Character designFeature

25 inspiring design toys for your desk

We have collected together 25 amazing examples of the scene across a variety of disciplines in order to share some of our favourites.

Design Toys: Kidrobot for Swatch

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.


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. Minimals

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Design Toys: Minimals by Sebastian Burga

Designer Sebastian Burga created this variety of different animal designs, which include an alligator, giraffe, gorilla, bear and hen. "Minimals are an adorable line of modular animals characterised by the use of a primary color palette and geometric shapes," says Burga.

"They're set out to expose the essence of toyness through eliminating all non-essential forms, features and concepts. Together, they create a pantone of colours, animals, clothes, styles and archetypes, encouraging people to find themselves between them."

Burga made numerous iterations of each character using 3D software Blender before transforming them into two physical products; small collectible toys and larger, decorative pieces.

  • Price: Currently not on sale

02. Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk

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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

03. Panda Otaku

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Design Toys: Panda Otaku by TADO

TADO joined creative forces with wood-carver Nick Hunter to create the first in a new series of releases called Panda Otaku.

Panda Otaku is a new long-term narrative project by TADO that will follow the adventures and misadventures of Jerry; take-away delivery driver, social recluse, and obsessive otaku.

The first release in the series is the Panda Otaku Vol.1 'Au Naturel' edition - a gorgeous 6.5in tall, hand-carved solid wood panda that comes with two cameras (lucky dip of Polaroid, Leica, Rolleiflex or SLR versions), as well as a miniature 'gentlemens comic/magazine'.

  • Price: Sold out

04. Wooden Donkey Dunny

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Design Toys: Wooden Donkey Dunny by Amanda Visell

Artist Amanda Visell designed this brilliant Wooden Donkey Dunny for Kidrobot in 2009. The adorable character features buck-teeth, branch fingers and accessories including an axe and stump. There's also a small heart-shaped carving marking the Kidrobot and Amanda Visell relationship on the Dunny's left foot. With just 1500 made, this awesome design is a highly sought-after piece in the world of vinyl toys.

  • Price: Sold out

05. Astro Boy

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Design Toys: Astro Boy by KAWS & Original Fake

It's easy to see why this design toy of Astro Boy by KAWS & Original Fake has made it onto the list for 'toy of the year' for the Designer Toy awards. Simple, innventive and eye-catching, it's Astro Boy as you've never seen him before. We love!

  • Price: Sold out

06. Octo - Barry Williams a.k.a. etc.

Design Toys: Octo by Barry Williams

Barry Williams' Octo project marks his first full production piece, which is currently being funded by Kickstarter. Having exceeded his initial goal, Octo looks set to be successfully released into the wild in the form of resin figures, which can be made to order depending on the amount pledged. With plans already being made for other characters in the Octo world, Williams looks to be one to watch in 2012 for the designer toy world.

  • Price: From donations of $15

07. Kid Dragon - Kidrobot

Design Toys: Kid Dragon by Kidrobot

Standing at 5 foot tall and costing a mere $6500, this piece is probably not one for the casual designer art fan! With only 6 units produced globally, Kid Dragon is an example of where art toy principles can be taken to extremes of exclusivity. Created using fibreglass, and painted using detailed gradients, Kid Dragon is from the mind of Sam Flores and has been created by The Loyal Subjects for Kidrobot.

  • Price: $6500

08. The Art of Tea - Lunartik a.k.a. Matt Jones

Design Toys: The Art of Tea by Matt JOnes

Following on from his successful Lunartik in a Cup of Tea collection, Matt JOnes has returned with his latest creation, The Art of Tea. Like many, JOnes includes tea as a crucial part of his creative process, and this helps to feed back into his output, whether it is in his toys, or sometimes through the meeting of drink and paintbrush as illustrated in this piece. For this latest release only 18 pieces have been formed, using plastic, resin, and acrylic paint.

  • Price: £49

09. 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

10. D.O.G. - HX Studio

Design Toys: D.O.G. by HX Studios. Click the image to see the full sized picture.

Due to be released on the 31st May 2012, HX Studio's D.O.G is a limited series of custom pieces, with DIY figures and special versions also available. Made out of resin, with some figures featuring an additional dog house, these pieces look set to spawn another generation of DIY evolutions.

  • Price: From $6.50

11. 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: $18.99

12. 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: $29.99

13. Kidrobot for Swatch

Design Toys: Kidrobot for Swatch

Originally released for the Autumn/Winter 2011 season, 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 £44.50

14. Instagram Mascot - Shinbone Creative

Design Toys: Instagram Mascot by Shinbone Creative. Click the image to see the full size picture.

We know, we know, sadly this one is a bit of a tease. The Instagram Mascot by Shinbone Creative isn't actually for sale at present as it's currently just a concept and design. Judging by the levels of interest on social sites such as Pinterest, and Instagram's huge fanbase, we think this could be a huge hit. Consider a full release, Shinbone?

  • Price: Not for sale (yet!)

15. Zukies - Alison Perez, a.k.a. Miss Zukie

Design Toys: Zukies by Alison Perez

Alison Perez has recently released her first mass-produced figure in the form of the DIY Zukie. After working on other custom pieces from the Zukie family including sculptures in themed environments and characters made from plush, the move to mass production heralds a bright future for this cutesy character. Perez's 4" DIY option is made from vinyl and also comes with a customisable box.

  • Price: $9.95 for a D.I.Y. version

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