It’s the time of year again when we zip down-filled puffers over layers of boiled wool and long underwear and convince ourselves that a chic beanie is tying our “look” together; we make excuses for lunchtime toddies (they’re medicinal!); haul pine trees up four-storey walk-ups; make ridiculous plane-train-automobile travel plans to visit family and swear we’re not going to stand for sleeping on the pull-out guest couch yet again this year (and then give in like a sap). In a word: we’re settling in for another season of compulsory giving.
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 the types of mags you’ll spend hours flipping through before nestling them into a hallowed home on your bookshelf.
- Migrant Journal 1-6, Complete Collection: This limited collection includes all six issues of the unmatchable Migrant Journal, designed by Swiss design duo of our dreams Offshore Studio. Since the magazine about the circulation of people, goods and information first launched three years ago, we’ve been awaiting finally matching all six spines together to complete the world-map illustration. With this sleek new box set, now you can too. ($132)
- Nice, issue 3: Nice features emerging voices and aspiring creatives and designers from across Africa, and its latest issue shines a spotlight on Katlehong, SA. Its design takes direction from digital aesthetics, vernacular signage, and 3D fonts, and it’s a new staple for the shelves of all art directors out there. ($32)
- Safar Journal, issue 4: This brilliant, bilingual (Arabic-English) biannual from Beirut looks at independent visual culture in the Middle East, with a tagline that promises to “flirt with, flee from, and fall for graphic design.” For a history of Arabic book design and a deep dive into the culture of drag queens in Beirut, look no further. ($26)
- Flaneur, issue 8: As Studio Yukiko fans will know well, each issue of Flaneur is an extensive exploration of the visual culture and stories belonging to one street in a different city for each issue. This year’s bright pink tome explores Wanhua in Taipei, and the result is a visual cacophony of letterforms and signage that’ll make type fanatics everywhere swoon. ($20)
- It’s Freezing in LA, issue 3: This indie offers fresh perspectives—and fresh design—on climate change, showcasing work by writers and illustrators that explores how climate change is currently affecting society. It’s perfect gift for both your Greta Thunberg-inspired high school niece as well as your red-capped climate-change denying uncle. ($9)
- Eye on Design, issue 6: For the latest issue of our very own magazine designed by Na Kim, we explore the elusive concept of idealism in its many forms. Show and share your Eye on Design love by pairing this purchase with our very own Eye on Design magazine pin badge from Stack, which features the award-winning cover of issue two, designed by Shira Inbar. ($19)
Desk goodies: For the co-worker who puts the “sad desk” in “sad desk lunch…”
If you can’t be the master of your design job destiny, at least be the master of your domain—namely your desk, which we firmly believe should hold more than your sticker-covered laptop, that free pen from your insurance company, and the awkward photobooth pic of you and your office mates pretending to have a good time (the giant pink mustache prop is not helping). If this sounds like you or someone you know, here’s how you can help:
- A tape dispenser that doubles as a sculpture may seem like a waste of precious desk space at first glance; unless you’re Martha Stewart, we know you’re not taping things together with actual Scotch tape. But when you peel your eyes away from the blue-light vortex of your screen and need to rest them on something besides your news feed or your latest typeface experiment, you could feast them on far worse than this. It’s expensive for a tape dispenser, but a bargain for a piece of art. ($80, Merge)
- These scissors that are too fancy to ruin by ripping open packages, because you need at least one pair that isn’t covered in tape gunk and dulled to Crayola-safety-scissors levels. ($45, HMM)
- Lamy Safari Pencil is what we reach for when we have to write something down on actual paper, but pretty much anything from Lamy’s catalogue is sure to please. The Safari pencil was designed in 1980 by Wolfgang Fabian and Bernt Spiegel of the Entwicklungsgruppe Mannheim, which will mean nothing to most people but will impress the pants off anyone serious about their writing instruments. ($12, Lamy)
