Design

Comments of the Week

December 2, 2011

With the gift-giving season booming, UncommonGoods has been bustling! We’re answering customer questions, helping people find great gifts, and taking, packing, and shipping orders. But don’t worry, through all of the holiday shopping fun, we haven’t forgotten to find great new products for our community voting app. We’re happy to see that our community is able to take a break from baking Christmas cookies and writing letters to Santa to share votes and comments with us!

Some of our favorite feedback this week comes from commenters who’ll zip it when it comes to headphones, want to leave a lasting impression, and are excited about open discussion.

Many commenters love the fun design of the i-Slide Zipper Headphones, but Maggie pointed out that they’re also practical.



Good point, Maggie! We agree that the tangle-free aspect is a definite bonus.

Another fashion accessory in the lineup this week isn’t quite as bold as the bright orange headphones. Inner Message Rings make their mark subtlety. The raised letters and symbols on the inside of each ring actually leave imprints in your skin.

ER questioned whether the ring would be a good fit, but Stephanie and Ranel are convinced that this design could be a comfy, everyday piece.

Ranel’s favorite product this week isn’t the only fun modern design getting buzz. The Modern Bottle Opener is getting noticed for it’s unusual size and shape.

Do you agree with Laura that this modern design could get the conversation flowing? Are you like Roberta and have a bartender friend in mind? We’d love to hear your feedback on this, and all of the great uncommon designs up for voting this week!

Gift Guides

How to Make a Gift Bag

December 2, 2011

I tend to procrastinate when it comes to gift wrapping. I purchase the gifts I want to give and stuff them under the bed or on a shelf in the closet until right before Christmas. Then, while I’m fantasizing about radiantly glazed holiday hams and sweetly spiced rivers of eggnog, I’m also faced with making a pile of presents bright and giftable.

Those odd shaped, extra-uncommon gifts pose a particular challenge. I suppose I could skip the fancy wrap and just stick bows on things that don’t pack up pretty. Or, I could put any asymmetrical or otherwise un-rectangular products in big boxes stuffed with lots of tissue paper, then wrap them. I go with option three–a fancy gift bag.

While the bow trick works in a pinch, it’s not nearly as fun to take off a bow as it is to find a surprise inside of pretty wrapping. I know this, because my husband is a huge supporter of “just stick a bow on it.” I do have to admit, it’s a step up from his other, “just hand her the thing in a crumpled-up shopping bag” approach.

The second tactic–put that hard to wrap gift in another box–seems like a viable option, but wrapping a box just right takes time and creates a lot of waste; you spend 20 minutes getting each crease perfect, only to see your lovely artwork ripped to shreds and tossed in the trash. It’s heartbreaking, really.

So, you can see why, for me, option three takes the customary yuletide fruitcake.

Not only are gift bags simple to use and reusable, they’re also easy to make. All you need is some heavy wrapping, construction, or scrapbooking paper and ribbon to create a sturdy, eco-friendly alternative to traditional wrapping. I picked pretty blue craft paper from the paper mezzanine at Pearl Paint here in New York. (Yes, that’s really what their paper department is called; it’s an entire sublevel–mezzanine, if you will– full of gorgeous papers for wrapping, crafting, and scrapbooking.) I wanted my bag to be festive, but not too Christmasy, so it could still be reused after the holidays. To fasten the paper, I used a Staple-less Stapler, but you could easily use a hole punch and stapler to create a similar effect.

First, make sure you have enough paper to cover the item you’d like to wrap. To wrap the Holiday Record Coasters, I placed the product in the middle of the top half of the paper, then folded the bottom up to completely cover the gift. It’s okay to make the bag a little bit bigger than you need it, just make sure the gift doesn’t stick out of the top.

Next, “staple” along the edges on both sides. The staple-less stapler will create interlocking flaps for a secure hold, but it also leaves a small hole where you punch. You’ll also want to punch once in the bottom left-hand and once on the bottom right-hand, just above the seam.

