• Steven Heller

The Design Of Gifting

Every year Alex Isley Inc., designers in Connecticut, bestows an end-of-the-year gift to clients and friends of the studio. They are the best gifts I receive each year. At a time and age when most gifting is superfluous, it is a joy to receive something so functional that it is design perfection and life enhancing. I don’t think Isley would care for these grandiloquent words, since the objects speak for themselves. So, let’s hear about them in Isley’s own voice:

Baseball: Simple and (I think) beautiful. It fits well in one’s hand and the red stitching against the white is pretty perfect. They also make for nice after-meeting follow-ups even if you don’t like baseball, We all sign them and it reminds people that even though it’s my name on the door we’re a whole team.

Why did you choose this method of bestowing gifts? I decided some time ago that I wanted to try to send out objects that were personalized, perhaps a little unusual, and that might give some insight into what we believe constitutes good design. (And people have enough calendars, anyway.)

B. Stapler: The iconic red Swingline stapler, famous from the “Office Space” movie. (The original prop was a standard product spray painted red and it was such a hit that the company started manufacturing them.) We send it filled with red staples.

how do you decide? We spend a lot of time looking for items that are classic, simple, well made, do their job well, are economical to source, and are pleasing to use — and that perhaps are overlooked in the course of everyday living. (They also need to be relatively inexpensive to personalize and mail: as much as I really want to, I know we won’t be sending out bowling pins any time soon.)

Engraved cocktail shaker with drink recipe booklet featuring staff members’ favorite drinks.

D. Classic claw hammer: “Alexander Isley Inc. Designers: Practitioners of the Nuanced Arts of Persuasion & Encouragement”.

Ice pack: You really only see these in cartoons and 1940s movies so I was happy to find they still make them.

How do you make something like a scissor or horsehair brush, well, sexy? An important part of each gift lies in the way the object is presented. There’s always some sort of wrapper, insert card, or tag where we talk about what we think makes the object worthy, satisfying, and beautiful. Perhaps there’s a story with some history involved or some fun facts along with instructions for use. On occasion, a haiku might be called for.

Scissor: This is my all time favorite. A piece of functional art.

Scissors: This was a tough one to source and engrave. No one wants crappy scissors. We included a little poem as part of the package..

What do you hope to get in return? Or is better to give than receive? This gives us a chance to demonstrate a variety of things: How presentation and exposition are important components of what designers can provide; that one need not spend a lot of money in order to connect with people; and that a new perspective can perhaps make the commonplace more interesting.

Espresso cups and saucers: We have a machine in the office that’s always going, so this seemed like a natural.

Fly swatter: The thwack (even if you miss) is the satisfying sound of action and accomplishment.

I. Classic cheese grater: The hardest part was stamping the recipients’ names into the metal. I think this has received the most enthusiastic response of all the gifts we’ve sent. Who knows why.

Boot jack: My parents always had one around the house, so I thought everyone has one. My coworkers informed me that I was wrong. The great Ross MacDonald did a couple of drawings to help explain this thing.

Horsehair Brush: Based on the classic Fuller desk brush, which sadly is no longer in production. With some digging and luck we were able to source a replica, which was our most recent gift.

I know why I love these, especially the scissors, but what has been the overall response? What I often hear back when someone receives one of these is “I can’t decide whether to display it or use it.” My vote is for use.

#DailyHeller #AlexIsley #StevenHeller #gifts #EverydayDesign