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Maker Stories

Meet Naomi Meller, iPhone Case Design Challenge Winner

June 29, 2012

Every new design challenge fills us with such excitement! It is inspiring to see the passion, emotion, and wit in the artists’ stories behind their unique designs. The iPhone Case Design Challenge brought in over 100 entries and the opportunity for artists to share the paintings, sketches, and graphic designs they have created.

Our judges worked through designs with unique mediums, bold colors, and uplifting stories. They decided on pieces that they thought America would love for their whimsy, and others they thought would inspire iPhone case envy. But there was one piece that the judges couldn’t get off their minds; they loved its wit and clever juxtaposition of technology on technology.

We simply love the clever geeky chic of Computer iPhone and cannot wait for you to learn more about its designer, our iPhone Case Design Challenge winner, Naomi Meller of Rhode Island. Naomi recently rediscovered her love of art and designing through photography and will soon be able to see her designs on the backs of iPhones all over the country. Meet Naomi, the newest addition to our Uncommon Artists family.

When and how did you discover art?

I’ve been involved with art for as long as I can remember. As a very young child, I drew elaborate pictures that often caught the attention of my teachers. This evolved into years of drawing and painting, usually for it’s therapeutic value. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to keep it all to myself.

How did you realize that photography was your passion?

Photography was one of the only mediums I had never experimented with. When I had my daughter over 2 years ago, I got very sick and came close to losing my life. The months following were difficult, and I was physically weak. I tried to walk around a lot to build stamina.

During my walks, I started taking pictures with my iPhone. I fell in love with these photo walks I’d take, and decided to buy a dSLR to take my photography to the next level. I’m stubborn, and sometimes that can be a good quality. I set out to learn how to properly use my camera, and I did. Since I started taking pictures, my passion for taking them has only grown.

What are your favorite things to design/photograph?

My number one favorite thing to photograph is my daughter. Kids grow so quickly that I just want to capture all the good/bad/and in between moments of her growth.

I also love to create characters in my self-portraits. This allows me to step outside of myself, become someone different, and express myself in a raw and comfortable manner that I hadn’t been able to in years.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

I never stick to one style of photography. And I never stick to one type of subject. Some weeks I’ll take portraits of our family. Some weeks I’ll focus entirely on surreal self-portraits. On occasion I’ll do some photojournalism work for my husband’s news site. By always changing my subjects, I’m always changing my perspective. And it keeps me going.

I also love challenging myself in Photoshop. I taught myself how to use the program by way of trial and error. Sometimes I’ll take a picture, and work on it until I’ve succeeded in something I didn’t know how to do before sitting down. Currently I’m trying to master an old film camera that my dad gave me. I always keep things evolving, always keep learning – that way I avoid feeling stagnant.

How else do you express your art?

I’ve recently started a photography blog to help publicize my work, but also to inspire myself to start writing again. Writing is something that I did creatively for a long time, but haven’t much in the last several years.

I’ve also picked up a paint brush again. I have an earlier photograph in which I combined painting and a surreal self-portrait. I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in a long time. I still have several canvases in my house just calling my name!

What attracted you to want to take part in this challenge?

Aside from the fact that I’m a huge UncommonGoods fan, over the last few months I’d been feeling much more anxious about getting my work out there. I’ve been creating things for over 20 years, and the only person in my way has been me. I thought that this challenge would be a great opportunity with a great company.

What was the inspiration behind Computer iPhone?

Most of the work that I’m most proud of has come from a quick decision. When I over think and over analyze, it usually harms the outcome of a piece. Computer iPhone came about because my husband had recently dismantled a broken computer. Pieces were surrounding the office we share. I had submitted some other designs, but they were very portrait based. For Computer iPhone, I thought, “what would look cool, hold up well to wear, and still portray the irony that I always have in my work?”. And so I decided on a piece of the computer.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in taking part in a future challenge?

Don’t doubt yourself. If you enter a future challenge, and don’t make it through, the worst case scenario is that you can try again. I did.

All photos courtesy of Naomi Meller

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Father’s Day Puzzle Project

June 8, 2012

Every year for Father’s Day I get my dad the same thing – a store bought tie. This year I decided not to add to the mountain of ties in his closet, but instead give him a unique gift we could create together. The vinyl collection puzzle was that perfect unique gift – what’s better than some quality father-daughter time, while creating DIY wall art!?

