The ‘gift’ that I hope you will give and receive in 2018

The “Think Tank” — a gift made for one of my favourite people. An amazing thinker and designer!

Many of us start the year in reflection — to leave behind doesn’t serve us and create anew what will take us forward — I also like to see it as an opportunity to express gratitude. One way that I do this is through letters, gifts, and little artefacts of affection that I make with my own hands for those I feel thankful for. It’s a small gesture, but it’s done with a lot of love, thought, and gratitude.

As I was thinking of gift ideas for each person on my ‘Thankful’ list, an unexpected parallel suddenly became very obvious to me!

Gift-giving is a LOT like the design process.

A gift-giver goes through many of the same questions that a designer would — and perhaps even ‘actions’, in the case the gift is hand-made.

Think about it.

When was the last time you gave a gift? Did you ask yourself some of these questions before choosing or making the gift?

  1. What does this person (the gift-receiver) like and appreciate? What would they like?

At the very basic level, you can know their preferences and get something that fits in the safe zone of ‘like’!

2. What do they currently need?

You may find out by asking directly or just by keenly observing their routine and finding what’s missing or needed.

3. What do they wish to have?

If you know the person’s goals and interests, you may be able to figure this out.

4. What is their dream?

If you have an even deeper understanding of what this person aspires to be, you may give an ‘enabling’ gift — one that helps someone get closer to their dream.

If you’re reading this and you’re a designer — you may have noticed that this is very similar to trying to understand a user, or a group of users. This is part of our ‘needfinding’ exercise — coupled with observation, interviews, and other ways to feel, think, and do like the person you are designing for.

Now let’s see the other side of the story — the perspective of the gift-receiver.

When was the last time you received a gift? Did it make you feel special and cared for? Did you feel like the other person knew exactly what you needed?

Was your reaction close to one of these?

A. Wow, this is so thoughtful, beautiful, and useful! I am so touched.

B. Hey! I was just going to buy this…how did you know I needed it?!

C. Hmm…It’s the thought that counts (Not exactly what you needed or wanted, but someone made the effort!)

The gift can evoke so many reactions — it may satisfy, delight, please, surprise, ‘wow’ the receiver, and even create a sense of wonder and magic (Santa Claus, anyone?). Even in the worst case (option C), one still tends to appreciate the gift, because it’s a gesture from another person.

Gifting, like design, is a two-way street. It’s a relationship between the giver and receiver, between the designer/ engineer/ startup/ company and the user/ consumer. It’s a not a monologue or a transaction — unlike the marketing and sales that we all either fall for, or try to create in an aim to ‘grow our user base’. Let’s step back for a moment.

What if

Every product /service we create could be a gift to our users?

We could put in the same amount of love and thought, and deep personalisation that we would for a loved one?

Businesses, startups, and just about everyone chose to see what they make — be it a product or service — as more than just an offering with a USP, but as a gift?

A thoughtful, personal, useful, and beautiful gift that can make someone feel cared for, special, and delighted? A good-gift, like good design, inherently encompasses great user understanding, ‘needfinding’, and good execution or delivery.

What I’m suggesting is not a radical new process, rather, it’s just a reframe. A different perspective. To start with your user. As a gift-giver would start with the person they are gifting.

Because, simply put, gifting is innately human-centered, like design.

One last observation — the most amazing gift-givers I know are also (really good) designers and some of the creative folks, with a great deal of empathy. Coincidence? I think not. :)


May 2018 be full of gifts in the form of meaningful things and experiences that we make and receive, with love and the right intent.

What gift will you make this year?

Do share your comments/ thoughts/ responses below. Would love to hear from you!

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