Threading the ribbon through the holes not only adds decoration, it also increase the bag’s sturdiness and create a handle. However, before threading the ribbon, make sure you have enough by measuring it against the length of the bag four times (once for each side, once for the handle, and once for extra ribbon to work with).

Start threading by inserting the ribbon in one of the bottom corners, just above the seam. Leave a few inches of ribbon, then pull the remaining ribbon up through the next hole in the side of the bag. Tie the two ends into a knot, and create a bow with the remaining ribbon from the short end. Using the long end, continue to thread up the side of the bag, looping around the outside edge of the paper.

When you come to the end of one side, leave enough ribbon to create a handle before continuing to thread down the opposite side.

Once you reach the end of the second side, pull the remaining ribbon up through the hole on the corner above the seam. Pull the leftover ribbon back though the final loop on that side, and tie it into a secure knot. This side won’t be as pretty as the bow on the opposite side, but the problem can be easily remedied by cutting off any excess ribbon and tying a new bow to cover up the knot.

The finished product uses no tape, glue, or staples (if you go the staple-less stapler route), can be used over and over again, and costs less than buying a pre-made gift bag. For an added touch, stuff the bag with leftover wrapping paper, folded into fans (or other origami shapes, if you’re feeling extra crafty), instead of using a new sheet of tissue paper.

Design

The Search Is Over

December 1, 2011

In November we put out the call for hand-printed holiday cards, and of the dozens that entered, we picked 14 beautifully letterpressed and silk-screened cards we thought would be perfect for holiday shoppers. By Cyber Monday, these 14 finalists had received almost 4,000 votes and it was time for the judges to pick a winner from the top five.

The moment guest judge Melinda Morris picked up Dolce Press’ Word Search Holiday Cards, she knew the search was over.

Senior Graphic Designer Rebecca Paull Marshall agreed.

Melinda, co-owner of Lion in the Sun, a custom card and paper shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, loved the Word Search cards for their broad appeal. Who doesn’t love puzzles?

And voters agreed, saying these cards would be perfect for all ages and all holiday celebrations. One voter said, “WOW these cards are awesome! It’s always really hard for me and my wife to find cards that work for Hanukkah and Christmas, these ones definitely do the trick.”

Rebecca, who studied letterpress at the San Francisco Center for the Book, was impressed by their technique. She liked how you could feel the grooves of the letterpress in each card, because it’s a great reminder of the skill and art that goes into making them. “The letterpress added a level of sophistication to the simplicity of the game,” Rebecca added.

Alex of Dolce Press told us, “We like to keep things simple.” And it’s true! We love the clean and modern look of the Word Search cards.

But don’t let that fool you. Each card is hand printed on a Vandercook Cylinder Proof Press and each color is printed one at a time using hand-mixed inks, that allow Alex and her colleagues to achieve colors that don’t exist in the Pantone spectrum. Plus the cards come in an cleverly hand-printed box.

If you can’t wait to share these cards with friends and family, they are now available! Don’t worry, each set comes with an answer key, so your friends and family won’t be stumped for too long!

The Uncommon Life

7 Curious Truths about Christmas Gift Giving

December 1, 2011

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Here at UncommonGoods, we like to celebrate the act of giving, but let’s face it – it’s also fun to receive. So I thought it would be fun to mine through some of the data we’ve collected from holidays past and see if any patterns emerge that indicate who gives the best gifts. That way, I’ll know who to be *extra* nice to when next Christmas rolls around…

Below are 7 interesting trends in Christmas gift giving.

(Note: Because we’re a privately held company, I’m not at liberty to divulge just how much data was involved in doing this analysis, but let’s just say it’s, like, a lot. There are also some cases below where I realize seeing the actual dollar figures would be nice, but again – it’s not something I’m really allowed to share. Sorry.)

