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Design

The Uncommon Collection:
Beautiful Designs, a Blueprint for Responsible Business

July 19, 2016

Roughly a year ago, we proudly launched The Uncommon Collection. While all of our goods are “uncommon,” the Collection is special because it’s a culmination of efforts to create an assortment of well-designed items made responsibly by businesses who embrace thoughtful and sustainable business practices. The Collection presents opportunities for our manufacturing partners to share the spotlight with their products, telling the stories behind those products and connecting our customer with the people who made them. We have grown a lot since introducing the Collection last year, both in terms of number of items and makers contributing to the Collection and in our understanding of the challenges and opportunities such an initiative presents.

The Uncommon Collection | UncommonGoods

What we’ve learned:

Companies come in all shapes and sizes

We approached the development of Collection criteria based on values we as a company hold ourselves and devised for manufacturers in a general sense. At UncommonGoods we work with companies both large and small, in widely varying industries employing teams all across the skill-level spectrum. It was important to us that this not be an initiative with criteria that artificially closed us off to certain industries or company sizes, but rather was as potentially broad-reaching as possible to raise the bar for as many companies as possible.

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Maker Resources

4 Tips for Responsible Materials and Supplier Sourcing

May 10, 2016

How to Take the Leap from Maker To Business Owner

As the Senior Production Manager here at UncommonGoods, my job is to oversee the connection of design ideas with manufacturing resources to create new products.

Thomas Edison claimed that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. From my experience, product development warrants a formula of its own. To carry an idea through to a finished product you should start with a spark of inspiration, then add in equal parts diligence and thoughtfulness, especially when it comes to sourcing.

I’ve pulled together the following considerations for responsible material and supplier sourcing inspired by my experience partnering with our makers on new product development. I hope these thoughts will help other small business owners navigate the rough waters of sourcing.

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Design

The People Feeder: A Charming New Way to Serve Snacks in Style

November 24, 2015

People Feeder | UncommonGoods

The People Feeder

Colorful feeders dot the landscape below as you soar above; you swoop down for a quick bite. A passing bird, you need just perch and eat, with gravity doing the work as you nibble to your heart’s content. The snacking freedom birds enjoy with bird feeders inspired us when we first considered Francine Zajac’s design, intended to facilitate a similar fly-by snacking with her glass and ceramic concept.

Francine is a potter of over 30 years, and had been producing her own feeder snacker with a ceramic base and repurposed mason jar. The design was simple but effective, employing gravity to direct candy down through the mason jar, the ceramic chimney, and out through the arched opening, filling the dish with just enough to enjoy a handful while ensuring an even flow after each sampling.

People Feeder - Zajac original design | UncommonGoodsWe sought to re-imagine Francine’s design by incorporating sleek and clean lines and components, and providing enough capacity for even the most ravenous snackers. In doing so we needed to identify the attributes important in making the original design functional and effective. As Production Manager, I was tasked with working as a liaison between our design team and our manufacturer of the item, to ensure that our design was both appealing and executable.

With such a unique item, both in form and function, much thought went into balancing the impact and function of the item with how it is made and the capabilities and limitations of ceramic, a medium that can be notoriously tricky to predict after it goes into a kiln.

We started the design process from the top down with the glass cylinder. Its selection was important, as we needed something lightweight that showcased the snack. The separate glass cylinder also allows for a simple and straightforward way to fill and clean the feeder. From there, we considered how the base would be shaped and how it would function in conjunction with the glass piece.

People Feeder base | UncommonGoods
The base would employ a ceramic chimney similar to Francine’s but provide a deep shelf to adequately hold and maintain the clear cylinder. The base of our Feeder also took into consideration the need to manage the amount of snacks fed at any given point, so as not to drain the cylinder and flood the saucer. We originally conceived the bottom saucer as having a vertical, 90 degree angle lip to keep the snacks from flowing over the edge when entering the saucer. However in testing the sloped edge saucer, we found that it wasn’t necessary. The snacks did not flow over, yet were easier to grasp at then they would be with a vertical lip.

Our first prototype worked fairly well. We found the capacity ideal and the gravity fed the M&Ms we tested nicely, providing just enough of a handful at a time. But things were complicated when we tried other snacks. Peanut M&Ms, for example, were easily crowded at the exit point of the chimney, bottlenecking to the point that none were able to escape. A wider opening was the clear solution, but not too wide that a smaller candy would completely pour out.