Background Research:
Many a family game night during my childhood was spent working on puzzles. You would think that putting together puzzles would be a calm activity; however, in my family it is practically a competitive sport. Each piece was quickly put in place as we raced to see who could put in the most pieces in our 250, 500, even 1000 piece puzzles. It was a fun challenge that we could compete in together!

The Vinyl Collection Puzzle will be not only a great father-daughter activity, but also a great DIY Father’s Day gift.

The Experiment:
On a slightly overcast Saturday – perfect for a family afternoon indoors – my Dad and I set up an old folding table in the basement, opened the box, and got down to work*. Now, I am sure everyone has his or her own unique “puzzle-ing” style. My Dad insisted (like he always does) that we start with the edges, and then work our way in.

While working on the puzzle, I got to spend some quality time with my Dad! I heard about some of his records and we even took a break to look at some of them. (Disclaimer: The Bruce Springsteen Collection is actually my Mom’s…she had a New Jersey roommate in college.) The vinyl collection of the puzzle is quite unique and diverse, but my Dad found a tape version of one of the records in the puzzle (Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits)!

My Dad and I were not the only ones working on the puzzle – we had a little “helper.” She decided to walk through the center of the puzzle taking some of the pieces with her. Beware of these four-legged “helpers!” Despite this adorable distraction, after a few hours, my Dad and I finished the puzzle. (Disclaimer: My Dad is incredibly good at puzzles!)

The next step was to create the wall art that would become my Dad’s present. I set out to my local arts and crafts store to buy a picture frame. I chose to get a nice black frame that was 18” by 24” – the dimensions of the puzzle. The tight fit holds the puzzle between the glass and the backing, which means the puzzle can be mounted without being glued together. (You never know when you might want to take down the puzzle and put it back together again!)

When putting the puzzle into the frame, make sure to take extreme care. (You don’t want the puzzle to fall completely apart and you’d have to redo it, unless you are a master puzzler who enjoys the challenge.)

*Helpful Hint: When beginning the puzzle find a large poster board to do the puzzle on, the sturdier the better. When you frame the puzzle, the poster board makes it easier to slide the puzzle to the backing of the frame.

Finally, we attached the framed puzzle to the wall with standard picture frame hooks. Then stood back and admired our work!

The finished product is not only a beautifully completed puzzle, but also a piece of wall art. It now hangs in my family’s basement so that my Dad will see it every time he (and anyone else) hangs out down there, which is pretty often!

The vinyl collection puzzle is a great family activity for anytime, but especially this Father’s Day. Even if you aren’t able to make it home to spend time with your Dad, a DIY activity like this puzzle is a great Father’s Day gift. To all the fathers in your life, I wish them and you all a Happy Father’s Day! I hope your day is full of memories and perhaps a few DIY craft presents!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Maker Stories

Classic Keys for the Modern Memorandum: Jack Zylkin’s USB Typewriter

May 11, 2012

When I was a kid, my mom had a beautiful old typewriter. I remember carefully inserting bright white sheets of paper, punching those big, round keys, hearing that delightful ding and the unmistakable sound emitted when I pulled back the lever, and the smell of a fresh, inky ribbon.

Although it may not always be practical to type hard copies these days, with liquid paper being more work than hitting backspace and all, just looking at a typewriter does bring happy thoughts to many who have used one, and some who haven’t–but see them in old movies, in antique stores, and on our some of our favorite period TV shows.

Balancing that need to keep an electronic record of our documents with the desire to capture moments in the creative process from a simpler time, inventor Jack Zylkin developed a product that celebrates the best of both worlds–the USB Typewriter.

Delighted by this innovative combination of past and present, I was excited to learn more about what drives Jack’s designs. He happily shared about his inspirations, collaborators, and what’s to come.

Q.) You said that you invented the USB Typewriter as a ‘statement about the disposable nature of modern communication and modern communication devices’. What is it about the typewriter, specifically, that you find so intriguing?

Many people have found that the overstimulation brought on by computers and electronic gadgets, whether it be emails, tweets, viral videos, or other distractions, interferes with the creative process. People dread the boredom associated with being “uplugged”, but without boredom there would be no daydreaming!