- Custom rubber stamp—wait, hear us out. Before there were emojis, and way before clip art came on the scene, there were engravings—books and books of them. Entire catalogs were devoted to hyper-specific examples of sea creatures or food prep or human anatomy. Many are very, very strange, and would be the perfect subject matter for a rubber stamp—because your signature is great and all, but imagine how much better it would be if it was accompanied by a tuxedo-clad cat playing the fiddle. It also accomplishes what any perfect gift ought to: no one will see it coming, and everyone will be delighted. Custom orders available. (From $15, Casey Rubber Stamps)
- The Irojiten set of 36 colored pencils is so beautifully organized, the design details so well thought out, that it will make a grown person cry. This is as great for a fancy child or responsible teen as it is for your boss, your mom, or for an actual working illustrator whose been extra good about filing on deadline this year. ($60, CW Pencils)
- Not any lame glass is a vase, and even the humblest bodega flower is a prized stem in this so-simple-how-does-it-not-exist-yet floral hack. Instant desk upgrade. ($38, Poketo)
- This purple candle that doesn’t suck is perfect for the anti-candle-acting person who is secretly a hot-bath-red-wine-good-night person. ($24, Areaware)
Calendars: For when you need to get organized or get off the grid…
Sometimes you need to be on your A-game minute by minute, and other times whole days could pass and you could give a f*ck. We’ve got you covered—no inspirational carpe diem quote calendars in the bunch, promise.
- The Tan & Loose Press 2020 wall calendar: Like Tan & Loose’s Riso-printed monthly pub The Smudge, the studio’s annual wall calendar is a throwback to simpler times when people took lunch breaks and stared out of windows for whole minutes; visited unspoilt natural preserves and relaxed with grass, not drops of CBD; and generally believed that things would be okay if we all just chilled out and were nicer to each other. Consider this calendar a passport to that ancient world. Hang it on your wall. Stare. Repeat. ($15, Tan & Loose)
- 30 Day Goal Tracker: If we were annoying we’d talk about how this gamifies your month, but we’re not so we’ll just say that it makes any onerous habits you’re trying to stick to or tasks you’re trying to accomplish a little more shapely, colorful, and fun. It’s also highly effective—just think how sad and empty this would look if you missed a day? That’s precisely the kind of gentle guilt you need to get your shit done. ($12, Poketo)
- Typodarium 2020 calendar: Heavy on the inspiration, light on the #inspo, each time you tear off a new page of the daily Typodarium calendar, you meet a new “rising design star” and a new typeface. Also, the simple act of turning over a new page each day makes the fact that you’ve lived another 24 hours seem like an accomplishment in and of itself. Go you. ($24, Cooper Hewitt)
- Rubber Stamp calendar: Take control of your month by stamping it anywhere you damn well please: over the cover of your company’s annual report, your computer screen, your favorite rock, your forehead, on top of another Rubber Stamp calendar—the opportunities are only limited by your imagination. ($23 Present & Correct)
- Stendig “Vignelli” calendar: Because, Vignelli. ($38)
- 2020 MoMA Appointment Calendar: Want a weekly calendar that’s just a weekly calendar—no gimmicks or obligations to fill out the dates yourself? This agenda from MoMA is just straightforward enough to be the simple, unobtrusive thing you need it to be, but just interesting enough to not be too basic. Obviously we love the cover, plus you get a new piece of “eye”-catching art each time you flip the page. ($22, MoMA)
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. If 2019 has told us anything about typography, it’s that you’re a varied bunch when it comes to choosing what you want for your designs, and that you’re even more varied when it comes to what typeface your personality most aligns with (cuz we all need to know that, right?) This year also proved that there are still so many unanswered questions about the craft—especially if you happen to want to chat about the nuances of kerning and so on with your parents over the holiday season, perhaps. There’s an ever-rapidly-growing selection of typefaces to choose from, 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 occasionally font-futuristic as they are usable:
- For those of you feeling bummed out that you’ll never get there when it comes to releasing your debut typeface, take heart in Simula, designed by Justin Sloane for Sharp Type. “Four years of drawing and redrawing” were what it took for “outsider” Sloane, who has no formal type training to create the font, which in its final form is described as a “mechanical re-interpretation of calligraphic form,” with a significant contrast between the Roman and Italic. Buy the Simula Family for $75 or its individual Book or Book Italic variants for $50.
