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Graduation Presents for Designers and Architects

Updated on March 30, 2014

Gift Ideas for Designers, Artists, and Visual People

How to commemorate this Big Day - Graduation! - for your special (but picky) designer?

Here are suggestions for well-designed, thoughtful graduation presents. Whatever their course of study - whether art, architecture, graphic design or another form of visual design - your new grad has a both a diploma... and a highly-trained eye for the well-designed.

It's hard for friends and family to keep up!

But here are a few suggestions...

Give 'em Tools!
Give 'em Tools!

Graduating Designers Need...

The tools of their trade.

They have the basic student-level equipment, but they may really need an upgrade to professional quality. If you can, ASK: "What would really help?"

A painter might appreciate top-quality art supplies (they're very expensive!). Maybe good brushes? A supply of the best-quality watercolor paper or stretched canvases?

An engineer or architect might need a computer upgrade. Or - a little smaller! - How about one of those short scale rules that fit in a pocket or notebook? Often they're beautifully made in wood - a handsome, professional accessory.

Or... think timeless: they might really appreciate a beautiful, vintage, wooden scale rule. (Tenth of inches or, better, metric for an engineer and 1/4"=1'-0" etc. for an architect.) Such a gift can be sentimental: I once gave a graduate a polished wood engineer's scale that had belonged to a grandfather - framed and backed by velvet - a gift that hangs over his modern computer workstation.

A graphic designer might appreciate art supplies or software. A textile or costume designer might need sewing supplies or a new sewing machine. An interior designer - and many others - would appreciate a small, tough, elegant tape measure.

Most designers need to document their work, so... A handsome portfolio case? A really good digital camera? Maybe you could subsidize an online portfolio... a website of their very own!

Or... maybe they're exhausted from the long hours of school and need a vacation! This could be that European Trip (ha!) or theater or concert tickets or gift passes to the movies. Or bubble bath.

A Leather Portfolio

For studio artists, designers, architects or any creative person who needs to carry - and protect! - original images flat. A portfolio case is a must. What could be nicer than a real, leather case? This one should last for many years and only get better looking. And, let's face it, pulling work out of a first-class portfolio can't help but make the work look better, right?

Before you buy though, check on what size art needs to be carried (there are many sizes of portfolios, this is a medium sized one)... and make sure your artist isn't, um, a vegan?


Although artists and designers commonly have an on-line portfolio, sometimes you just need to show an original!

Then you need a portfolio to protect and display it.

You'll notice that all these portfolios are black. There ARE colored versions, but why upstage the work? Portfolios need to be neutral, but classy.

Bugatti Leather Ring Binder Portfolio
Bugatti Leather Ring Binder Portfolio

Elegant black leather adds gravitas.


And the Perfect... - iPad

More and more of the designers I know are depending more and more on an iPad. Even designers who really can't afford one. They scrimp to own one.

Because they keep their portfolio on it. They show their website and on-line portfolio to anyone, anytime. Their do fast research in the middle of a production meeting. They pull-up a sketch. Check email. Do an amazing amount of work on it. And take notes from the meeting.

The iPod's big screen makes it ideal for displaying graphics and its tactile style of use appeals to designer-types.

Besides, it's beautiful.

Designers like beauty. That's why they're so often addicted to the Mac and Apple products.

Sure it's a BIG present. But it'd be big-ly appreciated.

Inspirational Reading

Sure the book's title reads "Architecture," but this book is really about ALL design - especially architecture and product design - and its importance in all our lives. Thoughtful. Beautifully written. Entertaining. Great reading!

I can't recommend this book too highly for ANY kind of designer.

The Architecture of Happiness
The Architecture of Happiness

I reread this book often.


Alvar Aalto Vase

This architect from Finland was one of the masters of Modernism... (With a particularly human, and sensuous version of that sometimes puritanical style.) He is most famous for his building designs in wood, which often had free-form or undulating walls.

Here Aalto applied his soft, sculpted, natural forms to glass... for one of the most famous and most beautiful iconic objects of the style: the Aalto Vase.

Fill this with your graduate's favorite flowers for a gift both romantic and elegantly well-designed.

Flower Vases

Flowers are always romantic. (Though you could fill a vase with other things... chocolates, sea shells, pearls?)

Vases can be gorgeously designed.

Here are vases in a variety of sizes, styles, and prices.

Alessi Trinava Flower Vase Green
Alessi Trinava Flower Vase Green

I love the quirky form and the delicate color.

PELEG DESIGN DCI Magnetic Flower Vase, Centerpiece, Set of 5
PELEG DESIGN DCI Magnetic Flower Vase, Centerpiece, Set of 5

There's something wonderful about multiples... especially when they're so elegantly minimal.


A Good Light

Architect, graphic designer, or any sort of artist, you can never have enough light.

Architect Style Black Finish Adjustable Halogen Desk Lamp
Architect Style Black Finish Adjustable Halogen Desk Lamp

The classic. And it's kinda handy sometimes if it DOESN'T have to clamp to the table top.


Vintage Drafting Tools on eBay

There's something nice about a connection to your professional forebears...

Vintage tools may no longer get used (though I use my compass now and then), but the feeling of continuity is comforting.

For instance, your architecture client today can't possibly be more maddening than architect Julia Morgan's 1920's client, William Randolph Hurst, who tended to return from European vacations with a WHOLE CASTLE ROOM to now build into her design. Redesign AGAIN!

So you can hold that antique architect's scale and know that whatever it is that YOU are redrawing, that scale has probably seen worse!

eBay, Etsy, and sometimes pawn shops are good sources for vintage drafting equipment.

A Serious Easel

Useful and beautiful in traditional wood, a good easel will be something an artist can use every day.

Jack Richeson Weston Full French Box Style Easel, Brown
Jack Richeson Weston Full French Box Style Easel, Brown

This is the type of thing the Impressionists used to work outdoors. Still useful.

American Easel Oak Yazhi Easel-Golden Finish
American Easel Oak Yazhi Easel-Golden Finish

Personally, I think wooden easels are gorgeous.


Pochade Boxes - Equipment for Outdoor Painting

Follow in the (muddy, wet, or dusty) footprints of the Impressionists and take an easel into Nature!

Here's how to choose the right one.

Or One in Light-Weight Aluminum

More modern and much lighter, an aluminum easel is easier to carry on trips in the field.

All This Grown-Up Art-Business Stuff... - Maybe it'd be nice to remind your grad of their roots?

Where did all this design-yness start?

HERE. This is just what your designer-grad first longed for: Every Crayon Color in the World!

Maybe it's time to finally own them, huh?

Or... - The somewhat more grown-up version?

Prismacolor pencils - just for fun.

I use this brand myself for professional ink and colored pencil renderings. What I like best (besides the terrific range of colors) is the ability TO ERASE if I goof up. This particular line of pencils are somewhat harder than others, giving more precision of line.


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    • cdevries profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @ViolaSuSi: Thanks! I hope your daughter has a great time exploring her interests... it's a life-time hobby (whether you design professionally or not!).

    • ViolaSuSi profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice lens. My daughter is interested in design and architecture.


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