The Creative’s Toolbox: 30 Must-Haves for Designers

No matter how creative you are, some days it’s hard to jump-start your imagination when you’re behind a desk and staring at a computer screen. Whether you work at a swanky design firm, in cubicle-ville or from a home office, here are 30 surefire creative tools to dig up inspiration and get your ideas flowing—when you’re at work, on the go or off the clock.


Dress Up Your Desktop

As someone who works in the visual arts, it should come as no surprise that the way our workspace looks impacts the way we work. Steven DuPuis, founder of The DuPuis Group, an agency that specializes in design innovation, understands the importance of working in a creative environment. “A visually minded person is easily stimulated by their surroundings,” DuPuis says. “Our sight uses more energy than any other human function because it processes millions of images per day.” That’s why it’s important that your desk is as energizing as possible. DuPuis advises utilizing colors wisely. “Color stimulates our senses, drives our moods and can spark our creativity.” Check out these products that are sure to perk up any workspace with punch, personality and a whole lot of color.


Colorful Desktop Tools

Douse your desktop with color. Poppin offers a slew of essentials in bright, eye-catching hues. Whether it’s orange scissors or a stash of aqua trays for organizing papers, there are plenty of options for perking up your workspace. Prices vary;


Novel Notepads

Have fun while taking notes or making your to-do list on this pad that features hand-drawn lines that are reminiscent of loose-leaf paper. On another, find the motivation to cross things off your list with the tattoo-inspired “Do or Die” insignia illustrated on each page. $8 each;


Pantone Stationery Set

If you love collecting paint chips at the home improvement store, consider this stationery set, which features letterhead, envelopes and stickers that sport various color swatches. $14.95;

Shop Pantone color guides, chips and sets at MyDesignShop!


Origami Sticky Notes

When you need to write yourself a to-do list, jot it down on one of these notes. And once you’ve completed it, don’t just throw it away. Instead, follow the directions printed on the background of each note and fold it into one of 10 different 3D origami shapes, such as a boat or a butterfly. $4;


Graphite Quill

Pretty and practical, this graphite quill is one part objet d’art and another part writing tool. Handcrafted by sculptor Anelio Batle, it should last seven to nine years with daily use, and its graphite resists smudging onto your hand.



The Day Designer

Don’t just design your projects, design a productive day, too, with the help of The Day Designer. Created by graphic designer Whitney English, this organizer is specifically geared toward the creative entrepreneur with worksheets, spots for recording daily goals, and built-in reminders on every page for things like payments, due dates and dinner plans. $49-60;


Early Bird Gets The Worm

From a team of four designers comes an 8-inch clock inspired by the sparrow’s efforts to build nests out of twigs and leaves with that charming commitment and attention to detail known only to birds (and designers, of course). With rotating branches acting as clock hands above a small bird, this timepiece will add interest to your wall and keep you on task all year long. $12; available at

 Top 5 Must-Have Design Books

  1. DIY Type by Dana Tanamachi
  2. 20th Century Design: A Decade-by-Decade Exploration of Graphic Style by Tony Seddon
  3. Creative Anarchy: How to Break the Rules of Graphic Design for Success by Denise Bosler
  4. The Typographic Universe by Steve Heller, Gail Anderson
  5. Success by Design by David Sherwin

Upgrade Your Tech Toys

Where would graphic design be without gadgets and gizmos? Yet, all of the technology that streamlines comes with its own burden of tangled cords and excessive accessories. Sally Augustin, principal of Design With Science, advises designers to keep a well-organized space. “Eliminating clutter simplifies the visual complexity of the area around us and also makes it easier for us to find the tools we need,” she says. “Both of these effects enhance our mood and cognitive performance.” That’s why many of the tools we selected here pull double-duty by not only catering to our technical needs and simplifying our lives but also by being easy on the eyes.


Secure Data Storage

Really protect your work with the ioSafe 214, which isn’t only waterproof and fire resistant, it also acts as your own private cloud. As a storage device, terabytes of data can be uploaded and accessed remotely from nearly any internet-enabled device. From $600;


Portable Speaker

This Bluetooth-enabled mini speaker is compact enough to go with you anywhere, so that you can set the creative mood with melody on the go. It also has a built-in microphone for hands-free calling, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and is available in six different metallic shades. $30;


Curb Laptop Stand

This lightweight, triangle-shaped bar is actually a laptop stand to keep your machine from overheating and to provide a more ergonomic angle for typing. It provides two different degrees of elevation to choose from, and a V-shaped cutout can cradle your cable so that it doesn’t get in the way of your workspace. $17;


Magic Charger

If you’re tired of having to replace the batteries in your Apple Magic Mouse, check out this small platform: Rest your mouse on it, and it will recharge the batteries. That way, you don’t have to worry about your mouse running out of juice while your creative juices are flowing. $49.90;


Pogo Connect Stylus

The innovative feature of this stylus is that it comes with five interchangeable tips, depending on your needs. Three of the tips offer varying thicknesses for precise note-taking, and the final two are brushes (one straight and the other angled) that allow pressure-sensitive painting simulation. $119.95;


Cable Box

Control your cords with this colorful cable-management box. It includes a four-socket surge protector so you can plug all your devices into one place and hide any excess length to help keep your workspace clutter-free. $30;


Dyne Monitor Organizer

This organizer easily attaches to your monitor and has a built-in USB hub. And with the multiple compartments, you can corral all your desktop accessories conveniently into one place, keeping your work area tidy. $50;


Aphrodite USB Hub

Technology has never looked so beautiful. With this porcelain USB hub, which includes four ports so you can plug in all your devices, you won’t have to sacrifice style. $54;

 TypetakeoverA Gift for You: Hand Lettering Type Takeover Ultimate Collection, featuring Dana Tanamachi. Handlettering is all the rage, and for good reason. HOW has assembled its best resources to get you going, including Dana Tanamachi’s new book DIY Type. Plus, Denise Bosler invites you to take her online learning Handlettering Power Course. Get all of these resources in this collection.

