As a designer, I need to have many tools in my arsenal. Many of these tools are digital, what with the nature of the trade and all, but there are many real-life tools that I use every day. Although I am a big proponent of paperless workflows, sometimes the tactile feel of these tools is far superior to the impalpable world of digital.
Lead holders are generally a better choice than mechanical pencils, but if you're like me and prefer the latter then this is an excellent choice for sketching. It comes in 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm varieties. Which one you get really depends on how fine you want your lines, but I find the 0.7mm to be a good trade-off between line thickness and strength. Unlike most mechanical pencils that I've seen, the tip is narrow enough to not get in the way.
What good is a pencil without paper? When sketching out a design I find a grid to be instrumental in keeping things proportionate. I used to use traditional lined grid paper, but after several recommendations I decided to switch to dot grid, which offers the same benefits, but also makes sketches much cleaner.
This is more of a personal preference, but I also like the feel of the paper. It's grippy enough for sketching, but it's not very coarse. Using pencil on most types of paper gives me that nails-on-a-chalkboard feeling, but I actually love the feeling this paper gives.
There are a lot of choices for great notebooks out there, but I absolutely adore Field Notes. They're inexpensive, great quality, and easily pocketable. I use these to keep track of ideas that pop into my head, or to take notes when I'm talking to a client. Like the Rhodia dotPad, the paper in the Field Notes has a very pleasant texture. I often get the lined paper but you can also get them with grid or blank paper.
I was debating wether to add this to the list because it's a digital device. However, the onboard camera is a physical object that does a lot for me. I use it to capture sketches and notes, either for my own use or to send to clients. I also use it to photograph things that inspire me, and use them as a guide for drawing the icons I create. I'm not creating photographic masterpieces, but the iPhone's camera is good enough to provide the level quality I need.
Photos by Graham Hall