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Design Challenges

Design

How to Win a Design Challenge

May 1, 2013

After facilitating 11 design challenges over the past year, I consider myself our company expert. I sit with the buyers as they sift through the entries to decide on the semifinalist designs that will make it to our community voting app, moderate the final judging session, and communicate with the designers throughout the entire process. I am to the point now where I can anticipate what the buyers will say about each entry and finalist design so I thought it would be helpful for me to share some of my observations.

Of course the final decision always comes down to the design and how well the buyers think it will sell at UncommonGoods, but keeping this advice in mind will help you avoid some road blocks that I have seen make or break the final decision.

PRICING I thought I’d start with the technical stuff to get it out of the way and because this is a really important factor in most design challenges. UncommonGoods is a retailer so we buy artist’s goods at a wholesale price. After we buy your design from you, we still need to make a profit, so we need to have a retail price set with a fair profit margin. We measure gross margin % to gauge profitability. We calculate this with (retail price – wholesale price)/retail price x 100 = GM%.

But if you have only been selling on Etsy and at flea markets, you might not have a wholesale price figured out yet. Many independent sellers are currently selling their items retail at a wholesale price! Stores like UncommonGoods will need to charge almost two times that amount to make a profit, and we won’t want to sell your design at a much higher price than a customer can get it on your site. This might mean going back to the drawing board but a strong pricing structure could really benefit you in the future.

Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson advises, “Research what is out there in the market place and understand the range of retail prices for similar products. Be sure to note the materials and how something is produced (handmade vs. manufactured) in order to understand where the cost is coming from.”

To understand pricing a little more, check out this really informative forum discussion between Etsy sellers.

Tell your product story well and completely! Some artists do a great job telling the story of their design in the Product Description field on our online submission form. Some artists don’t and it can really hurt them. This is the space to let us know all about your inspiration, your artistic process and how the design makes you feel. This is the space to tell our buyers everything you want them to know about you and your art.

If your design is chosen to be a semi-finalist, this is the copy we will edit for grammar and punctuation to use in the community voting stage-so this story won’t just attract our buyers, but also the thousands of voters who will be viewing your design. Good product copy can make or break your chances with the voting community, the buyers, and the rest of the judging panel.

Our buyers love collections. When I sit with a buyer and go through design challenge submission, more often than not we are also visiting an artist’s website to see what else they have. Not because we’re nosy, and not because we don’t like what we see. Our buyers want a sense of an artist’s future as a vendor at UncommonGoods. They’re looking for an artist that will be able to create a collection of similar products. Check out Valerie Galloway and Etta Kostick – former design challenge participants with robust collections.

Be prepared for our inventory demands. Our inventory requests for each design are always different depending on price and category, and our buyers work to create a plan with each designer that is beneficial to both parties. One common question you should be able to answer is “how many of these can you make in a week’s time?” Don’t know the answer to that question because you’ve only ever made one? That’s ok too, but have a plan in place for scaling up. (Get some advice from our current vendors here!)

Send a product sample, NOT a prototype. Most challenges require the semifinalists to send in their design for the buyers to review. Even if a design doesn’t make it into the top five designs that are judged, the buyers will review all the samples that come in. So many other artists are eager to get their designs into our buyers’ hands-but so many times I see samples with unfinished edges and chipping paint. Who knows when you will get another chance.

Send them something that shows the true extent of your talent. Before you send out your sample think, is this something I would send to a paying customer? Remember, when our buyers have your design in their hands they are thinking the exact same thing.

Stay tuned to our Twitter to learn about new design challenges and enter our Art Contest all year round!

Design

Art Contest – The Fun Will Never End

April 4, 2013

The call for entries for the 2013 Art Contest ended on Sunday night with close to 200 amazing submissions. We were blown away with the response and the caliber of work that was entered, so we went back to the drawing board. Seeing your artwork only once a year is not enough. With a customer base that loves art prints and buyers who love picking them out even more – we decided to keep the Art Contest going… all year long! Keep coming back to send us your brand new pieces every month and get more involved in our design community.

For the most part the rules and prizes are still the same. Midnight on the last night of every month is the deadline for that month and the buyer’s picks will make it into our community voting app.

Check out the Art Contest page for more details.

Maker Stories

Jeff Knight’s Dreamy Cutting Board Wins the Woodworking Design Challenge

April 4, 2013

It’s not news that we’re extremely proud of our artists, and our newest UncommonGoods artist is no exception. From almost 100 Woodworking Design Challenge entries, Jeff Knight’s Nimbus Cloud Cutting Board made our judges sigh, giggle and announce Winner!. But the more we learn about Jeff, the more we realize the breadth of his talents. Meet Jeff – woodworker, graphic designer, t-shirt entrepreneur, travel writer and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is the most uncommon thing about you?
I think the most uncommon thing about me is my renaissance-man attitude toward projects. I’m the kind of guy who likes to roll up my sleeves and figure out a way to make a good idea happen. If that means learning a new tool or trade, then so be it. I have a pretty big range of hobbies and interests. I keep myself busy and always look forward to learning something new. This past year I’ve been involved in various projects from co-founding a design club to partnering in the launch of a pop-up t-shirt store.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by a variety of things; nature, comic books, toys, games, classic films, art, midcentury design, social events, friends, family, etc. I try to keep my eyes and ears open to things, and when inspiration strikes I’m usually prepared with a sketchbook close by. A weekly trip to a thrift shop sometimes helps rekindle my inspiration. You never know when looking at an old dinner plate or album cover will provide inspiration for a future project.