While computers and cell phones are increasingly used for consuming media, on a typewriter, there is absolutely nothing you can do except create — it forces you to hone all of your focus and heart onto a single, blank page. Still, the convenience of saving and editing your work on a computer, as well as being able to share ideas and inspiration online, is also an indispensible part of being creative.

With my USB Typewriter invention, I hoped to have the best of both worlds — while writing, you can turn your computer screen off and enjoy a sublime writing experience, directly connecting with a printed page and nothing else. Then, when your draft is finished, you can save it to a computer, edit it, email it, and so on. Even after your work has been polished and spell-checked, you will still have the original hardcopy you typed, to keep as an artifact of your first draft, or to mail to a friend. Hopefully, having a beautiful typewriter permanently on your desk –instead of a computer keyboard — will encourage you to turn the computer off altogether now and then, too!

Q.) You helped found Hive76 in 2008 and designed the USB Typewriter in 2010. How did working with a collective of artists, engineers, designers, and other creative folks influence your invention of this product?

I would never have been able to make the USB Typewriter without Hive76. They not only provided the tools, the parts, and the workspace, but also a group of enthusiastic hackers to encourage me and offer advice. For example, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones and such, so I never would have had the idea to use an iPad with the USB Typewriter — that was actually fellow Hive member Chris Thompson’s idea. And the idea to print my own circuit boards came from a class we taught at Hive76 on making your own guitar effects. Ultimately, its just a really fun place to hang out, which gave me that extra encouragement I needed to come there after my day job night after night.

Q.) This invention takes an old standard and connects it with a “newfangled contraption”, creating something beautiful and functional. Are you working on any similar concepts, or is there another modern marvel with an old-school throwback you’d love to see materialize?

I have a lot of balls in the air right now. I try to just sort of make whatever idea pops into my head, so there is no recurring theme to my inventions. For example, I am very close to finishing work on a futuristic new board game with a very cool electronic twist, which I just filed a patent for…but right now I am working on a cheap word-processor that has an e-ink screen. E-ink would be so beautiful to type on — the next best thing to actual paper!

Q.) If you were to write a novel using the USB Typewriter, what would your first line read?

“Blank pages are the best kind. Write your own story. The end.”

Now that’s a statement we can stand behind! How about you, readers? We’d love to see the first lines of your novels. How does your story begin?


Community Comments: Praise for Uncommon Designs

April 9, 2012

When a brand new creative design comes our way we get pretty excited. What could be better than the thrill of discovering a new uncommon good? Seeing our community get just as excited as we are!

We love seeing those “thumbs ups” in our community voting app followed by feedback explaining what you love about the designs.

Of course, commenting isn’t just for the voting app. If you own an uncommon good, we want to know why you love it! Here are a few examples of community comments that make us smile.

Made of polished silver plated aluminium, this Row Boat Salad Bowl is charming and functional. The intricately-grained sheesham wood oars are actually serving utensils.

It was a hit in our voting app, floating into our assortment with 465 votes.

pema8684 from New Hampshire proved Mary’s point by gifting the salad set to her boat-loving dad.

The Nerd Herder Gadget Wallet also makes a great gift. Of course, it’s a great gift for yourself, too!

The wallet was originally designed by Brook Kirk to help her musician husband stay organized. Mandi was excited about the Nerd Herder’s potential to stash guitar picks (and other daily necessities for the nerd on the go).

Post-purchase, blueorder from Phoenix, AZ confirmed that the gadget wallet is an awesome design.

The Nerd Herder is perfect when you’re out and about, but this next design by Jill Henrietta Davis is made for a relaxing night in.

Penelope’s comment made us dream of sinking into a hot bubble bath and enjoying the ambiance created by the handmade glass Lotus Bud Oil Candles.

And while Mona from East Providence, RI bought her candles for use at work, she’s in the business of helping other unwind.

Reading commentary like this gets us excited about the goods in our assortment, but it also puts us in the mood to find more clever, uniquely designed products. Would you love to hear what our community has to say about your work? Share your designs with our buyers and your creation could become an uncommon good.

The Uncommon Life

Contest: Share your Favorite New Designs & Win!

March 7, 2012

We love reading voter feedback in our community voting app and we want to thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for new designs and talented designers with the chance to win!

