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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

Design

5 Tips On How To Conquer Trade Shows

September 19, 2014

Whether you’re planning to go to your first trade show soon or you’re a trade show pro – check out the five detailed tips below on how to take advantage of these events to help your business prosper!

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

1. Make connections with other vendors: Networking at a trade show is no big secret. Essentially, that’s the whole point of trade shows! But be sure to not only get the attention from prospective companies you’d like to see your products represented by, but also that of other vendors. It’s important to make connections with like-minded small businesses, and yes, even your competitors. Many vendors are happy to tip others off about interesting events, great contacts, or must-see websites to check out — and it’s always beneficial to see how other businesses work and to take a peek at their products in person.  You might even be inspired to collaborate in some way or join forces together!

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

During downtime, make an effort to introduce yourself to the booths and tables next to you – and if you can – venture to other category areas to spark different ideas. If you do make a great connection with another vendor, show appreciation by letting them know about the great tips that you have hidden up your sleeve! #SharingIsCaring

2. Join social events before and/or after the trade show: Being present at the big trade show is, of course, crucial. But sometimes you can make stronger and more natural connections with others in a more intimate setting. (Mix and mingle parties, lunch or dinner dates, or networking events/conferences.) People tend to open up more when there’s food and drinks involved and when a more carefree vibe has settled in. You can find interesting events by asking other contacts, actually reading the newsletters you’re subscribed to, checking out meetup.com, or using the power of Google.

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

5 Tradeshow Tips | UncommonGoods

Extra tip: If you think you have a pretty promising contact list – maybe you can even throw a small gathering yourself! This would illustrate authority on your part and will strengthen the important relationships you already have. Don’t be scared to mix your vendor contacts with your merchant contacts, this will only encourage your invited guests to join.

5 Tradeshow Tips | UncommonGoods

3. Be sure you and anyone helping you knows your collection:   Nothing is worse than asking questions at a booth and having someone who can’t talk about their own line! One thing I’ve learned here at UncommonGoods is that buyers tend to stray away from unorganized or flighty vendors, no matter how great the product is. Know the product name, pricing, materials, and any other important information that someone might ask you right on the spot. If you have any friends or family helping you at your booth, prep them with information about your designs and provide them a cheat sheet if you can. Even if the potential merchant knows that the person helping you isn’t the direct designer, they are still a reflection of your business.

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

Extra tip: Be sure to give out information beyond pricing to beef up anyone’s interest.  What makes your product special? Is it where it was made, how it was made, or who made it? Does it give a cut of its proceeds to a certain charity? Are there multiple uses of your designs? Think outside the box, because this is how a buyer will pitch any of their potential items to their team. The more powerful and interesting the story is, the better. Sure, the buyer can dig through your website to find this information you’ve probably already beautifully explained in detail. But I still suggest to hook them on the spot when you can, because there’s no guarantee they’ll visit your website once they float off to the next booth. (Even if you give them a business card!)

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

4. Show appreciation and send follow-ups on social media platforms: The reality of trade shows is that merchants, buyers, and companies are looking at hundreds of booths for hours, days, and for some – the entire week! Your goal? Have them remember yours! Even if your product is amazing, it’s hard to stand out against hundreds of other innovative products. Besides following this display advice, you have to do more than just depend on your great products and hope that you’ll receive an email in the next few days. Take charge of the contacts you’ve made not only with a follow-up email, but also with giving them a shout out on social media a few days later, something short and sweet with a bit of personality will do.

Example: @prospectivebuyer – It was great meeting you and I’m so happy you enjoyed our new line. Let me know if you’d like me to send a sample! 

When you and the potential contact are saying your goodbyes at your booth, ask if they are on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn and write down their personal handle name so you know the message will go directly to them. If you’re feeling bold, ask to snap a photo with them (or them wearing/holding your designs) and share that photo when you send your tweet or post. Not only will this jog their memory of who you are, but that prospective buyer will feel extra special.

5 Tradeshow Tips | UncommonGoods

Extra tip: Be sure that your feed has some type of recent activity before contacting anyone. Post a few photos, retweet/post a couple of articles, and write out personable comments. A “dead” social media platform won’t exactly work in your favor.

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

5. Project energy and be positive: We all know trade show days are long! A constant smile on your face and an upbeat personality at all times might not be super realistic, but keep in mind that carrying positive energy is vital. It’ll make your day a lot more bearable and you’ll be more on your toes and alert. Think of it like you’re hosting a party – invite the buyers and your contacts, welcome them into your space, and keep them engaged! Also, remember to be supportive of your fellow artists and designers. Buyers love it when designers suggest other booths to check out, it shows a collaborative spirit and buyers have told me that it makes them love you even more. (And it’s good Karma!)

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

Design

What Does Photography Mean to These 3 Photographers?