How did you get into woodworking?
My dad was a woodworker as long as I can remember, so naturally, as a child, I used to hang out in the wood shop and build little things from the scraps of his projects. Sometimes a block of wood could be a pirate ship or an airplane. Much later in life, I found making things from wood familiar and comforting because of my upbringing. My dad had everything to do with my love of woodworking.

How do graphic design and woodworking fit together in your craft?
Form and function are important in what I do for both design and woodworking. I’m heavily guided by both concepts. There’s a back and forth tendency of wanting to make things function as a usable object, but also to craft that thing into a beautiful form. I find both graphic design and woodworking require a mastery of certain tools, but they also both require a sense of wonder, creativity and imagination to produce engaging results that resonate with people.

How do you market your designs on the web?
I’m not a huge marketer of my own work. So far I’ve found the best success through social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo. Like this contest, I couldn’t have gone very far without a strong group of supportive friends and family. There are so many tools available online to help get your name out there, it just takes some time and a little bit of strategic planning. If people like your work, they’ll share it and pretty soon folks take interest in what you’re doing and eventually that turns into sales.

Describe your workspace.
Luckily my woodworking takes place at a co-op space called DIY Wood Studio. They help keep the place neat and tidy so whenever I need something, the right tool is in its place. My workspace for graphic, however, is a complete mess. I surround myself with good, inspiring design in the form of toys, posters, magazines, funky objects, books and tons of other stuff. Because of that, I have Post-Its, drawings and other notes all over because I get ideas often and need to write them down or sketch them out.

Any advice to artists and designers thinking about entering an UncommonGoods design challenge?
Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Matthew Amey

April 2, 2013

It feels a little silly when we throw around the word “uncommon” so frequently here around the UG headquarters, but sometimes there just isn’t a better way to express how we feel. I first interviewed Matthew Amey when he won last year’s Art Contest. Being inked myself, I was overjoyed to learn his winning piece was a tattoo-turned-print. I was also completely baffled – was there a better word to describe the newest member of our artist family?

This time, take a look inside the Maryland studio of this design challenge alum to see how he transitions from painting on skin to paper.

What are your most essential tools?
I work primarily with tattoo machines but I also paint in oils quite a bit. I am fortunate to have a career (tattooing) that allows me to also work in other artistic mediums when time permits.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I work in my studio five days a week, eight hours per day. I find time between tattoo appointments to explore new ideas, mediums, do research for new projects and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is jammed with materials that I have collected throughout my travels. Much of my inspiration comes through interacting with other artists and discussing new ideas with prospective clients.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Being an artist is great but running a business, as an artist, is a daunting task. The creative mind is not one that worries about deadlines, bills, advertising. As an artist all I want to do is create work. Once I figured out how to shift gears from artist/creator to businessman/manager things got a lot easier. Once I found a ‘business manager’ it made my work much more enjoyable.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Trust your instincts; you’re making the right choices. Stay positive.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Much of my time is spent just thinking about projects. Once I decide on a project that I want to complete I am pretty adamant about following it through to completion. Some long-term projects get worked on little by little until completion. Ultimately I have to determine which projects are of utmost importance and work on those first. UncommonGoods has become one of my main goals this past year and I’ve been focusing much of my ‘free’ time on that work.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Victory is fleeting. If/When I’m able to take time to reflect on my accomplishments chances are I’m thinking about what to do next. I’m not sure where I’ve heard this statement but it is very true that, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
My efforts flow through these three simple statements. Imagine; think outside the box, allow yourself to wonder. Create; make work, be creative and productive. Inspire; make work that inspires others to think, contemplate or produce work of their own. Repeat….

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am constantly challenging myself to experiment with new materials, techniques and styles both in tattooing and within my other artistic endeavors.

How do you recharge your creativity?
My artwork develops in cycles. During the warmer summer months I try to get outside and experience nature as often as possible. I live near the ocean and in the Summer I am very busy tattooing the tourists who frequent my town. In the Fall I start putting non-tattoo related projects together and in the Winter and Spring much of my time is spent working on completing those projects. I am currently getting ready for the summer season so I’m trying to wrap up some larger art projects that I started last Fall.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Much of my tattoo work is collaboration between myself and my clients. They come to me with an idea and I attempt to help them visualize their ideas in the most concise way possible. Occasionally I will collaborate with other artists in my studio to produce paintings.