We’ll readily admit that gift guides are the lazy person’s answer to holiday giving. Click a link, scroll, and hopefully you’ll stumble across the exact thing you’ve been in search of for those hard to please people in your life. Let us stop you before you get too far: This particular gift guide is niche, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you are shopping for. If that person happens to be an aesthetics-obsessed design nerd who loves calendars, magazines, and anything that will up their desk game—well, you’re in luck. And if not, we think there’s probably something for them anyway. Read on for the 2021 installment of our annual, can’t-miss-it ode to capitalism.
Mag mag mag: For the hoarder who can’t stop adding to that pile of magazines on the coffee table…
If you pop by your local big-box store, you might think the sum toll of your print magazine options begins with Better Homes and Gardens and culminates with Consumer Reports. These days, you’ve got to dig to uncover the really good stuff—or at least trust your friendly Eye on Design editor with a veritable shovel. Here are six of our 2021 faves.
- Counterpoint: Illustrator Bethany Thompson and journalist Sam Bradley combined forces to create Counterpoint online in 2013—and today it’s a publication that’s a harmonious blend of their combined crafts, Risograph-printed to perfection. Thematic issues have taken on Mystery, Survival, Eating, Flight, and Anger, and the most recent installment, Play, addresses everything from sex toys and LGBTQ+ censorship to board game psychodrama. ($7–$11 per issue)
- Umber: Mike Nicholls has said in the past that he did not create Umber to address diversity and inclusion—rather, he seeks to archive the narratives of a community: “Umber paints Black people, Indigenous people, Latin Americans, and marginalized people of color around the world with the full palette of their experiences, allowing their brilliance to expand and redefine what it means to be Black and Brown.” Powerful stories, bolstered by top-tier typography and design, make Umber stand out in a sea of literary sameness. ($30 per issue)
- Delayed Gratification: In an age of instant coffee–quality news served up with a side of misinformation (looking at you, Meta!), it’s downright nourishing to open a magazine obsessed with journalistic accuracy, depth, and context. A champion of “slow journalism,” the ad-free Delayed Gratification excels at cutting through a culture of rampant clickbait as it tackles everything from international issues to politics and culture (while managing to look damn sharp and dominate the data viz game in the process). ($16 per issue)
- Anorak: You wouldn’t expect an alum of the U.K.’s gritty ’90s culture mags to create one of the best independent kids’ publications around … but hey, it’s 2021, and stranger things have happened. With Anorak, Cathy Olmedillas has produced an utterly vibrant magazine for children 6–12, printed on recycled paper with vegetable ink, and drawing praise from the likes of Françoise Mouly. Through its design and content, Anorak seeks to stimulate and challenge its readership … and we’d be lying if we didn’t consider ourselves among them, right alongside our kids. Even for those of us who don’t have any. ($10 per issue)
- Posterzine: The best magazines surprise and delight—and, well, after nearly 75 issues, Posterzine still manages to do exactly that. The first volume indeed surprised when it hit our mailbox: We opened it and were delighted to discover a magazine in A1 poster form. Every installment since—focusing on creators like Anthony Burrill, Zipeng Zhu, Shantell Martin and so many others—has remained a grab bag of typographic and design alchemy, equal parts by and about its monthly creator/subject. ($13 per issue)
- A Subscription to Stack: Can’t decide which indie mag is best to gift a friend this year? Make someone else do it! Stack scours the world for the best magazines you probably have never heard of (except Eye on Design magazine, natch), and drops them off on your doorstep every month. You never know what will show up—but we have yet to be disappointed. ($9 per month)
Desk goodies: For the coworker who wants WFH to feel a little less work from home
Most of us are currently living dual desk lives—there’s the desk that exists in the office (theoretically, anyway), where we’ve spent a few days since *gestures broadly around* all this began. And then there’s the home office desk where we’ve really set up camp, covered in some permutation of books, cats and plates that are just ever-so-slightly out of the Zoom frame. Well, a new year is coming, and it’s time to do both better and revamp our most hallowed hunching grounds.
