Gift giving, I’ve come to understand, is really a full-time job. If you want to do it well—to give a person something that’s uniquely right for them and them alone—you have to keep your eyes open year-round. The perfect gift isn’t something you discover through the brute force act of visiting every store in the mall. It’s this little serendipitous thing—either you see a product that reminds you of someone in your life, or you hear a loved one make an off-hand comment about wanting something—and usually it happens when birthdays or the holidays are still months away. So, to be a good gift giver, you have to be on the lookout for those fleeting little Good Gift moments and make note of them when they flit through your life.
Still, even with the best intentions, it’s possible to find yourself utterly inspired when the occasion arrives. That’s where Wantful comes in.
Here’s how it works: You visit the site (which is exceedingly sharp and easy to use, reaffirming your sense that this is indeed going to be a Good Gift), tell it a little bit about the gift you need (who you’re buying it for, their gender, and a dollar amount you’re looking to spend, from $30 to $500), and answer a few questions about the recipient (which of these style homes would so-and-so like to live in; does so-and-so like cooking, etc). The site then spits out a nice clean grid of product thumbnails algorithmically picked for your recipient, culled from an inventory of a few thousand items. The products include neat bracelets, artsy coffee table books, cool candle holders—a lot of stuff you’d expect to see in New York’s Museum of Modern Art Design Store. Kitchen gizmos are very prevalent. Anyway, you pick sixteen of these products, and Wantful puts them into an elegant little catalog, sends it to the recipient, and lets them choose one to have as their own, courtesy of your credit card.
It’s clever. A book from Wantful combines the "this way you can get something you like" guarantee of a gift card and the lasting usefulness of a genuinely cool product. But as the site’s founder and CEO John Poisson told Co.Design, it also carries with it that central Good Gift component: surprise.
"So much of gift giving is that excitement, that element of surprise, tearing something open and not knowing what it is, not understanding what it is until you open it," Poisson explained. "And so much of that is lost when you buy something online and ship it to someone’s house, or you give them something virtual, or you give them a gift card—you don’t have any of those aspects. We really wanted to bring back some of that part of the experience. So we designed something that kind of felt like a gift, even though it’s a book full of potential gifts. We really wanted it to feel like a present in and of itself."
To that end, unveiling the book itself takes a little work: First, you have to tear off a thin strip to gain access to a mysterious black envelope, then you unfold your personal book from a tissue-paper cocoon. But the whole experience is an interesting kind of behavior hack on the gift giving process in general, allowing for a gift that has a little input from both parties.
"It’s sort of like you’re curating a little pop-up shop for the recipient," Poisson says, "and they get to walk through and pick the one item that they want to take home with them." The growing popularity of things-based sites like Pinterest and Svpply means we’re getting more products in front of our eyeballs with less effort than ever, and Wantful is definitely of that ilk. But instead of just clicking around aimlessly and looking for stuff that’s cool, Wantful lets you look at a nice set of products from a slightly different angle: Which one of these do I want to take home?