Archives

Design

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.

Continue Reading…

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

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Cocktail Bitters

December 19, 2013

Morgan | Bitters

Research
I’m a devoted whisky (and occasionally whiskey) drinker and usually enjoy my Scotch like I enjoy the top shelf of my dresser: neat. But I was intrigued to see if bitters might prove an opportunity to salvage a liquor I’ve all but quit–rum. The recipe calls for a high-proof rum, so I picked up one of my favorite antiseptics, Bacardi 151. I also bought an aged rum (to test my bitters in later) that I was hoping might change my opinions of the drink. That rum, Plantation Grande Reserve (note the fancy pants name), was a vast improvement over any rum I could remember tasting (in either direction), in my younger days, so I was looking forward to a different experience, perhaps.
Bitters 1

Bacardi 151? Hello old friend.

Hypothesis
I don’t think I’ve ever tried bitters before, but I’m coming in with a semi-open mind. I like bitter things. There’s something smart-sounding about the word “bitters.” As I have a general preference for straight alcohol, I’m not sure how much this will “add” to the experience, but perhaps since I’m less predisposed towards rum, it may make that drink more enjoyable. (Spoiler alert: I cheated and came up with this last line after the experiment.)

Experiment
Preparing the mixture is actually a good bit of fun, adding the composite spices and ingredients as if your high school science teacher were a part-time bartender. (I didn’t see you and you didn’t see me, Mr. Chard.)

DIY Cocktail Bitters | UncommonGoods

Here I am masterfully peeling an apple and not cutting myself, the skins to be mixed into the jar of rum and spices. No blood! Easy enough.

The preparation requires a morning and evening shake of the mixture in its jar, which is a fun way to interact with your little blooming bundle of joy, and to appreciate the visual richness and beauty of the concoction as it does its thing. Eventually you’ll forget to shake it one morning and you’ll feel guilty for the rest of the day. Just let it go–it’ll be fine.

DAY 1 TEST
Finally, after a long and eager wait, 2 weeks are up and it’s time to open my present! Hold on there just a minute, bud–a few more steps before we’re ready for cheers. First we have to strain through cheesecloth (which doubles as gauze if you cut yourself peeling that apple earlier–try to use the clean portion).

Bitters | UncommonGoods

The liquid is separated from the solid ingredients, which are placed on the stove to simmer with water then cool. This is a good opportunity to be extremely impatient, blow on the mixture, and just dump it in hot anyway. (Again, you’re probably fine.)

Bitters in Process | UncommonGoods

After cooling, we strain the mixture once again. OK, this is your exit solids! In the trash you go! We then get started on simple syrup (a sugar and water mixture that is heated and added in equal parts to the rum mixture). Add to dropper bottle then the big payoff.

I decided on bourbon because, well, I like bourbon and it seems to feature in a good number of bitters cocktails. I could make a cocktail, but I’d rather really taste the bitters here just to see how they work with the alcohol. A bit of bitters drip drop into some Buffalo Trace bourbon.

Drinking Bourbon

Unfortunately, it wasn’t doing it for me. Nope. Had I done something wrong? I don’t think so. Was it last Friday when I neglected to shake the bitters? Were they exacting their revenge? Nah – I don’t think bitters hold grudges (although they are called bitters…). I think it was just the combination. The iconic Buffalo Trace flavor now muddled into something indecipherable and a bit all over the place. I added a bit more but that just added to the confusion. My eyes saw the Buffalo Trace and my mouth was failing to compute.

Give up? No way. We’ll try again tomorrow.

DAY 2 TEST
New shirt, new day, new opportunity to drink.

Back on the saddle and off the wagon with something a bit more compatible, perhaps – rum. Yes, my aged rum would make a late-game, surprise guest appearance in a highly unscientific evaluation.

In one glass – straight aged rum
In the other – that same rum with a few drops of bitters.

Bitters and Rum

This one makes sense. The rums obviously blend well, and this time I’m able to actually taste the spiced apple. Not overpowering, but definitely adds another dimension. Yeah – I get it.

Conclusion
I could see this enhancing a mediocre rum or allowing for a drinker to taste a decent one from a different perspective. I imagine you could mix into a number of different cocktails with different alcohols. (The instruction booklet names a few.)

The highlight for me though was the process. Enjoying a drink usually consists of nothing more than opening a bottle and pouring it. Occasionally this might involve stirring in a few extra ingredients–and sure–there are even bitters you could buy. But there was something very satisfying about the process; in the interaction with all the individual ingredients, in the ultimate unification of those flavors. There was something satisfying in the wait. Alcohol is one of those things that can take longer than anything to get right. We buy liquors that have been waiting for years, heck, decades to taste just right, then we sip them and they’re gone.

This kit represents the process, the time, the care that goes into a good drink. This probably won’t change my lineup of standby drinks or undying love of a good straight Scotch, but it was an interesting ride, I learned a bit, and I have something new to taste along with some of my old favorites. Nah, I ain’t bitter.