1. Men procrastinate.

This first observation might seem fairly obvious to some people, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless to see it played out in the data. Women plan ahead; men procrastinate. Women consistently get their holiday shopping done earlier in the season – it’s not until about December 6th that men start to get their act together and their buying rate starts to surpass that of women. So if you want a well thought out gift, you’re more likely to get it from a woman than a man.

(Since we’re an internet retailer, we necessarily have shipping cutoffs somewhere between Dec. 21-23 – otherwise, I’d expect there’d be a big blue spike around 11pm on Christmas Eve.)

But even worse than men in terms of planning ahead are college kids. Splitting the data by age group, we can see that the older you are, the earlier in the season you get your shopping done.

Breaking it down, it looks like the 65+ age group has 60% of their shopping done by Dec. 4. It’s not until Dec. 10 that the 18-20 set get 60% of their shopping done – almost a full week behind their grandparents. I guess experience teaches you not to wait until the last second. Again, it may seem obvious, but if you’re expecting a gift chosen with a lot of forethought, it’s less likely to come from a teenager.

2. 1999 called… and it’s got a great gift for you.

People who are still on AOL are often mocked. But maybe they shouldn’t be. They do, after all, give us the best gifts.

We found that the average dollars spent on gifts was pretty flat across email providers, with the notable exception of AOL. AOL users spent on average 12.2% more than users of other email services.

So while a recent study by Hunch.com found that Gmail users are more attractive, better educated, and better dressers than AOL users, they are also apparently more likely to be cheapskates.

3. Real Americans live in California.

For a number of reasons – economic, social, environmental – we try our best at UncommonGoods to carry products that are made in the USA. We’re not perfect at it – sometimes a product that is really cool or innovative is only available from overseas manufacturers – but when we can, we try to support local artisans and producers. So who does this really appeal to?

I thought we’d find that America’s heartland – the Midwest, where “real” Americans live – would be buying our American-made items at a much faster clip. And I thought we’d find that those treehugging, Che-loving anarchists out on the West Coast could care less about the issue.

Not so. In fact, looking by region at the percentage of all orders that contain items made in the USA, we see the exact opposite.

It’s one of the most striking statistics that I came across in doing this analysis. At least amongst our customer base, people on the West Coast are 21% more likely than average to buy American-made, whereas in the Midwest people are 24% less likely than average to do so. That’s a huge difference.

So if you want something that supports artists and designers that reside right here in the good old U-S-of-A, expect it from a Californian.

4. Men have no imagination.

I hate to pile on men here (being a man myself, after all), but apparently men are a lot more likely to run out of good ideas and just buy someone a gift certificate.

In our data, men are 23% more likely to give a gift certificate than women are. I guess a more positive way of putting this is that men are more utilitarian, and more likely to give you the gift of options, guaranteeing that you’ll like what you get.
Still seems kind of lame to me. If you want a more personally meaningful gift, you’re more likely to get it from a woman.

5. The older you get, the more you care about other people.

OK, so we have this program at UncommonGoods called Better to Give, where we give $1 from each order to one of four non-profits that customers can choose from at checkout. It’s a cool program – it really reflects what UncommonGoods is all about and it’s one of the reasons I was really excited to work here in the first place.

The thing is, many of our customers don’t actually pick a non-profit to have us donate to. That’s always puzzled me – I mean, there is really no catch and no cost to customer, other than the maybe 15 seconds it takes to read the description of the program and make a selection. But still, a lot of people don’t do it.

What’s interesting though is that the level of participation in Better to Give goes up with age. It’s not because older people have more money – again, these donations come out of our pockets, not our customers’. It just seems like older people have more patience to read through a little text. Maybe they have longer attention spans.

It’s also interesting to look at the geographic breakdown of Better to Give participation. Amongst states, Vermont leads in participation, with customers there being 32% more likely than average to select a non-profit. Given the Vermonters that I know personally, that’s hardly a surprise – they all seem like do-gooder, save-the-world types. On the other side of the coin, New York and New Jersey ranked 49th and 48th in participation amongst states (at 17% and 9% less likely to participate than average, respectively) – I guess being jammed together with other people on the Q train every morning makes you kind of hate society a little bit. (For the curious, North Dakota was dead last in charitable giving, being 31% less likely than average to participate.)

