The 20 best design gifts under $20

From office items to treats, here are 20 delightful and *actually* useful design gifts on a budget.

The 20 best design gifts under $20

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, and with big-ticket purchases out of the way, now comes the much longer list of gifts for coworkers and acquaintances. You know the type: those special pals that warrant a little more than an e-card, but for whom you don’t have the budget to lavish with extravagant gifts. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a list of thoughtful, well-designed stocking stuffers and Secret Santa gifts that won’t get tossed with the last outdated gadget, are actually useful, and will register as more than a gesture. Here are our picks for 20 delightful, safe-for-work holiday gifts under $20.


Best of all? You can avoid the crowds and find all of these online.

Paper vase in Gradient by Octaevo

[Photo: Poketo]

$16 at Poketo
Laminated and hand-sewn in Barcelona, this ombre-hued vase is made from waterproof paper and easily flattens when not in use–it’s a nice punch of color for the office, and easily stowed away. Just insert a reused bottle and flowers for an instant burst of joy.

Architectural postcard set by Alia Penner

[Photo: Commune Design]

$20 at Commune Design
Featuring eight iconic architecture sites, from Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 residential complex in Montreal to the historic Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Terminal at JFK, these colorful postcards by artist Alia Penner are worthy of keeping and framing. The set comes with eight.


G3 vessels by Shinya Yoshida

[Photo: Good Thing]

$12-16 each at Good Thing
The perfect catch-all for tchotchkes of any sort, these silicone vessels come in a pleasing range of on-trend colors and are food, dishwasher, microwave, and even oven safe, making them useful for practically any purpose.

Casa Bosques chocolate bar

[Photo: Forage Modern Workshop]

$11 at Forage Modern Workshop
Casa Bosques is easily the best independent bookstore in Mexico City, with an ace selection of art and design books and magazines–and their distinctive chocolate bars are arguably just as good, with unique, small-batch flavors often made in collaboration with creatives from around the world. A bonus? No gift wrap needed–you’ll want to show off the minimalist packaging.

Confetti cannon

[Photo: Fredericks and Mae]

$8 at Fredericks and Mae
Bless this mess, as the makers of this confetti cannon attest: Here’s a blissfully non-denominational gift to lighten the mood and bring some festive cheer to even the Grinchiest of friends. Twist and turn for a good time.


Color Block tear-off memo notepad

[Photo: Rifle Paper Co.]

$12 at Rifle Paper Co.
Organization never looked so good. And thanks to Rifle Paper Co.’s prismatic, pastel-hued take on Post-its, it can also be blissfully non-stress-inducing. This stack of 65 sheets are ideal for mapping out the week, with each day labeled in gold foil.

Clandestine notebook set

[Photo: Field Notes]

$12.95 at Field Notes
If there’s one thing that 2018 taught us, it’s that no data is safe or sacred–a good case for putting the important stuff in analog, the old-fashioned way, with paper and pen. This limited-edition set from Field Notes comes with three pocket-size notebooks in a stealth “Urban Gray. Year-long subscriptions ($97/year) come with a fun cipher wheel for encoding your most precious secrets.

Binchotan charcoal water purifying sticks by Morihata

[Photo: Morihata]

$18 at Ace Hotel
Even if you know someone who does deserve a pile of coal, the gag gift is never worth the spend. These all-natural, charcoal water purifying sticks have been used in Japan since the Edo period, and the wellness hound and rotten friend alike would be glad to receive them. Stick one piece in a bottle or carafe for clean, toxin-free water, and say goodbye to plastic forever.


Gather vases by Sam Anderson

[Photo: Good Thing]

From $19.50 each at Good Thing
Like a fancy wine glass, each of these sweet little vase variations–there are five different shapes in all–are designed with different types of flower varietals in mind. They come in clear and frosted, and the smaller three are a steal, at just under $20 a pop.

Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers by Imperfect Publishing

[Photo: The Primary Essentials]

$16 at The Primary Essentials
Imperfection is a comforting virtue to uphold in these stressful times–and the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi is a great salve to modern life. For the uninitiated, an update on this 1994 text by Leonard Koren is a great introductory read.

Cities coaster set

[Photo: Rifle Paper Co.]

$14 at Rifle Paper Co.
Illustrator Anna Bond’s signature whimsy makes this boxed set of four coasters–featuring New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo–a twee keepsake that you’ll almost feel bad for getting wet. Made in the U.S., they come on thick pulp board.


Glass ornament by AYTM

[Photo: Coming Soon]

$20 at Coming Soon
Timeless, simple ornaments free of holiday cliché, these geometric glass-and-brass baubles by the Danish brand AYTM will please even the most exacting minimalist. The ornament comes in two shapes and three colors: clear, smoke, and amber.

Dotted Cube tea towel by Nathalie Du Pasquier for Third Drawer Down

[Photo: Project No. 8]

$12 at Project No. 8
If you know a Memphis stan, they’re likely a fan of Nathalie Du Pasquier, the French illustrator and artist whose energetic, eye-popping patterns defined the movement’s aesthetic. While she dabbles in paintings these days, her line of tea towels with Australian concept store Third Drawer Down features reproduced archival works from the 1980s heyday.

Anything office essentials by Michael Sodeau

[Photo: Hay]

$20 each at HAY
In case you haven’t heard–the Danish design brand HAY has recently begun shipping to the U.S., and its accessories page is chock-full of affordable treats, including this trio of stately, sculptural office tools by Michael Sodeau. Leave it to the Danes to bring great style to the workplace.


Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours

[Photo: Cooper Hewitt Shop]

$14.95 at Cooper Hewitt Shop
A pocket-size, taxonomic guide to the world of natural colors from a pre-digital age, this seminal 1814 tome by mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner was brought back into print by the Smithsonian this year. As a bonus, a purchase from the Cooper Hewitt Shop is tax-free, and goes toward supporting the museum’s stellar programs year-round.

Olivetti Pattern Series pencil set by Made By Memo

[Photo: Princeton Architectural Press]

$14.95 at Princeton Architectural Press
For the analog typography geek in your life, this boxed set is sure to please–each of the 12 graphite pencils features patterns made on a vintage Olivetti typewriter.

Tiny Gem Calendar

[Photo: Kiosk]

$9 at Kiosk
Alisa Grifo and Marco ter Haar Romeny, founders of the concept store Kiosk, have a keen eye for finding beautiful, everyday objects in different locales around the world. Case in point: this simple, 365-day calendar sourced from Italy that doubles as a daily language lesson.


Glycerin hand soaps by Wary Meyers

[Photo: Wary Meyers]

$14 each at Wary Meyers
In the hands of the Cumberland, Maine–based duo John and Linda Meyers, these artisanal soaps are downright works of graphic art, and they smell pretty great, too. Choose from an array of colors and designs with witty names, including the popular terrazzo-like Cosmic Yuzu, to the Gucci-esque Italian Tomato Leaf, and a new glow-in-the-dark Limelight.

Tool bookmarks by Tom Dixon

[Photo: Tom Dixon]

$18 each at Tom Dixon
Digitally etched with the precision of a hand-drawn, crosshatched illustration, these brass sheet-metal designs by Tom Dixon are a tony update on the everyday bookmark.

Rasymatto coffee cup by Maija Louekari

[Photo: Marimekko]

$20 at Marimekko
The Finnish design brand Marimekko prides itself on its stable of illustrators and designers, and for good reason: its vibrant, graphic wares can be spotted from a mile away. If you gift a mug, choose one that your pal would be proud to keep on their desk. This high-quality design is made of stoneware, with a timeless pattern by Helsinki designer Maija Louekari.


About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.