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Design

Ceramics Design Challenge Winner Announced!

May 29, 2014

In the past, the judging of our design challenges have occurred behind closed doors, either discussed through a conference call or in a room with our buyers and guest judges. Last night, we decided to take quite a different spin with our judging: to make it live for the public and contestants to watch via Google Hangout! (Yes, even including the critiques!) We’re a company that values transparency and we want all of our finalists to benefit from our judging as much as possible. Sure, we can jot down a few notes, and send the comments in an email the next day — but I think we all can agree that nothing beats hearing what the judges have to say in real time.

Below is our very first Google Hangout judging session for the Ceramics Design Challenge. The judges we invited to spill their expertise onto the table about each individual piece were Joanna Hawley, a designer and the voice behind the blog Jojotastic, and our Assistant Buyer, Hannah Weber. (Gaby and I joined in on the fun by moderating the conversation and putting in our two cents when we felt it was needed.)  Be sure to watch and see who our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congrats, Ronald and Jeni! Your ceramic piece is beautiful!

Maker Resources

12 Tips For Making Your Instagram Great

February 19, 2014

Love it or hate it, we definitely live in a hashtag world. As a company who supports emerging artists, we know that most designers know that maintaining a professional website alone just isn’t quite enough these days. Building your brand or showcasing your designs on a social media platform is becoming more of a must than an option.  

Instagram

The beloved photo app, Instagram, is a social media favorite among designers and creative gurus. It has the strong effect of being able to bring your brand and designs to life through lifestyle shots and personable captions. (Captions that need to appeal to people other than just your mom.)  We know that reaching out to potential followers who have an interest in your work can be pretty tough. It definitely starts with engaging content, relatable topics, and let’s face it, beautiful snapshots — but that’s all easier said than done.  We decided to collect 12 great tips from a couple of our favorite Instagrammers, Mandi Johnson and Mark Weinberg, to help you take your Instagram content to the next level. Read on to #BecomeAnInstagramNinja.

1.  Take advantage of daylight. Improve the quality of your photos by primarily taking them during daylight hours. Natural-lit photos are oftentimes the prettiest. If you’re working on amping up the beauty-factor of your stream, but still want to be an active poster in the evening, try saving up photos from earlier in the day and posting them later as a #latergram. Helpful tip: I usually turn my poorly lit snapshots into black and white photos. -Mandi

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2. Frame up and wait.  I am always looking. When I find a scene I want to photograph, especially in the city or when traveling, I will frame up and take a few photos, but then I’ll wait. I’ll hold the camera in the same spot and wait for a person, a taxi, a plane, or something to show up. This can add a unique and dynamic element to your photos and take them beyond the basic snapshots.         –Mark

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3. Remember: quality not quantity. Limit your posts by sharing an image, at most, once or twice an hour. Posting  ten pictures all within ten minutes can come across as annoying as spam in an e-mail inbox. If you’re updating your shop and want to give people an enticing preview, select one or two of your best images and upload them with a bit of time in between.  Spacing out your posts also gives you some time to be productive or enjoy life without always having your eyes constantly glued to your phone. -Mandi

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4. Move closer vs. zooming in. Camera phone resolution is truly remarkable. But, zooming in digitally degrades the quality instantly. If you can, take a step closer instead of using the zooming option. Helpful tip: Also try to take a step back and see how it looks. Doing this forces me to move and interact with the scene and see it differently.  -Mark

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5. It’s okay to Instagram photos from your fancy camera. Using beautiful camera photos will not only beef up the visual appeal of your stream, but can be a good way to give a sneak peek of a photo shoot you’re editing or to showcase a nice photo that didn’t quite make it onto your website.  When I do this, I’ll usually edit a photo and resize it to an 800px square on my computer and then e-mail it to myself so I can open the e-mail and save the image to my camera roll on my mobile device. Just don’t upload too many DSLR camera photos onto your stream, or you may come off as overly styling your life, which makes you appear inauthentic. Helpful tip: Instagram etiquette suggests that you should use tags that will let your followers know why your photos are bangin’ and theirs aren’t. Try using #frommycamera or #notiphone. -Mandi

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6. Dabble with different angles. Phones are small and can often fit where a traditional SLR can’t. Put the phone on the ground. Hold it up over your head. Hold it out the window (very carefully). Hold it directly against the glass of a window. Trying different angles doesn’t only enhance your creativity for future posts, but it also creates a visual balance on your photo stream altogether. -Mark

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7. Download an editing app. Filters are often extremely overdone on Instagram, especially when using the built-in filters that the app itself offers. You can actually edit your mobile phone photos with a more tasteful touch by using editing apps like Afterlight or VSCO Cam. Those are my two favorites because you can adjust the strength of each filter and adjust the coloring, tones, brightness, and contrast. Look at it as a light version of Photoshop, but just on your phone. -Mandi

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8. Breaking the “Rule of Thirds.” I’m always on the lookout for “existing framing” or in other words, real world elements that frame an object or cut the scene in half. Just as good light is important, shadows and contrast are essential. Yes, the “rule of thirds”  (where the frame is split into a grid of three vertical lines and three horizontal lines, creating 9 quadrants) is often a good rule to keep in mind when framing up. But you can also produce successful images by breaking this rule whether it’s centering your object or placing your horizon line just right above the bottom of the frame. –Mark