People Feeder prototype bases | UncommonGoods

Our revision worked very well, allowing for candies both large and small to successfully pass through while collecting in the dish. With a design successfully worked out, our final step was selecting the right color. We chose a warm, white glaze that would fit well in most decors, as well as a bold red, reminiscent of a similar, nostalgic dispenser of candies: the gumball machine.

Fill and enjoy!

People Feeder | UncommonGoods

See the Collection | UncommonGoods

FAQ

How can I get my items featured in the Uncommon Collection?

August 10, 2015

The Uncommon Collection is a collection of products we promote as meeting our very highest standards for design and social responsibility, and can only be found at UncommonGoods. Being a part of the Uncommon Collection means that we’ve determined the product to be a clever integration of form and function or an expression of you, the maker’s, individuality. It also means that your product is exclusively found at UncommonGoods now and in the future.

Being a part of this collection also means that you go above and beyond for your employees, with a starting hourly wage at a minimum of 90% of the MIT living wage. As an Uncommon Collection vendor you would also comply with at least two of the three as follows: 1.) A paid time off policy for your employees. 2.) A recycling program for all primary and secondary materials used in manufacturing and packaging. 3.) Participation in a charitable giving program.

Finally, an Uncommon Collection vendor shares our vision of environmental protection, producing product made from one of the following: 1.) Natural source materia. 2.) 3rd party Certified Synthetic material 3.) Recycled, recyclable or upcycled material, and utilizes packaging that’s neither excessive nor wasteful; made primarily of materials that are partially or fully recycled; as well as compostable and/or recyclable; and, if relevant, keepsake packaging must provide added value that minimizes the chance it will be discarded.

As transparency is a big part of our vision for the Uncommon Collection, we proudly publicize all of the above, with each vendor identified and their specific business practices detailed. We look forward to any interest you may have in this program and any questions we can answer.

Design

Perfect Popcorn Without the Kernels

October 3, 2014

There’s nothing like a delicious buttery-gold bouquet of popcorn in full bloom.  What could disappoint but the unpopped underachievers lurking at the bottom of the bowl, potentially ruining your movie night with a chipped tooth? In Product Development we often seek a more convenient and enjoyable means of snacking, as evidenced by the fun and functional Ooma Bowl. We planned our next item realizing that, no matter how masterful a popper you are, there are often at least a few kernels at the bottom that make grabbing those last few bites of popcorn a less than grand finale.

Popcorn Bowl

Popcorn Bowl

Our Senior Merchandising Manager, Candace Holloway initially spotted the Popcorn Bowl on Etsy some time back.  The designer, Catherine Smith, no longer made her sifting bowl and had no samples she could share with us. Fortunately, she was happy to license her design, which allowed us to recreate her kernel-catching masterpiece. In the spirit of trial and error, this challenged us to re-engineer the bowl, only having a photo to look back at.

Due to the technical precision required for the ceramic bowl, we developed this as a hydraulic pressed stoneware item. This would allow us to execute a sifter that fit perfectly inside the collection compartment at the bottom of the bowl.

Production

Popcorn Bowl

Our first design incorporated the variable large and small holes we had seen in the original bowls image.  After testing on receipt, we found that the smaller holes were simply too small to fit the unpopped kernels, especially given the minor expansion many of them encountered.  We also found that the lid, having been developed as a flat coaster, did not adequately direct kernels into their holes, as they found themselves resting in the spaces between.  Finally, the bowl was simply not large enough to compensate for a nice, fully popped (well, with the exception of the reluctant poppers at the bottom) bowl of popcorn.  With this valuable insight, we went back to ceramicist to make some much needed changes.

Popcorn Bowl

Popcorn Bowl

A new bowl arrived –larger overall, with all large-size holes and with a domed sifter at the bottom.  We also changed the glaze to something a bit more tactile and unique.  We found, as we made our way through the popcorn, that kernels found their way to the bottom and slid easily along the sides of the bowl or directly onto the lid, passing through the bottom holes as they rolled along.  Deciding on hole size can be a tough process – too large and edible bits of popcorn end up in the bottom compartment, too small and the kernels don’t make it through.

Popcorn Bowl

We were quite happy with where we landed on size – removing the kernels without taking too many tasty morsels along with them.  This Popcorn Bowl did a much better job catching kernels, leaving nothing but delicious, fluffy popped corn for us to enjoy as we celebrated victory with nary a kernel in sight.

Popcorn Bowl