- Team Demi Office Set: Scissors. Ruler. Stapler. Tape Dispenser. You wouldn’t think such average objects could be combined to form such a harmonious whole, but damn, industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa did just that with his classic Team Demi Office Set. Reissued in 2021 with a SIM card pin, everything in the box is magnetic—and hearing them click into place is our new ASMR. ($85)
- Braun ET66: Yeah, your Mac has a calculator. Your phone has a calculator. You might even have some Texas Instruments behemoth discarded in a drawer, a remnant of your traumatic trigonometry days. But none of them are Dieter Rams’ 1987 Braun ET66 (even if they were inspired by it). This is the calculator that defies drawers and demands its place on your desk. ($50)
- Bodum Chambord Coffee Cups: We know: When it comes to coffee culture, it’s all about the bean. But why can’t it be about the mug, too? Kitchenware purveyor Bodum has crafted a set of borosilicate glasses for MoMA that echoes its iconic Chambord French press. And, well, these cups are the current buzz (sorry) of the office. ($18)
- Conway Electric Jax Touch: We never thought we were capable of lusting over a power strip … until we began lusting over Conway Electric’s power strips. But it took the addition of a lamp to push us over the edge and into splurge territory. Crafted with brass, cast aluminum, and stainless steel, and assembled by hand in LA, Conway’s Electric Jax Touch boasts a surge protector, USBs, and even a cord that dazzles for days. ($255)
- Ito Bindery Pencil Stand: Remember your opaque pencil cases of yesteryear? Well, you might also remember how they did your prettiest pencils dirty. Give your writing instruments the place they deserve—out of your desk and by your hand—with Ito’s Pencil Stand, crafted from multiple layers of recycled cardboard. ($30)
- Neon Mondri Vase: Is this technically a vase? Yes—in three different configurations, actually. But we’d argue that Frank Kerdil’s design, based on the De Stijl movement, is a sculpture in its own right. Ultimately, whatever you have to tell yourself to nab one for your desk, your co-workers will thank you. ($100)
Calendars: For the type-A (and, erm, aspiring type-A) workers among us
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:
- Crispin Finn year calendar: There’s a certain charm to seeing your year at a glance — rows of vacation days blocked out like missing teeth, birthdays circled, holidays noted in one tidy grid. With this red, white, and blue macro view designed by Crispin Finn, you see all the annual highlights but save the daily minutia for that planner you stuff into your desk drawer every night. (£20 or $27, Crispin Finn)
- Julie Joliat planner: If you like a side of environmentalism with your planner, this diary from Berlin designer Julie Joliat is exactly what you’re looking for. The weekly planner leaves plenty of space for jotting down tasks and to-dos, while also imparting bits of trivia, wisdom, and doodles (often sustainability focused) on the pages, too. Think of it as a planner-meets-book. (25 €, $28.50, Edition Julie Joliat)
- Stendig calendar: We thought about crossing this one off the list this year, but then we realized: classics are classics for a reason, and the Stendig is here to stay. ($36, Stendig)
- Caboose Riso calendar: Would it really be an EoD gift guide without a Riso-printed calendar. We all know the answer to that. We’re here to stan the Caboose 2022 calendar, which like in years past, is just the right amount of useful and weird. ($15, Caboose)
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 roll of craft paper. If that’s the kind of mini-me you’re rearing, we’ve got you covered.
- Roll of craft paper: As most parents can attest to, sometimes the best gift is the one that hardly looks like a gift at all. Tear off a piece of craft paper, tape it to the table, and you’ve bought yourself at least 30 minutes of entertainment. ($31 for 200 feet, Blick)
- Ecobirdy Art Table: And speaking of tables, this one from furniture maker Ecobirdy is both pretty to look at and totally sustainable. Made from upcycled toys, the molded ecothylene table looks like high-design terrazzo but with a playful twist. ($375, Ecobirdy)
- D Is For Design: Design education starts early. This book from the Cooper Hewitt is a design crash course disguised as an ABCs board book. ($13, Cooper Hewitt)
- Keith Haring Polaroid camera: This Keith Haring Polaroid camera is the zenith of commercial art partnerships, but you know what? We don’t hate it. In fact, we kind of love it. Every photo comes with its own Haring illustration doodled around the frame, which means your kid’s selfies are about to reach a whole new level of artfulness. ($140, MoMA Design Store)
- Matisse puzzle: If you’ve ever thought to yourself, wouldn’t Matisse’s cut-outs make for a perfect puzzle, you are not alone. This Montessori-inspired puzzle takes the best of Matisse—amorphous florals, wobbly line figures— and translates them into a colorful puzzle that will impart an art lesson on top of entertainment.
Donate: To the people and orgs working to build a better world…
There’s really no better gift than that of a donation to a worthy cause, especially after another pandemic year like 2021. Put one down in a friend or family member’s name or tap 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: Despite vaccination initiatives and public health measures, the COVID-19 pandemic is lasting longer than many expected, leading to precarious conditions for people in different parts of the world. 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.
- Mind: After another year of (mostly) isolation, mental health is even more important, both for ourselves and those around us. Mind is a charity in England and Wales that offers information and advice to people with mental health issues and lobbies government and local authorities on their behalf.
- No Kid Hungry: Millions of children in the U.S. rely on their school meals for food each day. 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.
- 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.
- AIGA membership: Eye on Design is published by AIGA, which means it exists because of member support of AIGA. Members get access to exclusive online content, discount events, and networking opportunities. 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.