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9. Tread lightly on hashtags. They can be a great way to engage with other users and perhaps find new followers, so I can understand their appeal, as annoying as some Instagram users might find them to be. Try limiting yourself to using hashtags as a way to gain visibility for a less broad term or to connect with a niche audience. For instance, if you’re trying to gain exposure for a holiday craft, #holidaycraft would be an appropriate hashtag, but you’ll be sure to get mega eye rolls if you also include a bunch of inane tags like, #glue #crafts #ornaments #paint #makestuff #ilovechristmas #hashtagsforever. Pick one or two hashtags that will get you the most mileage, and maybe consider creating a unique tag so your followers can cut to the chase and check out precisely what they want to see in your stream. -Mandi

instagram1Caption: I’m selling this #midcenturymodern #plycraftchair to anyone who can make it to Canton, Ohio to pick it up! Asking $175 for it.

10. Make use of negative space. Be willing to leave some air in the frame. It can help your viewer focus when you leave negative space around your subject. Take it to the extreme and make 90% of the frame negative space, you may be surprised with what you find. -Mark

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11. Interact with your followers. Always show courtesy and respect as your following grows. Even if you only become moderately popular, don’t let the fame go to your head. It can be difficult to notice every comment on every photo when new notifications are constantly popping up, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss comments on month-old photos. But please do check out your most recent uploads to see if people have asked questions about where you got your fabulous shoes or if you’re from Cleveland too. You don’t need to respond to every compliment or friendly comment, but if people ask you questions, be decent and answer them. There’s nothing more eye-roll-worthy than a popular Instagrammer who frequently ignores his or her friendly followers who ask simple questions. -Mandi

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12. Post what you like and don’t worry about what people think. It’s your Instagram account and this is reflecting who you are creatively. If there’s an everyday (or odd) object that you find to be interesting, cool, or funny — go for it! If you find yourself in a creative rut, take the time to be inspired by other Instagram accounts.  Don’t force yourself to photograph a popular concept (aerial shots of meals, text on top of images) if that isn’t your style. When you find an idea you like, give it a try and add your own personal touch to it. -Mark

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These 12 awesome tips were written by Mandi Johnson | Making Nice in the Midwest and Mark Weinberg | Mark Weinberg Photography. Follow them on Instagram @mandimakes + @markweinbergnyc.

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Maker Resources

5 Tips for Writing Better Product Copy

January 16, 2014

5 Tips for writing better product copy by UncommonGoods Copywriter KateWhen I tell people I’m a copywriter, their first question is whether I’m anything like Peggy Olson and if the world of Mad Men is alive and well. I tell them that while I do love a well-made Manhattan and I can see the Chrysler Building from my desk at night, my duties are much more akin to Elaine’s in Seinfeld. I’m given unusual, intriguing products and I describe them.

They usually follow this by pointing to a glass on the table or a decorative vase and saying: describe that! It’s become a very useful party trick. My most unusual on-the-fly copy was a salvage sale typewriter that had been refashioned to sport a doofy monster face in place of his keys. They thought they’d stumped me but I fired back with some metaphor about industrial intrigue and the bygone days of print.

Writing about products, especially products with a story can be challenging. You need to show what sets it apart from other pieces like it, how it will improve the buyer’s wardrobe/décor/daily routine, and sprinkle it with just enough alliteration and pithy dialogue that the reader doesn’t abandon you halfway through.

Whether you’re trying to write about your products for your website or potential vendors, selling the piece without sounding like you’re selling it can be the biggest challenge. Every writer has their process and through many years of trial, error, and woeful puns, I’ve come up with these rules of thumb to create a focused piece of copy that sells your story:

1. Decide who you’re selling it to. You wouldn’t speak to a new parent looking for a pair of baby booties the way you would a person looking for a necklace to give their best friend or a novice cook who needs a new set of chef’s knives before their big anniversary dinner. Once you’ve decided that, you can adjust your tone—be it funny, earnest, or inspirational.

2. Figure out your lead-in. What’s going to capture the attention of your reader? Remind a new parent of the memories their child will make taking their first steps in these handmade booties, highlight the expert hand craftsmanship of the jewelry, and list off some dishes the culinary hopeful will make one day—my go-to dish is always a spicy fra diavolo, only because it’s my favorite thing ever and just referencing it brings me joy.

3. Now that you have their attention, sell it. Just stay away from any infomercial talk. This means blanket promises (“this chef’s knife set will make cooking a breeze!” or “These comfy baby booties will have your little one running to the Olympics in no time!”), and wild comparisons (“this necklace shines the like sun, if the sun were brighter and more beautiful than the Mona Lisa!”)

4. Let the product speak for itself. People love handmade products so tell its story. Describe the materials used, the process, any inspiration that moved you to create this piece. When people buy a handmade gift, it’s because they want something different and out of the ordinary. That way when they’re giving it to a loved one, they can add, “and it was handmade from recycled materials in Nevada!” or “the artist was inspired by a meteor shower!” Give them a sneak peak into your studio or artistic process—it’ll feel like they’re right there at the craft fair or artist showcase, able to touch your product and find its interesting nuances that make it special.

