Charitable giving and that moment when you're shopping that can be best described as oh my god, I have to have this right now even though I don’t really need it but maybe I’ll buy two and give one as a gift since they’re not too expensive and I haven’t maxed out my credit card yet are two things that rarely intersect.

For the fourth annual WantedDesign exhibition in New York City, however, Brooklyn-based purveyor of design-centric giftables and "everyday objects," Areaware, has partnered with students from a third-year Product Design course at Parsons the New School for Design to explore just that: the marriage of impulse consumerism and humanitarian giving.

Described by Daniel Michalik, assistant professor at Parsons, “as an attempt to tap the mysterious power of the point-of-purchase gift item, and harness it as a means to effect positive change,” the Small Things Matter partnership yielded 13 student-designed prototype products. Michalik's spring-semester students were required to meet three basic design criteria: the products had to fit into the existing Areaware line, they had to benefit a specific charitable cause, and their retail price point had to fall under the $30 mark.

All of the items, items designed specifically to "result not only in excitement from the buyer, but a benefit for another being elsewhere in the world," were proudly on display at WantedDesign:

  • Partial proceeds from the sale of Night Guardian nightlights by Myungwhan Choi will go toward the Save the Children Foundation, Aflatoun, and KIDS. (pictured above)
  • A personal favorite, the Bottle Axe bottle opener by Sam Falco supports the good work of Seattle-headquartered nonprofit Child's Play.
  • Whist, a wooden whistle by Patrice Hall, was conceived to benefit suicide prevention and domestic violence organizations.
  • Mayan Hennenmeyer’s Palbeau is a “tool to aid in transcendental meditation.” Partial proceeds from its sale will be donated to meditation centers around the world.
  • Prism, a magnifying glass paperweight by Daniel Martinez, was “inspired by the Wikimedia Foundation, whose goal is to encourage the growth, development, and distribution of free, multilingual educational content.”
  • Jasmine Kim’s nifty wooden “smuggler’s locks” called Jayu are geared to benefit organizations such as Liberty in North Korea.
  • Canopy Coasters are gorgeous, laser-cut coaster wooden sets from Young Kim that benefit forest conservation organizations.
  • Aikita Sen’s Critter Clips are whimsical, multitasking wooden clips in the shape of animals that, most appropriately, support wildlife conservation programs.
  • Kaiju Blocks by Alex Svizeny are Japanese monster-inspired (i.e. Godzilla, Mothra, and the gang) play blocks that benefit Child's Play, “an organization that seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals around the world through the power of play.” (pictured below)
  • Carlos Ng’s Little Architect's Toolset, a trio of brightly colored, magnet-based modular tools for pint-sized architects-in-training, supports the international work of Architecture for Humanity (Pictured at top of page)
  • Richie the Hedgehog Hairbrush by Giuliana Gentile is an adorable little fellow whose sale will help to support Locks of Love.
  • Malini Khargie’s NOMAD consists of three foldable kits — picnic, desk, and first-aid — for on-the-go urbanites. Each kit supports a different themed charity. (pictured above).
  • Last but not least, Mary Chimenti’s Wish Boxes are a trio of wooden boxes for stashing “affirming messages.” Partial proceeds will be donated to the Make a Wish Foundation or similar organization. (pictured below)

And since Small Things Matter is, in the end, a student design competition, one of the functional, fully-realized prototype designs listed above was selected by a jury of industry experts to make the leap into the production phase as an Areaware-branded gift with a percentage of sales being donated to a specific charity or NGO.

Announced on the opening night of WantedDesign, Carlos Ng's Architect's Toolset won top spot and will be put into production by Areaware with a portion of eventual proceeds benefiting my favorite nonprofit organization, Architecture for Humanity. Ng, a native New Yorker, will also receive a $1,000 advance on royalties.

Reads the full product description:

The Little Architect Toolset was inspired by young architects who have a dream to one day design and build the world's most amazing building. These modular tools allow architects of all ages to combine work and play. Included in the collection are a 12" ruler, a protractor, and a 45/90 triangle. Each of these tools come apart into puzzle like pieces, and are interchangeable to create brand new tools. Vibrant colors add to the playfulness of the experience.

Myungwhan Choi's Light Guardian was awarded second place while Sam Falco's Bottle Axe tied for third with Akita Sen's Critter Clips.

Says Michalik in a press statement released by Parsons: “I’m so impressed with the quality of work these students did such a short time. Having a really clear mission from a great partner like Areaware really set them loose, and allowed them to devise simple, creative solutions."

Although WantedDesign ends today — it's a relatively young international design event that truly keeps on getting better and better with each year — at the Landmark Stores on Manhattan's West Side, do keep an eye for Carlos Ng's Architect's Toolset —and possibly other products from the Small Things Matter collection — in the near future.

Any WantedDesign attendees out there have a favorite Small Things Matter design from Parsons and Areaware? Something that you could see yourself throwing into your virtual shopping basket at the last moment for a good cause?

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Small Things Matter: Tiny design gifts that help make a big difference
The Parsons New School for Design and Areaware partner for a student product design competition that merges impulse shopping with charitable giving.