to quench your wanderlust without, um, leaving your home. ($19)
- Journal Safar: The brilliant, bilingual (Arabic-English) biannual from Beirut that looks at independent visual culture in the Middle East, with a tagline that promises to “flirt with, flee from, and fall for graphic design.” Buy the fifth issue, Migrations, for a guaranteed great read, and know you’re supporting a staple of the local art scene in a city that still needs your love. ($25)
- Emergence: This is a magazine exploring the connections between ecology, culture, and spirituality—and trust us when we tell you it’s a salve for the soul. In addition to regular issues published online, each year Emergence comes out with a printed tome. Buy volume 1 for arrival in time for gift-giving, and while you’re at it, pre-order yourself volume 2 for a New Year surprise. ($25)
- Äntrepō: Design studio Spaeth Hill has just come out with a lovely new annual design publication that steps away from commercial design and instead celebrates the experimental and conceptual. The editors say it’s “for anyone interested in celebrating design for design’s sake,” which…we know a few. ($48)
- Eye on Design, full set: We’d be remiss not to mention that you can buy all six issues of Eye on Design magazine right now for a very special price. Invisible, Psych, Gossip, Worth, Distraction, and Utopia—get ‘em all, or just the ones you’re missing, for 40% off this holiday season. Don’t sleep on this deal! ($75 for the full set)
Desk goodies: For the coworker who wants WFH to feel a little less work from home
Work has looked a lot different this year. Whether you’ve set up shop at the kitchen table or have a dedicated office (dream big!), if you’re fortunate enough to be able to work from home, you’ve probably wondered how to upgrade your workspace. We’ve got you covered—here are a few desk goods to make your workspace feel a little more organized and zen.
- Caboose 2021 calendar: Our favorite risograph printers, formerly known as Tan & Loose, consistently make our favorite calendar. Described by its makers, Wiley and Clay Hickson, as “charmingly unhinged images for an increasingly unhinged world,” the calendar’s illustrations really are delightfully wacky. Hang it on your wall as a reminder that 2021 brings no guarantees that things will be any less weird. ($15, Caboose)
- Everyday Trash Bin: Trash cans have long been cast aside as the forgettable, utilitarian workhorse of the office. But this bright bin is a not-so-subtle reminder that even the lowliest of office wares benefit from some attention to design detail. Designed with bright colors and geometric shapes that form a grinning mug, the bin rotates to reveal different color combinations. ($65, Dusen Dusen)
- Leather pencil case: In a world ruled by computers, a pencil case is both totally charming and utterly unnecessary. Yet, here we are, lusting after these classic leather beauties, making promises to ourselves that someday soon we’ll fill it with pencils, pens, and tiny office goods that will help us disconnect and live the analog life that we aspire to. ($31, Present & Correct)
- Classics Sampler Set: Speaking of pencils, is there anything more satisfying than a well sharpened classic pencil? This sampler set from pencil emporium, CW Pencil Enterprise, lets you try out six time-tested takes on the writing utensil. Think of these as an upgrade to the school days pencils of yore—a little nostalgic but upgraded for serious writing business. ($12, CW Pencils Enterprise)
- Anything scissors: A desk staple redesigned for the absent minded. Michael Sodeau designed these simple scissors for Hay with a standing base that makes them impossible to misplace. The pair comes in a sunny yellow, pale mint, or gray. ($20, Hay)
- Face Carafe Vessel: Every desk needs a general purpose vessel for various odds and ends. This glass carafe from designer Neal Drobnis was designed for holding liquids, but we think it would be just as nice as a flower vase or a stylish receptacle for pens and pencils. ($55, Coming Soon)
Typefaces: For the asshole friend who calls you out whenever you default to Futura…
We know you know your stuff when it comes to typefaces: we’ve read your answers to our quiz (we’ve also seen your answers to this quiz, so we understand the character’s we’re dealing with). Our Type Tuesday column keeps us constantly on top of the new releases, and this year there’ve been some especially good ones. So why not make it easier for your nearest, dearest, and nerdiest with the gift of a new typeface? Here are five that are as fun and different—and yes, occasionally variable—as they are useful:
- For the friend as obsessed with the history of Swiss design as they are the future of variable font technology (we know you have one): Maxi, designed by Johannes Breyer, Fabian Harb, and Andree Paat for Dinamo. The “heavily-engineered yet warm and witty type system of spaghetti movements and angular lines” takes inspiration from Max Bill and the Swatch logo. Buy it directly from Dinamo’s (great) new website to participate in their laudable efforts at developing a fairer licensing model (pricing varies, based on the project and studio size).
