9 unique gift ideas from a product designer
Professor of Industrial Design David Klein recommends stylish goods for the holiday season.
Stuck for gift ideas this year? David Klein, MFA, professor of Industrial Design at Metropolitan State University of Denver, presents a hand-picked list of design-savvy goods that are guaranteed to make anyone’s day.
$299 (Link Product Development)
Let’s start with something homegrown. This fabulous device was designed by MSU Denver Industrial Design graduate Schuylar Livingston for a Denver-based company. It lets you wake up to constantly changing musical compositions that gently fade in (and were arranged by Jon Natchez from rock band The War on Drugs). It’s forged from metal and wood in a minimalist design and features a dynamic-range BMR speaker. It was selected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is available in the museum’s Design Store.
Palo Santo wood sticks
Change the entire mood of your home with these natural, unadorned wooden incense sticks, which smell like the best campfire in the world. Palo Santo wood comes from a tree in South America, and its name translates as “holy wood.” It is famously fragrant, containing notes of pine, mint and lemon.
Sometimes, you can’t beat a solid build and really simple design. This thick-gauge aluminum stand looks great and works even better. It can hold your cell phone vertically or horizontally, and the rubber pads on the phone rest (and the bottom) keep everything firmly in place. There’s also a niftily designed slot for your charging cable. Available in black, silver or a range of fun colors, it will brighten anyone’s desk.
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Compact just got even more compact. The Minimo range of pens really lives up to its name, measuring just 91 millimeters (just over 3½ inches) long and 3.68 millimeters (one-seventh of an inch) wide. But despite their diminutive nature, these retractable ballpoint pens are incredibly well-made. Dinky enough to fit in your wallet or organizer, they’re perfect if you need to take notes on the go. But it’s the aesthetics that really count — owning one is like holding a small but perfectly formed piece of Japanese culture in your hand.
$179 (Soundmatters foxL)
One of the earliest entries into the small-Bluetooth-speaker market, this tastefully minimalist product is still one of the best. Klein has tested it side by side with Bose and JBL and says the overall sound is actually better! Since it’s much smaller, you don’t quite get that “booming” volume, but the dynamic range is amazing and it’s still pretty loud. (Top tip: Placing it on the floor in a corner dramatically increases the bass response.) It’s rare to find things so well-made that are relatively inexpensive.
P.S.: The mini-version, the Soundmatters Dash, is teensy but still packs a formidable audio punch.
Desk and floor lamps
$250-360 (Koncept Splitty)
It’s always a pleasure when great design just knocks it out of the park. These stylish lamps get pretty much everything right. They’re incredibly aesthetic, with LED heads shaped like water droplets. The brilliant design means you get 360-degree motion and can articulate each lamp to any position. Plus, they provide both focused and ambient light and even remember previous settings. Oh, and they come in a range of vibrant color options. But above all else, they’re just really well-made.
Backup reading glasses
These tiny glasses (just 0.4 grams and smaller than a credit card) easily fit in your wallet, purse or even shirt pocket, so you’ll never be without them. And small doesn’t mean vulnerable. Made from high-quality, injection-molded polycarbonate, these toughies are scratch- and crack-proof. The best bit? They reputedly fit every schnoz. That’s because they have little teeth that gently grip your nose and won’t slide off like other glasses do. (To press home this point, the sales ad shows a gymnast doing multiple back somersaults without dislodging them.) A great, wee gift.
There are several reasons to love these cool-looking earbuds, which come in a transparent design “to reveal the raw beauty of our technology.” Super-lightweight and comfortable, they boast an amazingly dynamic range and especially good bass (due to a spacious air chamber). But the clincher is a special feature that lets you control the noise-cancellation levels. That means you can have total peace or — if you’re out jogging or bike-riding, for example — let in some surrounding noise.
$230-400 (Alessi 9090)
Created by the iconic German industrial designer Richard Sapper, this gift represents a total rethink on how you should construct and operate a stovetop espresso maker. Made from surgical-grade stainless steel in a range of sizes (from 1 to 10 cups), it features a no-drip spout and handy non-screw assembly. But most important, the ultra-wide base utilizes the smallest flames for maximum heat and protects the rubber seal (which eventually fails on most other designs). As the winner of the Italian Compasso d’Oro award for good design, it also looks really cool. How reliable is it? Klein has had his for 22 years and says he still uses it every day.