10 inspiring design toys for your desk

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

Designer Tim Easley has a love of 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. Vortecon

  • Price: from $24.99

Now this is the very model of a modern desk toy; utterly mesmerising and completely useless, the Vortecon is a piece of precision-engineered kinetic art that you spin to create the illusion of a continuously flowing helix. Just set it off and watch it go; for extra fun, add a couple more in different colours and you'll be entertained for hours.

02. GoCube

Take your cubing to the next level

Take your cubing to the next level
  • Price: from $69

Why make do with a plain old Rubik's Cube on your desk when you could have a GoCube? Beefed up by movement tracking, Bluetooth connectivity and an app that'll help you learn to solve the cube and even set up live duels against other players, it's a hi-tech take on a classic puzzle.

03. Gunter S. Thompson

"We can't stop here, this is penguin country!"

"We can't stop here, this is penguin country!"
  • Price: £14.95

Brilliantly combining two of the biggest cultural giants in living memory – Hunter S. Thompson and Gunter the penguin from Adventure Time – these adorable 9cm resin art toys by Dave Walker are available in both gold and silver flavours, and are guaranteed bring more than a touch of class to any desk. Get your skates on though; each version comes in a ludicrously limited edition of just 25 worldwide.

04. Hobby

desk toys

Hobby is an ongoing project for the Swedish toy company
  • Price: $40.03

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.

05. Whispering Spirit

desk toys

Whispering Spirit believes that our childhood and precious memory live in the forgotten soul
  • Price: from $93.39

"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."

06. Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk

design toys

Design Toys: Shirley Creamhorn & Shithawk by Gavin Strange
  • Price: £25

Designed 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.

07. Kidrobot for Swatch

Design Toys: Kidrobot for Swatch

Design Toys: Kidrobot for Swatch
  • Price: From £49

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.

08. POP! - Funko

desk toys

Put a little sadness into your life with this Pop! figure
  • Price: From £5

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.

09. Ninja Girls with Udon Noodles

desk toys

Definitely one for the gamers out there
  • Price: $20

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!

10. Kuro - Camilla d'Errico

Design Toys: Kuro by Camilla d'Errico

Design Toys: Kuro by Camilla d'Errico
  • Price: From $60

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 six inches tall.

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Sally Jenkinson is a senior digital solutions architect and consultant.