- Another quirky fav with Max Bill as a namesake, BallPill by Benoît Bodhuin is full of character, but grounded by a strict grid. Bodhuin is quick to recommend it for applications that are “mechanical and rational,” but there’s also a definite retro futuristic vibe embedded within its idiosyncrasies. Perfect for your play-it-by-the-rules friend with the secret wild side. ($65 per style, $237 for the family)
- You know the type: hunting dog aficionado, fan of 17th century Flemish paintings, deeply susceptible to typefaces that look as though they’ve been chiseled into stone. Every family’s got one, and we’ve got just the thing. Jäger by Jérémy Schneider for VJ Type was inspired by the still life works of Adriaen Cornelisz Beeldemaker, Jan Weenix, and Pieter Claesz, and its unusually decorative serifs make it the perfect font for a fan of high culture and obscure art. In all seriousness though, everyone loves a Violaine et Jérémy font. (From $95)
- What do you get when you mix Brutalism with ’80s computer graphics, and a dash of Yves Klein blue? The heady brew of a typeface that is Signifier by Kris Sowersby for Klim Type Foundry. As per usual with Sowersby, the beauty is in the details: Signifier sports rectangular baseline serifs, triangular head serifs, and sharp terminals bound with connective tissue of refined Bézier curves. Gift this to the designer in your life with a soft spot for early digital fonts, like Matrix by Zuzana Licko and Charter by Matthew Carter, and an eye for perfection. ($50 per style and $400 for the family.)
- “We designed Sisters as an homage to all the creative women in this world,” Laura Meseguer says of her lively set of stencil display typefaces. Sisters by Laura Meseguer for Type-O-Tones features a family within a family: it started with an only child and quickly grew to four siblings, each complementing each other (as sisters do) by celebrating their differences. You know who to get this one for—biological or otherwise. ($33 for one style)
- First found on the flyers of the Women’s Car Repair Collective in 1970s St. Louis, here’s a font for those who like some little-known history with their type design. Women’s Car Repair Collective by Nat Pyper for Library Stack was discovered in the St. Louis Queer History archives, and Pyper updated it for use today with an aim to “disseminate and share these overlooked queer histories and the language work of radical queers of the past.”
Books: For the library card-carrying curmudgeon whose second favorite word after “paper” is “toothsome…”
The only thing designers judge one another more harshly by besides their Instagram feeds is their bookshelves. Here are five titles that’ll raise both your design IQ and nearby eyebrows (in approval):
- Design Dedication: Adaptive Mentalities In Design Education edited by Annelys de Vet: After a challenging year of design programs around the world moving to all-online curriculums, Design Dedication reasserts the importance of community and care in design education. Edited by Annelys de Vet, the former department head of the design program at the Sandberg Instituut, this book collects projects, essays, and interviews about the experimental, communal, and expansive nature of Sandberg’s program. Anyone interested in the future of design education should look no further that what’s collected in these pages. ($20)
- David King: Designer, Activist, Visual Historian by Rick Poynor: Back in October, Theo Inglis wrote on this website that David King “had one of the most remarkable graphic design careers of the 20th century” but because of the varied nature of his work, his name is still unfamiliar to many. Poynor’s excellent book — a richly illustrated biography and monograph — surveys the multidisciplinary designer’s career, moving from graphic design and visual journalism into amassing one of the world’s largest collections of Soviet-era graphic design. ($30)
- The Natural Enemy of Books: A Messy History of Women in Printing and Typography, edited by MMS: Don’t let its small footprint fool you, this little book is packed with big ideas about the history of women in printing, graphic design, and typography. Written as a response to the 1937 Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, the feminist graphic design collective MMS (Maryam Fanni, Matilda Flodmark and Sara Kaaman) collect essays, interviews, poems, and original artwork highlighting this industry’s inequalities and the political nature of printmaking. ($17)
- Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bauhaus by Janet Abrams: Janet Abrams was writing about designers and architects in the late ’80s and early ’90s for magazines like Blueprint and I.D. Magazine — an era in retrospect that feels like the beginning of the design culture we now find ourselves in. This book collects her best profiles, of people like Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and April Greiman before they became household names. Her profile on Paul Rand, slightly challenging his position in design history, is especially worth a read for graphic designers. ($28)