Share your favorite potential products on Twitter and you could win an UncommonGoods gift certificate to help buy your favorite new design (or one of the existing uncommon products you’ve been pining for).

How it works:

1.) Pick one of the products up for voting that you think should become an uncommon good.
2.) Visit the voting app, cast your vote, and tell us why you love the product in the comments section.
3.) Follow us on Twitter and tweet your pick @UncommonGoods. Make sure to include a link to the product voting page.

We’ll pick 5 winners to each win a $5 UncommonGoods gift certificate. We’ll announce winners on March 19, 2012.*


1.) Craft a clever tweet. Tell us why you love the product or designer in 140 characters or less. (Reading the product story can be a big help here.)
2.) Vote on as many products as you’d like while visiting the voting app. The products aren’t in competition with each other.
3.) Use the share buttons on the product voting page to encourage your friends to vote for the product you chose, or tweet @ your design-savvy friends to invite them to vote for a chance to win.

Could it be any easier? Yes! Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what we’re looking for. But, of course, you’ll have to show us up with even better tweets.

The Sari Bag has my vote @UncommonGoods! Handmade from recycled materials. Thumbs up!

Judie Bomberger’s family garden stakes should be the next good @UncommonGoods! They’re so rustic yet fun!

Please carry Little Paper Planes @UncommonGoods! My kids (& I) would love them!

I’m a-MAZED by the Labyrinth Game @UncommonGoods! I’ll buy it even if I don’t #win!

I voted for Christina Kober’s fortune cookie #design @UncommonGoods b/c it would make an amazing gift for @mybestie!

We’ll choose the cutest, most clever, and most creative tweets to win. We can’t wait to see your pick and hear why you think it will make a great uncommon good. Happy voting and good luck!

*P.S. This contest is only open to residents in the 50 states and District of Columbia. (We’re sorry about that, but that’s how far we ship!)

Maker Stories

Her Own Two Feet: Dylan Kendall’s Design Story

January 20, 2012

Dylan Kendall says that she’s always anthropomorphized objects. Take a look at her footed bowls, with their round “bellies,” comical legs, and cartoonish feet, and you’ll see exactly what she means.

“I’m stuck in a visual wonderland, ” She explains. “I’m an adult who grew up begrudgingly. I like to think about that world where we don’t leave behind our childhood games, our imaginations, our wonder and awe. My work occupies that space that respects we are adults but doesn’t forget that we need to play!”

Dylan didn’t give up her appreciation for whimsy or childlike sense of wonder, but she did learn many life lessons on her road to adulthood. Dylan’s journey to becoming a designer started with a trip to Europe, and included starting her own ceramics studio and founding a non-profit organization.

It started when she was 17. After graduating from high school early, she went to London to study at Richmond College. She says that didn’t last long and a few months later she was traveling around Europe. Eventually she ended up in Paris, where she “unofficially” attended Parsons School of Design.

Dylan says, “I wasn’t a student at the school but I hung around in the studios…working with my hands felt good, motivated me.” A few years later, when she was back in Los Angeles, she started her first ceramics studio in her apartment.

Her work was a success, and as galleries started carrying her pieces, she realized she could make art a career. She decided to give it her all and headed to Oakland to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts.

During her time in Oakland she lived near a low-income area, and was saddened by the poverty and despair she saw every day driving through rundown neighborhoods on her way to school. She ended up moving back to Los Angeles to finish her degree (and earn a Masters Degree) at UCLA, but the memories of the Oakland neighborhoods stuck with her.

In 2005 she founded Hollywood Arts, an organization that helps at-risk youths and young adults through art–giving them the opportunity to work with their hands, experience the feeling of creating something, and even participate in performance art.

A Hollywood Arts drawing class.

“[Hollywood Arts] was a success,” she says. “We were proving that we were able to reach kids who had checked out of other efforts.” The organization now offers 22 theater, art, and music classes a week at no cost and works to help students find internships and jobs in the creative sector.

Although Dylan has passed the Hollywood Arts torch on to a new executive director , she says the organization will always have a special place in her heart and is the designated charity for her design company.

Through helping kids to get involved in the arts, supporting nonprofits and the arts in her Huffington Post articles, and creating designs that make us feel like kids again, Dylan is definitely doing her part to inspire creativity and encourage active imaginations.