- If you’re one of the out-and-out haterz, or know someone who is, then we have just the font for you: a typeface custom made for hurling insults called Injurial, designed by Sandrine Nugue for the foundry 205TF. The font was originally created for French cartoonist Boll’s 2014 novel The Case is in the Paper Bag, described as “aimed at fans of Eduardo Mendoza and followers of Monty Python, where language overflows and logic borders on the absurd while the absurd becomes logical.” Nugue says she developed the book’s typeface to withstand the worst, but with a certain refinement and eloquence: Injurial is a sharp, elegant font made specifically for expressing the many insults found in the pages of the novel. Buy it for all your nasty needs for $75.
- What do you get when you mix an ’80s cyberpunk action film with typography? The perfect font for the nostalgic and sci-fi nerdy, that’s what: Robocap by Nikolos Killian and Tanner Woodbury
for design studio Forth + Back is the product of its creators’ love of director Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic RoboCop, and the film’s otherworldly themes and visions of dystopian futures. “We became fascinated by the idea that iconic narratives remembered from childhood could influence and form the foundation for typographic exploration,” says Woodberry. An authoritative yet endearingly human display font, Robocap lends an aura of hi-tech precision and a no-nonsense toughness.
- Hot on the heels of the perfect font for movie nerds, here’s a perfect one for anyone who loves David Bowie (that’ll be most of you, we’d very much hope.) A typeface inspired by the Thin White Duke himself (and the wild west), with a funky twist, Gustella by Thomas Thiemich for foundry Type By is the ’70s bellbottoms of typefaces. Its reverse contrast letterforms owe a debt to the extreme slab serifs of the late 19th century, seen on everything from the Wild West’s “Wanted” handbills to circus posters; as well as to 1960s psychedelic poster lettering and namely the sleeve for Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory. Make your design just as cool (or try to) for $50 for one style of Gustella (there are a few to choose from.)
- Finally, if you’ve a need for speed, we’ve just the font for you: one that balloons and builds between different sizes and widths fast as a rocket. Zoom Pro was designed by Florian Paizs for The Designers Foundry, and has finally seen the light of day after more than three years in development. This year marked the release of his latest, expanded version of the typeface, which includes 36 styles in six weights and six widths (an upgrade from the 12 styles launched in 2017). But this, it seems, is just the beginning: Paizs has suggested that eventually Zoom will have more 150 styles; so this may well truly be the gift that keeps on giving. Zoom offers a range of stylistics alternatives which change the appearance of the typeface dramatically with one click—it can be chunky, sleek, nimble, whatever you fancy, really: this is the bubble bath/socks of gifts, when you just don’t know what damn font to buy someone. All 36 styles of Zoom Pro can be bought for $180; with individual fonts retailing at $25 and families of six costing $100.