- What Can a Body Do by Sara Hendren: This wide-ranging yet accessible book by artist and designer Sara Hendren tells stories about living with disability and the ideas born out of those experiences. Through it all, Hendren challenges our definitions of normality and forces us to reconsider the objects, spaces, and environments we interact with day to day. In the end, though, this book shows that all design is a humanist enterprise and that perhaps it’s up to designers to make a better-designed world for everyone. ($27)
Kids: For the mini designer you’re raising, who, let’s face it, will probably rebel and pursue dentistry (not that there’s anything wrong with that)…
Raising kids is hard; buying gifts for them is almost too easy. Our rule of thumb for sorting through the loads of crap on offer? What do you wish you’d had when you were their age? Sometimes that means a plush binky, and sometimes that means a tasteful, classic wooden puzzle by the late, great Enzo Mari. If that’s the kind of mini-me you’re rearing, we’ve got you covered:
- Shape Dominoes: Whether you line them up or actually play the real game, this colorful take on dominos serves the dual purpose of being an education on shapes and colors, too. ($45, Fredericks & Mae)
- Enzo Mari’s Animali Puzzle: The late Enzo Mari designed everything from calendars to furniture, but one of his most enduring designs is the Animali Puzzle he designed for Dansese Milano in 1957. The jigsaw puzzle features 16 animals milled out of a single piece of solid oak that fit into a Pangea-like jumble. ($325)
- Doodle Crayons: A case of art tools imitating art, these “Doodle Crayons” are just as fun to look at as they are to use. Designer Nikolas Bentel created a playful set of crayons that bend into doodle like shapes—an O, zig zag, line, plus sign, and squiggle. You can scratch their primary colors onto a piece of paper in ordinary crayon fashion, or use their shapes to make patterns. ($7, Areaware)
- Lenticular Pattern Puzzle: This colorful puzzle from designer Dusen Dusen is a two-dimensional take on lenticular printing. Bonus for finishing this optical illusion of a puzzle? It doubles as a piece of art when you’re done. ($25)
- Arckit Scale Model House Kit: Give your budding architect a chance to build their dream modernist home—in scale, of course. Arckit’s model kit comes with 150 pieces that can be arranged into a handful of sleek, modern homes. Think of it like Lego, for the design set. ($39, Arckit)
- Bauhaus optical top: Artist Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack designed this spinning top in 1924 as a way to explore color perception. The wooden toy comes with 7 interchangeable discs that create an optical illusion when you give the top a spin. ($60, Cooper Hewitt)
Donate: To the people and orgs working to build a better world…
It’s been a year. There’s really no better gift than that of a donation to a worthy cause, so put one down in a friend or family member’s name and whip out those card-making skills. Or scrap that Zoom Secret Santa with your office and go in on this together. There are so many organizations that are helping the people hit the hardest this year—too many to name here—but we’ve gathered up a few suggestions:
- COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund: Co-founded by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Foundation, the COVID-19 response fund supports WHO’s work by ensuring patients get the care they need, essential workers are looked after, and vaccine treatments will be distributed to those who need it.
- No Kid Hungry: Millions of children in the U.S. rely on their school meals for food each day. With many schools closed this year, access to hot meals are in jeopardy. No Kid Hungry sends grants to food banks and connects with families in need so they can get meals while they wait for schools to reopen.
- Scope of Work:Founded by two women of color artists and educators, SOW addresses inequities in creative sectors. Their unique approach is part fellowship program, part talent agency acting as a pipeline for young people of color to enter creative agencies. Donations to SOW help support young creatives through workshops, paid opportunities, and special events.
- Women Who Code: The global non-profit has programs and opportunities designed to promote and inspire female engineers to excel in technology careers. Donations will help fund training, workshops, hackathons, conferences, as well as technical scholarships and industry conference awards.
- The Trevor Project: A nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth. It provides a 24/7 crisis line with trained counselors, in addition to education and resources for kids who may not otherwise find the support they need. You can support them through donation here.
- AIGA membership: As part of AIGA, Eye on Design depends on member support. There are loads of good reasons to join AIGA, but if you want to show your support for this site and the organization’s work advocating for designers in general, memberships (yes, you can gift it) start at just $50.