Uncommon New Designs: Foodie Favorites

January 9, 2012

Whether you’re a great cook, a self-proclaimed foodie, or a competitive eater in training, you’ll love these epicurean-friendly new designs.

In fact, our community voting app contains a medley of tools to get you baking, broiling, chopping, and whipping.

The Twisk Whisk is just one of these clever kitchen inventions.

The Twisk transforms from a robust round mixer to a slim flat mixer with a simple twist, and it’s easy to store in flat form. This whipping wonder is pretty impressive, but a few other new products up for voting are just as innovative.

The Cut and Collect cleans up the prep process a bit, while Nesting Utensils and this collapsible Cookbook Stand help you stay organized.

Now, you may want to share your home-cooked creations with your family, but this can be a chore if you’re serving picky eaters. Fortunately, one of the newest additions to our assortment can help.

My Food Passport encourages kids to take tasty travels through trying new foods. Once the journey is complete, they can stamp their passport with a sticker to prove their culinary courage.

We have something new for those who are already quite adventurous and love to try a variety of flavors, too.

These Stoneware TV Dinner Trays are perfect for portioning your favorite main courses, veggies, and desserts.

Would you love to get cooking with new foodie favorites? Visit our community voting app to add your comments to the mix, or stop by our this just in page to see more uncommon new designs!


Germaphobes Rejoice! Cleaner Kitchens, One Sponge at a Time

January 5, 2012

Some people aren’t too picky about their cleaning supplies. For those less-than-germ-conscious types, any old sponge will do. Engineer Michael Frank was one of those folks, but his roommate was far from it. Although Michael now admits that kitchens can be pretty gross, when he first designed his innovative two-teared sponge rack, the Spongester, he did it with the germaphobia of others in mind.

Of course, those germaphobes aren’t scrubbing up the wrong sink. According to WebMD, your kitchen sink can actually contain more germs than your toilet bowl. Fortunately, cross-contamination may have met it’s worst enemy. Spongester is made of industrial-grade stainless steel, is slanted just right to prevent water from pooling up, and features semi-perforated shelves for extra drainage.

Here at UncommonGoods we think the idea is pretty ingenious, but Michael faced a few hurdles before his clever system made it big. The designer took a moment to tell us about how Spongester came to be, describe what makes a Sponge evil, and make us laugh.

Q.In your video, you explain that the product was created to keep the good sponge and the evil sponge from getting mixed up. What makes a sponge angelic or evil?

The original prototype, and the one in the video I made while I was living in Singapore, said “Dish” and “Misc”. I didn’t come up with “Good” and “Evil” until I was back in NYC. Something about this city. But in reality, I always thought the counter and sink were a bit “grosser” than dishes, especially my counter and sink.

Mike sent us this cartoon by Tony Murphy, which he says “proved to me I was not alone.”

Q. You said that your former roommate is a germaphobe. Any other examples of the lengths you would have to go to keep things clean/prevent cross-contamination?

I’m actually pretty bad about this, and I have to admit I sometimes clean the counter with the good sponge, then feel bad about it. I’m a biomedical engineer by training, so I do spend a lot of time wondering how much mold I’m ingesting when I use a smelly sponge on a drinking glass.

He also passed along this image from his alleged germaphobic friend Sean’s Facebook. He assures us his ol’ roomie was just kidding.

Q.Spongester has been a big hit among germaphobes and those who like to stay organized. Did you expect such a great response?

The idea to actually sell them outside of my friends was formed during business school last year in NYC. My professor said it was the stupidest thing he ever saw, and I also got rejected from the entrepreneurship funding program because no one understood why anyone would want one. Despite this, I always thought there were at least 100 other people out there who shared this problem, so I kept pushing it despite the skepticism.

Q. Be honest-would you rather lick a used sponge, dirty dishes that have been sitting in the sink overnight, or the kitchen floor?

For me that is an easy question; I have a niche brand of OCD which requires me to lick the kitchen floor three times whenever I open the fridge and microwave. The sink I only have to lick on Thursdays. And I don’t use dishes, just ice-cube trays to partition food by color and type of animal.

Not coincidentally, I live alone with my cat, Eki, in Soho.

We’re pretty sure he’s joking about the last one, but we know that there are some interesting cleaning quirks out there. What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to avoid germs?

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