5. Now focus on the reader. How can they incorporate this into their lives? Will it add a fresh pop of color to their living room? Shimmer to their ensemble? Sell the benefit and then get out of there before you make a pun about how that owl statue really gives a hoot about your décor.

So there you have it. It’s not scientific but I went to writing school specifically to avoid science and math. Mission accomplished. Happy writing.

Design

7 Tips for Setting Up at the NYNow Trade Show

August 23, 2013

Advice from our artists at the NYNow trade show | UncommonGoodsThis week New York City welcomed hundreds of designers and brands to the Javits Center for NYNow, nee NYIGF. This trade show is big time for designers as well as buyers since retailers are getting ready to stock their holiday assortments and are looking for products that are new and interesting.

With trade shows being so expensive for an exhibitor, there is a lot of pressure to make an impact on retailers walking the show. I walked through, visiting our UncommonGoods artists – some seasoned NY gift show veterans- asking them for their best advice for other exhibitors. Some of the tips they told me are truly golden!

Cat Studio's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods1. Be flexible with your display.
CatStudio, designers of beautifully illustrated geographical home wares, comes with a loose plan for the display of their booth and room and time for improvisation. When they get to NY from California, founder Terrell heads to a flea market in Chelsea for vintage props. The team heads in with an open mind and the result is a display that is personal and exciting.

Jeff Davis's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods2. Leave your booth in NYC.
Designer Jeff Davis knows he is coming to NYC twice a year to exhibit at the gift show, so instead of bringing his walls and props with him to and from Philadelphia, he leaves it all in a storage facility in Manhattan. Some storage facilities will even drop off your stuff at the Javits Center. This way you can focus more on packing your merchandise and marketing materials.

Jenny Krauss's booth at NY Now | UncommonGoods3. Design a booth that doubles as storage.
Setting up a booth for Jenny Krauss is as simple as opening a trunk. She designed two large cases that open up into a display and hired a local contractor to build it. It wheels into the convention center full of props and merchandise and allows for an easy clean-up!

Jim Loewer's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods4. Lighting is everything!
Bad lighting could make or break your product display, and since your booth doesn’t come with lights of it’s own, lighting is all on you! Glassblower Jim Loewer understands the importance of light in his display so he constructed a light box to show off his sun catchers. Experiment in your home or studio by shining a flashlight over your product, if it looks better in the light, it should have a spotlight on it.

Melanie McKenney's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods5. Build some private space.
Things can get cramped in a small booth, so husband and wife team Justin and Melanie McKenney build a small room into the back of their booth where they store supplies, papers, and a chair for resting. I won’t show it to you, but the couple says it keeps them sane (and still married!) while exhibiting Melanie’s designs throughout the week.

great idea to get buyers to remember you at the next trade show | UncommonGoods6. Bring bottled water!
Melanie and Justin know from exhibiting more than once that water at the Javits Center is expensive and hard to come by. So they come prepared with cases of water they buy in bulk at home. It’s a nice gesture to hand a bottle of water to someone who is clearly parched and not interested in shelling out $3 for a bottle of water, but they make sure that retailers remember how special the gesture is by replacing the labels with custom labels with their brand name and booth number. I glanced at their logo so many times throughout the rest of the day and was even reminded of them when I got home and emptied my bag!

getting my caricature done at NYNow | UncommonGoods7. Offer an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Back at the CatStudio booth they took advantage of their talented illustrators to offer caricatures to people visiting their booth. It got me to sit there for a bit and chat with founders Terrell and Carmel to learn more about their company. I also walked away with a great souvenir to have after the show. If you have the space and resources, try planning something creative that highlights what makes your brand unique and will leave a lasting impression.

Advice from designers at NYNow | UncommonGoodsAnd my advice for walking the NYNow? Wear comfortable shoes!

Design

8 Videos from How To Make It: Pitching Your Designs

August 15, 2013

How To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsLast week we had the pleasure of hosting another How To Make It event, this time, in the basement of Park Slope’s Union Hall. We love hearing from our artists and buyers on the panel, but especially love getting the chance to meet local designers.

How To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsThe conversation was all about getting the word out about your designs to the media and retail buyers. UncommonGoods Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson, jewelry designer Emilie Shapiro, and myself chatted about the dos and don’ts of email pitches, trade shows, and pr reps.

Even if you were unable to make it, there was some great information shared that you can benefit from as a designer and business person. Here are 8 great clips from the panel.

How to submit your designs to a design challenge.

How to create an email pitch that won’t get lost in the mix.

Bloggers and editors need different information than a buyer. Here’s what to send when pitching to the media.

Trade shows can be expensive, but are they a wise investment?

Some advice on setting up your booth at a trade show.

Erin shares how the UncommonGoods buying team schedules and organizes themselves during a trade show.

What kind of information should a designer share about their company and designs at a trade show?

Emilie shares her tips for keeping track of contacts at trade shows and following up after meetings.

Want more? Check out the entire talk.