To know one is to love one. The frazzled undergrad nephew logging countless hours wielding exacto knives and pushing pixels into the wee hours of the morning, your kid who’s been out of school for a few years and finally landed an art director position at the firm who showed her the ropes or your weird uncle, no one really knows what he does or why he can’t shave but you heard he’s a freelance design something or other.

Every year you have to buy your designer something to remind them of your affection, which is easier said than done. Sure, everyone can use a pair of warm, woolen fuzzy socks, especially those of us who remain frozen to a computer. But designers are notoriously picky. We like things to work well and most of all, be pretty. And the definition of what’s desirable changes from designer to designer.

If you have the task of purchasing a gift for a designer, here are a few things that may illicit a genuine “thank you!”

1. Coffee Subscription

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single designer under a tight deadline must be in want of copious amounts of excellent coffee. The perfect way to show you understand this inherent need is to have coffee delivered to their doorstep. No need to waste time running to *bucks to have your name spelled wrong. With a coffee subscription, your beloved designer will be caffeinated at all hours.

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2. A Book Apart Gift Card

A Book Apart “cover(s) the emerging and essential topics in web design and development with style, clarity, and, above all, brevity.” Chances are your designer has heard of them and may even own a few of the books, but they’re like Lay’s potato chips—you can’t have just one. A Book Apart has genuinely set the standard and is an excellent resource for reliable and useful standards and practices in design.


3. Literally Anything With an Ampersand On It

Ask a designer why they are so enamored of ampersands and they may get a few words in before muttering they don’t know why. Ampersands embody the ineffable elegance of typography in one symbol.

We’re dorks, all right? But really, if it has an ampersand on it, we’ll love it.

4. Creativity Sanctuary

Designers are special little creatures that like to think. It’s been said that having a separate space dedicated to creativity helps usher in new ideas rather than scrolling through Google. This Lean To could be just that space that frees up their mind. Compact enough to pitch in the office or in a home office, this mobile sanctuary can cultivate creativity anywhere.

Or maybe a few sheets and a chair would do.


5. Typographic Tattoos from Tattly

Tattly is the best, conceived by the accomplished designer Swiss Miss when she was unimpressed with the artwork temporarily adorning her daughter’s arm. She now refers to an arsenal of talented designers to create unique and stylish temporary tattoos with breathtaking range. 

Go the extra step and click on the “trypographic” category to show how much you care. 


6. Roy Lichstenstein Umbrella

While we’re known for our wardrobes that showcase varying shades of black and gray, some designers desire a little extra POP in their life. May also be useful for deterring pesky birds looking for a rest stop.


7. How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman

This book was written in an interview style and includes the most recognizable names in design, including Michael Beirut, Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, Neville Brody, Chip Kidd…the list goes on. Admittedly, you probably have never heard these names given being a famous designer is the equivalent of achieving fame in dentistry, but your dear designer will.

I’ve read numerous books on design including undergrad texts and the armfuls I get from the library, and this one has been my favorite by far. Spoiler alert: there’s no one way to think like a great graphic designer.

Photo Credit: Robby Ingebretsen

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8. Miscellaneous Goods Playing Cards

Designers like well-made, pretty things and we’re not shy about it. To that end, Miscellaneous Goods cannot be matched for attention to detail, just downright good design, along with a taste for entropy. I own a deck of these cards and I don’t even like card games. They’re just so pretty.

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9. How To by Michael Beirut

You may have noticed this guy’s name in the list of people Debbie interviewed for her book. If anyone can write the book on how to design, it’s Michael Beirut. Currently a partner at Pentragram New York as a well as a professor at Yale, he takes the luxurious expanse of his book to explain the thoughts and concepts behind his projects. It’s just a small peek into one of the best design minds we have today, and yet it’s impossible to walk away from this book uninspired.

Photo Credit: Hamish Smyth


10. Rhodia Grid Designer Notebook

Designers are suckers for things to scribble in so they collect notebooks and sketch pads like candy. Graph paper is restrictive, but an entirely blank page can be intimidating. Dot grids hit the right balance when you need subtle hints to draw a straight line, or you can completely ignore them if it suits your fancy. These notebooks come in a range of sizes depending on whether your designer is starting their next masterpiece or prefers to carry their ideas around in their back pocket.

Hopefully this list will give you a few ideas of what to gift your cranky designer. Best of luck, and may the odds be in your favor.