Get Inspired On The Go

As most designers know, inspiration is as likely to hit while you’re on a walk as it is when you’re at work. In fact, Orna Ross, lecturer at University College Dublin and author of the forthcoming Go Creative! series of books, encourages people to make it a point to get out and about as an inventive exercise. It’s in those moments that ideas often flow most freely. And that’s why you should be prepared for your next great idea no matter where you are. “The No. 1 difference between creative and conventional minds is that the creative people capture their ideas,” Ross says. These tools will help you do just that, ensuring that none of your ideas get lost along the way.


Mamba Daypack

This laptop bag provides a rugged look and durable protection for all your tech gear. It’s crafted with waterproof fabric that has been organically dyed and integrates an ergonomically contoured shoulder strap, as well as including plenty of pockets and padded compartments. $95;


The Seven Year Pen

Never worry about your pen losing ink again: The Seven Year Pen features a jumbo ink cartridge, giving it enough juice to write 1.7 meters a day for seven years. $7.50;



This eco-friendly, wooden stylus is ergonomically shaped and comes with a dual tip, requiring no extra pressure to be detected by your touchscreen devices. Plus, it magnetically attaches to most later-model iPad and iPhones, so you can always have it at hand. $20;


Felt ipad Case

Protect your iPad or other tablets with this felt case. It includes pockets to house your cables, notepads and even business cards. When unfolded, it functions as a mat with a built-in mousepad and can convert into a stand for more comfortable typing. And the case does more than just look good; it does good by helping to bring clean drinking water to those in need—11+ donates a percentage of its revenue to UNICEF. $55;


Boa Briefcase

This mid-sized business laptop bag is equipped to haul and protect everything you need for work. It has compartments for holding all your mobile devices, cables, and odds and ends. It can also withstand the toughest elements with a water-repellent and abrasion-resistant nylon exterior. Choose from two different carrying methods. $145;


Pantone iphone Case

Turn your phone into a veritable color sample with these covers that perfectly mix and match with the iPhone 5c color schemes. $25;


Recycled Sketchbooks

Available in two dozen color options, these sketchbooks aren’t only nice to look at, they’re also nice for the environment. The covers are made from recycled leather, and the interior pages are thick paper reprocessed from industrial waste. Take them with you wherever you go so you never miss an idea. $17.95;


iPhone Sticky Notes

These adhesive notes are cut to fit your iPhone, so that when inspiration strikes while you’re away from your desk, you always have a piece of paper handy. Plus, since it’s on the back of your phone (which it lays flat against, thanks to removable adhesive), you’re not likely to forget or lose it. $7.95;


Eco-friendly USB Flash Drive

Always be prepared to back up your work with the Gigs 2 Go Flash Drives, which are the size of a credit card. Designed by BOLTgroup, the exterior is made of recycled paper, allowing you to easily perforate one when you need it—and then store the rest in your wallet again. Each set consists of four thumb drives, available in four, eight or 16 GB each. Prices vary;

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Get Out and Play

Leo Burnett, the advertising pioneer named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, said, “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” That’s why it’s so vital that you take time to incorporate play into your day. “Play is simultaneously a source of relaxation and stimulation for the brain, exactly what the creative drive enjoys most,” Orna Ross says. “Play gives the conscious mind the ‘switch-off’ that allows the unconscious—the more creative dimension of our brains—to surface.” That’s what’s at the heart of this playful collection of goods and gadgets that will certainly stir up your imagination—and make you feel like a kid again.


Guerilla Art Kit

This kit, from acclaimed artist and writer Keri Smith, encourages users to take their creativity outside—and reveals how small acts of artistry can create change in the world around them. It includes exercises, assignments, and practical tips to help you make your mark and take your creative energy to the streets. $19.95;


Carve-A-Stamp Kit

Step away from the computer and create your own hand-chiseled stamp.
The kit includes everything you need to get started: a carving tool with multiple blades, 25 templates and a block with two sides. $30;


Sun Printing Kit

Change the way you look at the world with this kit that uses sunlight and water to transform plant specimens into works of art. You can play with arrangements on the cyanotype paper, making them as intricate or abstract as you like. Prices vary;


MoMA Color Puzzles

From the mecca of modern art comes a new kind of jigsaw puzzle to give you some bright ideas. The kit includes four vibrant puzzles with original and reversible designs that you can put together directly in the book. $11;


Oblo Puzzle

When you hit a creative wall, pull out and piece together this award-winning 3D puzzle that forms a colorful layer of spheres. You must find the correct position for each piece to progressively build spheres within spheres, which will (literally) help you think outside the box and give your mind a much-needed break. $25;


Holga iPhone Lens

This nine-in-one lens set fits over the back of your phone, and you only need to rotate the disk to have access to all the colorful, playful effects you need (from colored filters and lenses for dreamy vignettes to optics that create double, triple or quadruple images) without an app. $30;

Looking for design books and more? Jump over to for the latest titles, design magazines, online courses and more all tailored for graphic and interactive designers. 

One thought on “The Creative’s Toolbox: 30 Must-Haves for Designers

  1. JuSi

    I think most of the mentioned things are not really must-haves. Anyway, to review any media files I recommend Filestage. It’s easy to use and my clients are really happy with it. 🙂