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):
- Detroit Printing Co-Op by Danielle Aubert: Not short on amazing imagery—think overprinting, collage techniques, that Society of the Spectacle cover—plus a comprehensive history of a little-known radical printer to boot. Lorraine and Fredy Perlman’s 1970s printing press Detroit Printing Co-Op is explored in depth by Aubert, and its prodigious output is put on full, fascinating display. For the Riso-heads, of which we know a few. ($29.95)
- notamuse: A New Perspective on Women Graphic Designers in Europe by Silva Baum, Claudia Scheer and Lea Sievertsen: As a response to the dominance of men in the European graphic design scene, this book—by our very own research collaborators notamuse—is a portfolio of work by contemporary women in the field. ($55)
- Dorothy Iannone: A Cookbook: Another stunning facsimile, is one for fans of “eroticism and introspection,” and also—though not required—cooking. The artist Dorothy Iannone created her cookbook in 1969 while in a relationship with the Swiss artist Dieter Roth. She intersperses recipes with personal writing, all within “densely packed pages glowing in bright felt-tip pen.” ($40)
- How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell: A very hyped book this year for a very good reason. Odell offers a guide to “resisting the attention economy,” without going the well-trod digital detox route. Instead, she collects ideas from artists, philosophers, writers, and critics to build a thoughtful and compelling argument for refusal—of social media and the “unforgiving landscape of productivity” it fosters—and for re-situating ourselves within the natural world. A good gift should you happen to know anyone experiencing burnout (lol). ($16)
- Design by Accident by Alexandra Midal: Described by one Eye on Design editor as the best book on design she’s read all year, Design by Accident is a critical analysis of the design canon, ultimately offering new histories and shedding light on overlooked designers from the 19th century to today. For your brainiest design friend. ($26)
- Copy This Book by Eric Schrijver: Nothing says “holiday spirit” quite like copyright law. Seriously though—they’ll thank you later. Get it for $17 here or copy and distribute it yourself like a little IP elf (it’s totally legal, as long as you don’t sell it).
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 darkly comic, wonderfully illustrated book about robbers. If that’s the kind of mini-me you’re rearing, we’ve got you covered:
- Multi Crayons: Can’t decide what color to use? Not a problem. These multi-hued crayons from Fredericks and Mae give you multiple options in a single go. The marble-esque sticks melt complementary colors together, creating ombre hues as they’re dragged across a page. ($12)
- Design Critic T-shirt: It’s never too early to develop a critical eye. This T-shirt is for the little one taking after their parents, who spend far too much time on Design Twitter. Between the bright red fabric and bold sans-serif, no one will have to wonder if your tot has an opinion on the new Facebook logo (“needs more gradients”)—because the answer is obvious. ($20)
- All My Animals: Few things are cuter than getting a kid to roar like a lion or hoot like an owl—except, perhaps, this book of illustrated animals from German publisher Gestalten. All My Animals is a clever little book written by Lauren Napier and illustrated by Polish artist Dawid Ryski. The book is filled with oversized, poster-like illustrations that take up the entire page. They’re just the right amount of graphic and twee to make reading the book enjoyable for kids and their discerning parents. ($25)
- Colorful backgammon set: So your kid’s a math prodigy. Congrats! Put those mental math skills to good use with this colorful backgammon set. They’ll be able to calculate odds and strategize on moves all the while staring at this glorious rainbow colored table. ($89)
- Balancing Cactus: This little game might look simple, but it’s full of teachable moments. From learning about balance to eye-hand coordination, these wooden cactus parts are a charming new take on building blocks. Every player can build his or her own version of the cactus, so long as it doesn’t topple over. ($30)
Donate: For the minimalist who’s now eschewing material possessions…
You know that designer who’s pared things back so far their apartment looks like a gallery space pre-install and the only thing on their desk besides a computer is a Wacom tablet? Call their bluff and make a donation or sign a petition in their name. Bonus points for gifting this to that dusty old relative who still thinks climate change is a hoax.
- Designers Available: is a project initiated by Joelle Riffle that connects designers interested in contributing their skills in support of non-profits and community organizations, facilitating social change through direct service. Starting 2019, the platform will allow designers from underrepresented backgrounds working with non-profits to get paid for their work. You can donate here to help compensate these designers equitably for their time.
- Interference Archive: An all-volunteer open-archive that aims to encourage critical and creative engagement with our rich history of social movements. Its mission manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings. You can become a member and/or support it here.
- 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.
- Mind: A mental health charity in England and Wales that offers information and advice to people with mental health problems and lobbies government and local authorities on their behalf.
- 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.