September 18, 2014

Photography Challenge | UncommonGoods

We’re excited to say that the eight semifinalists are chosen for our very first Photography Challenge! Cast in your votes and comment on the photos you think deserves to win $500 and should be added into our uncommon assortment! Keep in mind that you’re able to vote for more than one photo.  The four top voted photographs will be judged by our four wonderful guest judges, and they will decide on the grand prize winner!

Because this is a new type of contest for us, we wanted to get inside the heads of our guest judges and speak about the exciting world of photography. The guest judging panel are three professional photographers and our art buyer: Ashley Davis, Mark Weinberg, Emily Dryden, and Katy Loeb. We decided to throw a few questions at them and, and with no surprise, they threw some amazing responses right back! Check out the Q+A below and let us know what photography means to you in the comments section.

 

Photography Challenge | Guest Judge | UncommonGoods

Ashley Davis | Photographer  

“I love that I can get behind my lens, take a photograph, and turn it into something magical for people to love and want to have for their own.”

If money was no object, what type of photography project would you like to organize?
I work with physically and mentally disabled children, so I would love to run a program where we’d be able to purchase a few cameras for these kids and teach them the beauty of photography. Although these children have faced a lot of adversity in their young lives, they mostly have such an incredible outlook on life and I know that would show through in their artwork.

Which website should every photographer know about?
CreativeMarket.com. It is run by creatives, for creatives. Whether you want to sell your stock images on the site for a little extra cash, or browse and purchase their immense photography resources such as overlays, presets, WordPress and website templates, and fonts – they have got what you need!

What do you love about photography?
I love that I can get behind my lens, take a photograph, and turn it into something magical for people to love and want to have for their own. What I love about photography in general is that there is the freedom to express oneself in so many different ways, and that there is such a broad definition of “photography” these days and the genres continue to expand. I am constantly finding new artists that I am falling in love with, and although the market is somewhat saturated, I don’t see that as a necessarily bad thing, but as a blessing that there is more talent to find and an occasion to rise to the challenge of standing out among the crowd of many as one of the greats.

 

Photography Challenge | Guest Judge | UncommonGoods

Mark Weinberg | Photographer

What makes a powerful photo? “Light.”

Who is your all-time favorite photographer?
I don’t have one. Here are a few: Michael Kenna for his ability to capture ordinary environments in a surreal way, Edward Burtynsky for his ability to find patterns in both man-made as well as natural environments, Henri Cartier-Bresson for his ability to capture a moment on film.

 If money was no object, what type of photography project would you like to organize?
I would love to do a large scale documentation of the US Postal System. Both the buildings and the employees. The architecture in post offices ranges from some of the most beautiful structures every completed in the USA to some of the most utilitarian. I’d love to interview employees and photograph them as well. I’d love hear what everyday life is like as well as the craziest thing they have ever seen in the mail.

What makes a powerful photo?
Light.

Photography Challenge | Guest Judge | UncommonGoods

 Emily Dryden | Photographer at UncommonGoods

   “[Images] should be able to draw the viewer into a different world or into a new story or emotion.”

What makes a powerful photo?
A powerful image is one that can keep you engaged the longest. The image should be able to draw the viewer into a different world or into a new story or emotion.

Which website should every photographer know about?
Aphotoeditor.com is a great website to discover new work and the learn about the business.

If you were able to take a photo of anything or anyone anywhere– what would you decide on?
I would like to shoot David Lynch have coffee in an old diner.

katy
Katy Loeb | Art Buyer for UncommonGoods

“[Photography] plays with memory, reality, and technology in a way that other mediums do not.”

What’s your favorite photograph?
This is a tough question! One of my very favorites would have to be Carrie Mae Weems’s series The Kitchen Table (1990), in which the artist records a fraction of the many activities, conversations, and emotions that make their way across her kitchen table.  Weems captures the complexity and nostalgia of such an ordinary space with reverence.

 What type of photographs are you hoping to add into your assortment?
My goal is to bring in a range of photography that will be both aesthetically pleasing in a home, but also evoke strong emotions from a viewer. I’m always attracted to works that could be conversation starters!

What does photography mean to you?
Photography, I believe, is perhaps the most nuanced form of visual art.  It plays with memory, reality, and technology in a way that other mediums do not. In that vein, photography for me has the power to evoke more powerful emotions and ideas than most other art forms.

Be sure to cast in your votes here for your favorite photographs that made it as semifinalists! The deadline for voting is at 11:59pm on September 23, 2014. The top 4 voted photos will move onto the next round and the guest judges will decide on one grand prize winner.  The winner will earn $500 and have a chance to be added into our assortment!

Photography Voting | UncommonGoods

Design

How to Make It: 5 Product Photography Tips

August 16, 2014

So, you’ve just created an awesome new product and you really want to sell it. Presentation is everything, which makes the photography of your item very important. Because we all don’t have a fully equipped studio on our hands at all times, here are some easy tips that almost anyone can master!