So if you want to receive a gift with a conscience, look to old people. Preferably from Vermont.

6. We get it, New England, you’re better than the rest of us.

Another area that we here at UncommonGoods try to emphasize is eco-friendly product. Again, we’re not perfect here, but we try to offer things that are sustainably produced. And once again, it’s those goody-goodies from up North that tend to lead the pack here.


(The regions above are grouped according to census bureau definitions.)

New Englanders are 2.8% more likely than average to buy eco-friendly products. People from the West South Central region – which is Texas, Oklahoma, etc. – were the least likely to buy earth-friendly things, at 6.8% less likely than average. Which reminds me of my favorite quote from this guy on The Simpsons: “In Texas, we got rid of the environment, and everyone was a lot happier.”

Actually, that’s not quite fair. Texas was not on the bottom of the list of eco-friendly states. The bottom five were actually Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Texas was actually only #40 in eco-friendly purchases – not great, but they are being brought down by their regional neighbors.

And this time around, Vermont wasn’t quite at the top. The top five were actually Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Colorado – all outdoorsy-type states, which makes sense. These people care about the environment, probably because their environment is so beautiful.

Generally speaking though, if you want a gift that is good for Mother Earth as well, someone from New England is more likely to get it for you.

7. Generosity is a ten-letter word.

Lastly, perhaps the most surprising thing we found is that there seems to be a correlation between how much someone spends on a gift and how long their last name is.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this. People with very short last names don’t spend much, whereas people with names 14 letters long spend 16% more than average. Maybe they’re more understanding of others, given how often they’ve had to correct people’s pronunciation of their names. Maybe they’re more compassionate because their names were made fun of as children. I’d love to hear other theories about this. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that, with an r-squared of 0.52, it’s not an insignificant correlation.

(And no, unless Malcolm X and U Thant were UncommonGoods customers, I don’t know who these people are who have one-letter last names. And yes, I know that U is a first name, but I’m having trouble coming up with other examples here.)

How to get a great gift

So, taking all this data together, we can form a picture of an ideal gift-giver: a woman with an AOL email address, 55 or older, who lives in California or New England and has a long, complicated last name. Does this sound like anyone you know? Then you’re in luck.

As for me, let’s see: my mom is definitely older than 55, lives on the California border, and we have a sort of complicated last name. I think she cancelled her AOL account in like 2001, but if I can just find her one of those old signup CD-ROMs, I’ll be all set…

Brian Hashemi is the Marketing Director at UncommonGoods

Design

Comments of the Week: Holiday Card Design Challenge!

November 25, 2011

We’ve been getting into the holiday spirit, and our Holiday Card Design Challenge is helping to make the season bright! We selected our favorite screen printed and letterpress designs and now our semi-finalists are up for voting. There’s still time to leave your feedback and cast your votes for your favorite messages of holiday cheer, but first, check out what our community is saying about these festive greeting cards!

Semi-finalist Laurie Okamura’s Porcupine and Reindeer cards, for example, are getting some great feedback.

While Lisa and Mary Margaret love the designs, they see these cards working better for another holiday.

Clara, however, thinks they’re perfect for a special couple on Christmas.

Rebecca also expresses love for the designs in our voting app this week, but isn’t a fan of the estimated prices.

After seeing this comment on her Fa La La La La & Pa Rum Pum Pum cards, artist Katie Daniels stepped in to say a few words about her process.

Many voters, such as Elinore, agree that handmade cards are worth spending a little extra.

Barbara expressed a similar sentiment for for Blackbird Letterpress’ Yuletide Yeti.

