Character designFeature

12 inspiring design toys for your desk

We have collected together 12 amazing examples of the scene across a variety of disciplines in order to share some of our favourites.

desk toys
Designer Tim Easley has a love of desk toys

Step into any creative studio, and there's a high chance that you'll see a sea of small, brightly coloured plastic faces beaming back at you. In a world where digital is the focus for so many, the physical appeal of designer toys have led to them adorning desks far and wide.

Designer toys, or 'art toys', have been growing steadily in popularity since their emergence in the 1990s. Pieces range from mainstream, mass-appeal productions through to more bespoke, items often limited in number.

desk toys
Graphic designer Nicola Jones shows off her favourite desk toys

Artists frequently release original designs, but DIY figures are also available, giving consumers the ability to customise their own one-off pieces. The practice of artists collaborating is commonplace, with many producing joint output, or individuals starting with another artist's existing pieces and taking them to a whole new level.

Whilst 'urban vinyl' is a term often used synonymously with designer toys, their production may involve materials including vinyl, resin, plush, or even wood or metal. Maybe one of them will be joining your desk soon!

01. Hobby

desk toys
Hobby is an ongoing project for the Swedish toy company

Swedish toy company Acne Jr make the kind of desk toys that will stand out. Founded by graphic designer Sofia Ekvall and illustrator Mats Johansson, Hobby is their latest ongoing project for handmade toys, with this first one made out of bamboo with burned details. Every doll is made to order so expect a unique flair with each one. When ordering, you can note any specific wishes for a truly original desk toy. 

  • Price: from €46

02. Whispering Spirit

desk toys
Whispering Spirit believes that our childhood and precious memory live in the forgotten soul

"In 2013, I lined up Crazylabel and KUSSO to start producing Whispering Spirit and I also designed 3 colorways and created 2 new characters: Forgotten Soul and Smiley Slow Soul," explains designer Bubi Au Yeung. "It has been an unforgettable experience to make WS in vinyl, the final products took lot of time and effort. I am glad that two years of effort paid off – I really like how WS turn out."

  • Price: from $98

03. Ron English's Cereal Killers

desk toys
The Cereal Killers series has proved hugely popular

With previous designs selling out in a matter of days, artist Ron English has created a set of Cereal Killers you'll want to get your hands on as soon as possible. Raising awareness of popular brand's sugar content, the vinyl toys feature iconic cereal characters in a less than flattering light. Those featured above are just some of the toys still available.

  • Price: from $70

04. Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk

design toys
Design Toys: Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk by Gavin Strange

Design by Gavin Strange, Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk were created in collaboration with Columbian sculptor Alex Avelino. Strange explains: "When I was a junior designer in Leicester, I got given a silly name of 'Shirley Creamhorn' by my designer friend Andy Rudkin, who would order me rubbish stationary samples with 'Shirley Creamhorn' engraved on the side. Over the years I picked this up and used it as an alter-ego name for a bit of fun."

After Strange designed the characters, Avelino then sculpted the toy by hand before it was handed to a toy company in China that produced the mould and 500 plastic injection copies.

  • Price: £35

05. Tado Star Wars Chubby Series

desk toys
You'll want these Star Wars design toys on your desk

"We began working on the series a couple of years ago – our good friend Dan at Unbox Industries asked us to help out with developing the new Chubby project they were beginning," explain design duo TADO. "We'd worked on Star Wars character projects before together (Star Wars Celebration Europe 30th Anniversary) so the Unbox guys knew we'd be keen on having a shot at them."

"The production process has been a very long one, with a huge amount of revisions and approvals to make sure the characters were aligned to the correct style guides, etc – it's definitely been a learning curve for us all! We're really happy with how they turned out and we even managed to keep a few little TADO-type details that people might spot."

Price: £15 per set

06. Desktop Dumpsters - Ryan Christensen, Steelplant

Design Toys: Desktop Dumpsters by Ryan Christensen

During a period of injury Ryan Christensen formulated the concept of Steelplant, started sketching, and eventually produced his flagship product Desktop Dumpsters out of recycled steel. Each hand-painted model is unique, and purchasers are actively encouraged to experiment with their dumpsters, including sanding off old paint, or introducing deliberate rust.

  • Price: $100 blank, $250 hand-painted

07. Blox - Uglydoll

Design Toys: Blox by Uglydoll

One of the most popular and longstanding designer toy releases, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim's Uglydolls have taken a new, flatter form in their Blox incarnation. Featuring well known and loved existing characters such as Icebat, Ox and Wage, the Uglydolls are sure to gain a few more fans before the release of their upcoming animated feature film, which is currently in development.

  • Price: from $5.56

08. Minecraft Creeper Vinyl - J!NX

Design Toys: Minecraft Creeper Vinyl by J!NX

Minecraft, the independent video game by Mojang, has proven to be a huge success story since its initial release in 2009. Now available on a multitude of platforms including PC, Android, iOS and Xbox 360, this addictive sandbox has captured the imagination of many... some on work time.

Instead of practicing your window minimisation routine for when the boss walks over, this vinyl toy can help remind you of the thrill of discovering a diamond block and the fear of the first sighting of a Creeper at night. Just keep an eye on it. There's no guarantee your desk and belongings will be intact if you turn your back.

  • Price: $19.99

09. Kidrobot for Swatch

Design Toys: Kidrobot for Swatch

Kidrobot's collaboration with Swatch ensures that those who can't be without their urban vinyl can now carry it with them. Consisting of a watch and a matching Dunny figure, artists including Joe Ledbetter, Frank Kozik, Tara McPherson and MAD have all contributed their unique spin to a fashion classic.

  • Price: From £49

10. POP! - Funko

desk toys
Put a little sadness into your life with this Pop! figure

One of the most accessible and wide-reaching ranges available at present is that of POP! Crossing into territory already mentioned in this article with their Uglydoll range, or tapping into interest areas such as NBA, The Beatles, Star Wars and superheroes, POP! is likely to have something to catch everyone's eye. With a great uniform style that makes displaying them together easy, the range is very addictive. Don't say we didn't warn you.

  • Price: From £5

11. Ninja Girls with Udon Noodles

desk toys
Definitely one for the gamers out there

Chamba did the art for this Udon/TMNT mashup, which debuted at SDCC 2015. It's part of Squid Kids Ink's ongoing analogue series, which celebrates everything from floppy disks to old school game design. This particular desk toy has a very limited run, so if you've got your eye on this one, you had better be quick!

  • Price: $20

12. Kuro - Camilla d'Errico

Design Toys: Kuro by Camilla d'Errico

Originating as a character created by Camilla d'Errico in her Tanpopo book series, Kuro evolved first into a plush toy of varying sizes, and later into vinyl figures produced by Inner Sanctum. Kuro is available in DIY white, standard, and blue glow in the dark versions, and stands at 6" tall.

  • Price: From $60

Words: Sally Jenkinson & Sammy Maine

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Words: Sammy Maine

Sammy Maine is deputy commissioning editor at Creative Bloq.

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