Light It Up

The number one most important factor is lighting. You don’t need a lot of lights; all you really need is a great sunlit window and a white fill card. A fill card is simply anything you use to reflect light, which allows you to fill with light for darker, shadowy areas in a photograph.  Fill cards are traditionally white, made of foam core or poster board, but can also be silver or gold depending on the quality of light you want to reflect.

When picking which window to use, pick one that allows diffused, soft light to shine through. What you don’t want is really harsh sunlight. If the light is too hard, it can make one part of your image too bright in comparison to the rest. What you are looking for is nice, even light.

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

Setting the Stage

The second step is creating your set. White poster board (or any large piece of white paper) and some tape is a cheap and easy way to get a clean backdrop. Find a small table and place the white background so that the window light comes from the right or the left. Allow the poster board to curve in the back, creating a sweep. Then place your fill card on one side.

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

Camera Ready

Whether you’re using a high-end camera or a simple point and shoot, the most helpful hint I can suggest is to turn off the flash. If you can’t turn it off, cover it with tape. Then, set your camera’s white balance setting to daylight—or auto if that isn’t available. If your photo shows up with a strange colorcast, you’re probably using the wrong white balance.

White balance is the general hue of your photograph.  For example, you could have a warm balance, where everything looks orange, or a cold balance where everything looks blue.  Most cameras allow you to pick which white balance you want to use.  You do this by picking the white balance that matches your light source.  Extra tip: If you are using natural light, you should pick the icon on your camera that looks like a sun.  If you are using tungsten light, you should pick the icon that looks like a light bulb.

Taking Shots

At UncommonGoods, we crop most of our photos into a square, so when you are composing, make sure you leave enough space around your product to easily crop. You can use almost any basic photo program to do this. I personally like to use Photoshop.

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

When composing your shot, keep into account that you may not get the whole thing in focus. Your main priority is to make sure the selling feature is in focus. For example, let’s say you are shooting jewelry. If the pendant or charm has interesting detailing, make sure that’s in focus and let the chain go out. Decide which aspect you would most like the potential buyer to see, and then hone in on that.

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

How to Make It: Product Photography Tips

While composing, use your fill card to fill in the shadows on your product. It’s usually nice to leave some shadow, as it will lend some shape, but you don’t want the shadows to go too dark.

Time to Edit

After you’ve shot the photo, use whatever photo-editing program you have (iPhoto, Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.) When you are done, save it as a high res (meaning 300 dpi) .jpg or .tiff.

In general, my editing advice is to be subtle in your treatment. Some amateur mistakes include using too much contrast, over saturating the colors or using too much sepia tones.  Subtly enhance your photos but don’t make them look unnatural, which is especially important in product photography because you don’t want to misrepresent what you are selling.

And you’re done! Have a good shoot!

Design

Adopt a Unicorn–Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn Mug!

August 4, 2014

Meet Elwood. Magical unicorn. Party animal. Coffee buddy for life.

Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn Mug | UncommonGoods

Elwood’s fairy tale begins in an Effort, Pennsylvania ceramics studio. It may not be an enchanted forest, but it is a charming place, bursting with creativity and inspiration. It’s where JoAnn Stratakos develops original designs, like everyone’s favorite Rainbow Unicorn, by letting the clay guide her imagination.

Cuts of Clay ready to mold
Elwood waiting for his rainbows | Mudworks Pottery | UncommonGoods

“My inspiration for Elwood probably stems from my very early days of reading Sci-Fi-Fantasy fiction,” says JoAnn. “Anne McCaffrey wrote an entire series of books with dragons, elves, fairies and, of course, UNICORNS! I began collecting anything unicorn, and soon all my family and friends began gifting me unicorn things.”

When someone asked JoAnn to make a horse mug for their farm, it didn’t take long for her imagination to conjure up something a little more magical.

Molding into Elwood shaped mug

Of course, Stratakos relies on more than whimsy and wonder to bring creations like Elwood to life. To make magic happen, Stratakos has to put her hands to work and apply the skills she’s honed over time.

“I was never a ‘young’ designer,” she told us when we visited her for a Studio Tour. “I started learning to make pottery when I was 40-plus years old. The best lesson I learned [as a budding designer] was the harder you worked, the luckier you got!”

First, Elwood’s sweetly stout “belly” is thrown on a potter’s wheel. The subtle variations created in this process give each piece its own unique personality. Additional appendages, including the feet, tail and that signature horn, are then lovingly sculpted and attached to the mug by hand.

Elwoods feet are attached to mug

Before Elwood can earn his rainbow stripes, he needs to be kiln-fired—doing so before glazing helps the clay dry completely and boosts its durability. Then, each mug is hand-dipped in a creamy base color, and all of the details that make him extra-special, like his colorful mane and tail, are painted on by hand. Finally, the vibrant colors are set by sending Elwood to the kiln one more time

Elwood in kiln

When completed, Elwood emerges—all fired up, and ready to add a little magic to your next cup of coffee or tea.

Heard of Elwoods