We totally agree, and can’t wait to find out which design wins! Would you send these little pieces of art to your loved ones this year? Visit our community voting app before Monday, November 28 at Midnight to help us pick which designs will go on to the final round. The top five cards with the most votes will be presented to our judges for the opportunity to win $500 and a vendor contract with UncommonGoods.

Happy voting!

Gift Guides

How to find a gift for your best friend

November 23, 2011

When Twitter Giveaway Winner Jodie Evans received her $500 gift certificate, she knew just what to get her best friend. And that’s how best friends are. When you know someone so closely, it’s easy to find that perfect gift.

So rather than let me tell you what you should get your best friend, let me call out 8 of our favorite gifts that symbolize what a great friendship is all about.

face Mug— for the friend you can talk to anytime

birth month flower necklaces— for the friend who doesn’t need Facebook to remember your birthday

7 deadly sins glasses— for the friend who forgives you all your flaws and shortcomings

attitude vase– and the friend who doesn’t let you get away

corkcicle– for the friend who’s always ready to celebrate

level necklace– for the friend who keeps you level headed

fortune keeper chain– for the friend who shares your dreams

sari scarf– for the friend who lets your true colors fly

What makes your best friend the greatest?

P.S. I know you’re probably crushed you missed our Twitter Giveaway, but you can still tweet at us or leave a comment below for personal shopping recommendations. We’re happy to help!

Gift Guides

Best New Gifts of 2011

November 23, 2011

When people ask me, “What makes something an uncommon good?” I typically explain that it’s a product with a unique, unexpected or additional element of creative design. It’s an item that is remarkable in that, “We haven’t seen anything quite like this before” or, “Who would have thought of that?” or “I’m sure I haven’t seen this anyplace else.” Or, another way to explain this, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart might say, “I know it when I see it.”

Here at UncommonGoods we also believe that gift giving is an art form in and of itself, and a singular way to express what you’re feeling in any relationship: love, friendship, happiness, hope, joy, gratitude, recognition or appreciation. That’s why we carry thousands of cool, hand-picked items from stunning jewelry and fun accessories to creative home decor and unique kitchen items. To help make your gift giving easier and more enjoyable, I’m happy to offer my personal uncommon picks for this holiday season. They’re all either new to our assortment this year or only available at UncommonGoods… and every one is sure to put a smile on your special someone’s face.

For Your Sister, Mom or Best Friend

The best way to express how truly special an important woman in your life is to give her something that is personal, unique and will become a treasured keepsake. Our handmade Birth Month Flower Necklace is the choice for the woman who loves jewelry; our handmade Sari Scarf, made from vintage saris is for the stylish woman who loves accessories.

For Him

When it comes to gift giving for guys, think about what is practical and functional– and then consider his interests, hobbies and habits. But if he is someone who already has everything, a little humor and a lot of creative design with one of these four gifts will easily solve that problem:
Man Coasters
Face Mug
7 Deadly Sins Glasses
F Bomb Paperweight

For Kids

What child doesn’t love candy or the amusement park? Try a Gummy Bear Light (ages 3+) or year long indoor fun with an Extreme Stunt Wall Coaster (ages 5+)

For Teens

The cool thing not to tell a teenager is that any adult will also love these five gifts:

Handmade Recycled Knit Arm Warmers
Dancing Lion Speaker
Travel Stub Diary
Fortune Keeper Key Chain
Handmade Glass Bacon and Egg Earrings

A Family Gift

Holidays are about families—which was also our inspiration for creating the Family Traditions Journal. And to help make your family gift shopping easier and this holiday especially memorable, you can start your own family tradition by giving one to each member of your family and all fill out together.

For Wine Lovers

When the Corksicle made its debut at the Atlanta Gift Show this past July, we immediately recognized that this simple and innovative design for keeping wine cool without creating dilution is a must have for any wine lover.

For Pet Lovers

According to the Humane Society, 39% of US households own at least 1 dog, and 33% own at least 1 cat. So chances are that someone on your gift list is either a dog or a cat owner. With more than 400 customer reviews, Bad Dog Tumblers are one of our top all-time best gifts for a dog lover. And, the cat companion is our Inconvenient Kitty Tumblers.

Green Gifts

We appreciate and value products created from materials that otherwise would be discarded and understand why this is important to many people. For over 12 years, we have been a leader in selling creatively designed products made from repurposed and recycled materials. Here are 5 of our most innovative and creative green products for this year:

With a set of Flip It! Wine Glasses you get 2 glasses in 1—both a wine and shot glass, made from repurposed old glass wine, beer and water bottles.
Moss Terrarium, a modern take on the terrarium, features an urbanized micro ecosystem housed within a recycled wine bottle.

“Potluck” Sweater Potholders feature a casing made from a bold, up-cycled sweater picked potluck-style from a charity store.

Recycled Cotton Animal Accessories are made in the USA from yarn spun from the leftover materials from apparel and upholstery factories that would have been discarded.
Upcycled Mail Sack Pouch & Tote are handmade from repurposed mail sacks.

For a Festive Holiday

Get in the spirit of the season this year with our Reclaimed Holiday Sweater Scarf a brand new twist on a seasonal icon. And wow your guests and spark some fun conversations when you entertain with a set of Wine Hourglasses and our Recycled Holiday Record Coasters.

A Gift That Gives Back

Throughout the year we hold a variety of different design challenges that reach a broad community of independent designers and support emerging talent. Graphic designer Michael White’s iconic design on this City Harvest Plate was chosen from over 90 entries from our Harvest Plate Design Challenge. $5 from the purchase of each plate directly benefits City Harvest, supporting food collection for New York’s hungry men, women and children.

At UncommonGoods, we believe in giving back. With our Better to Give Program, every time you order from UncommonGoods, you can choose to select a non-profit organization to receive a $1 donation from us.

About Carolyn
Carolyn grew up in Ardsley, NY, also home of the late great ice cream magnet Tom Carvel. She is a classically trained musician who loves sailing, Airedale terriers, Turner Classic Movies and Bruce Springsteen – not necessarily in that order. She lives in Shelter Island, New York and in Paulus Hook-downtown Jersey City’s historic district – with her husband Steve (a sailboat captain), Baxter (their Airedale terrier), and Marmaduke (their very large orange cat). Carolyn’s path to UncommonGoods was roundabout but understandable in a creative, business, retail sort of way. From Cornell University to Wall Street to high end fashion to starting her own business, Carolyn has always had a knack for spotting trends and knowing what people want to buy. For the past five years Carolyn has overseen the buying decisions and product selection for the UncommonGoods catalog and website. In October 2011 she took on a new role as the company’s Director of New Business and Product Development.

The Uncommon Life

An Uncommon Thanksgiving Recipe Round-up

November 22, 2011

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year or attending a potluck, consider taking inspiration for uncommon foods from a few of our favorite blogs. Who knows, you might end up creating a new tradition by cooking up one of the following dishes!

Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond’s unique city-to-country transformation and trademark style have landed her a book deal, Food Network show, and even a movie (to be released next year). Give your guests a taste of pioneer goodness with this unique pumpkin soup, and save yourself from dirty dish duty too!
 (Image courtesy of The Pioneer Woman)

For another stuffed squash dish (and potential main substitute for any vegetarians at the table), Honest Cooking presents a Winter Squash With Stuffing and Goat Cheese that’s just as flavorful as any typical turkey.
 (Image courtesy of Honest Cooking)

Finally, if you’re seeking an alternative to pumpkin or plain apple pie, Jenna of Eat, Live, Run suggests a Chocolate Angel Nut Pie that’s unique and uncommon, but still evokes all the flavors of fall.
(Image courtesy of Eat, Live, Run)

Whether you’re sticking to the classics or making something new, we wish you all an equally Happy Thanksgiving from UncommonGoods!

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