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Design

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Andrea Panico

August 20, 2015

UncommonGoods is excited to unveil what we’re proud to call the Uncommon Collection – an assortment of some of our very favorite offerings that fully embody our core values. Each week we introduce new artists in our This Just In-spiration series, but we’re happy to give a special introduction for one of the artists helping us grow this collection of truly uncommon designs.

In meeting our five key standards, all designs featured in the collection are original and demonstrate exceptional ingenuity, while makers adhere to responsible business practices and leave a minimal footprint on our environment. What makes an artist’s design special and motivates them to have a positive impact on the world is certainly worth sharing. Meet Andrea Panico, the maker behind Jewelry in a Bottle, exclusively at UncommonGoods.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve always had creativity running through me. My mom was an art teacher and my dad a biology teacher-turned school principal. So I sort of had the yin and yang of influences. I wrote poetry as a kid and played piano (by ear) starting at age 5. But I never thought I wanted to work in a creative field. I planned to be a doctor, even all the way through my undergraduate degree! It took me applying and not getting accepted to medical school to think about what I was meant to do and what was important to me. After getting a job at an architecture firm, everything clicked for me. I knew I was in the right place. At that point, I started taking foundation design classes and then eventually got my masters in Industrial Design at Pratt.

Jewelry in a Bottle | UncommonGoods

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
Everyone says it’s important to do what you love and I believe that’s true. There are so many other things that influence our day – office interactions, family obligations, even the weather – so having a baseline of truly enjoying your work and your process helps provide balance. I have worked for quite a few designers, and that can be a huge challenge. So even more exciting than becoming a professional designer was starting my own business, when I finally had the opportunity to chart my own course.

Pico in workspace 2

What does your typical day in the studio look like?
Typically, I attack the “to-do” list I’ve made the night before. ( It seems like all my urgent emails come in after I leave!) I also often straighten up my space. I’m a firm believer in “everything in its place and a place for everything”. I can think more clearly when there’s not too much visual clutter around me. After that, we deal with any retail or wholesale orders, getting them ready for shipment. The rest of the day is reserved for whatever project is most pressing at the moment – whether preparing for a show, designing new products for our jewelry line, or working on the many additional design projects we do here. My day typically ends with a stop at the UPS store, where I ship our orders.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I have pictures of my kids on my computer screen. It helps to see them, to jolt me back into “full person” mode. It’s easy to get pulled strongly into whatever project is at the top of the to-do list. For the same reason, I keep a piece of Desert Jasper on my desk. It’s a beautiful rough stone believed to bring a sense of tranquility and wholeness and to balance physical, mental, and emotional bodies. It also stimulates creativity and imagination, which a designer always needs!

Pico in workspace

Did anything in particular inspire your design?
Most of my designs are inspired by architecture, or great buildings. I am a minimalist and like the objects I have in my home to be clean, simple and multifunctional. This jewelry holder was inspired by the idea that what we use to store our jewelry should be as nice as the jewelry inside! I wanted something more than a “box” that also functioned and kept the jewelry from becoming tangled.

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartener for the first time. What do you think they would say?
I have a first grader and she usually says everything is “beeeeaaaaaauuuutiful.”

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not”
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Why is sustainability important to you?
Having worked in architecture and design firms before starting my own design company, I learned about sustainability as it pertained to large scale multimillion dollar projects. At the scale of a building, or buildings, the choices we make as designers have such visible impact on so many levels. I think small businesses may think they are too insignificant to have an impact, but I believe every little bit counts. In my design process, I try to create pieces that will endure and that will be handed down as heirlooms. We have enough mass market companies making “throw-away” products – my goal is to have people enjoy what they buy from me for years to come.

In what ways does your design reflect social and environmental best interests?
The ecosystem of my typical design and production process involves quite a few moving parts, and I regularly review that system to see where I can do better. Whether it’s shipping logistics, material usage, or how my team is set up or costing, all the factors get reevaluated. For the most recent design I did with UncommonGoods, we used recycled bottles in combination with wood for our jewelry holder. We worked with existing bottle sizes and designed around that, fitting the lid design in with these constraints. The idea for this piece came from a design in my own line, and we were able to make it less expensive AND in a more environmentally conscious way. Superb!

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Maker Stories

Round Up the Kindling and Light Up the Campfire Candle

July 21, 2015

Copy of Joe on Chair copy

Portland designer Joe Gibson finds inspiration at the nexus of the pristine natural world and practical modern design:

“It’s the remarkable natural beauty that surrounds us, combined with the creative culture of Portland, that drives my design aesthetic.”

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Joe is the main creative force behind Revolution Design House, a small maker-space in Portland, Oregon, where he and his business partner Dylan craft handmade home furniture and accessories. It’s easy to see his nature-meets-modern-design mantra manifest in some of his most popular designs – first with the runaway success of his Boxcar Planter, and most recently with the way cool Campfire Candle.

PicMonkey Collage

He refers to his innovation of the candle as a “happy accident” – probably along the same lines as the first Homo erectus to innovate the campfire campfire . It was after the Boxcar Planter process that Joe honed in on his design philosophy – “exploration and investigation with no expectations” – but the spark was truly lit after Joe tinkered with X-ACTO knife and geometric shapes during an intensive 3-hour workshop on 3D form he and Dylan teach through Oregon College of Art and Craft.

PicMonkey Collage

“The idea of the workshop is to let go of expectations and to begin manipulating the shapes into more unique objects, not by pre-determining the shape but by responding to what is right in front of them,” Joe says. He assembled a simple form almost on impulse and took it home to contemplate what it could be. “A candle seemed be a natural fit since the forms I were making were hollow cavities,” says Joe. It was later that night – over a few beers with his team – that his wintertime longing for a camping trip spontaneously inspired the campfire candle.

Joe bow tie with bike - photo from Christine

Joe perfected the design to be “an amalgam of a long-established, traditional candle-making process with a modern design twist;” he uses old-school techniques alongside a sleek, geometric form.

“I honestly assumed it was going to be an easy, no-brainer. I was wrong! Candles seem really simple, but the science of the wax and wick are tricky. Candle making is truly an equal ratio of science and art; everything matters, from the size of the wick to the shape of the candle and everything in between.”

Despite having some serious metal and woodworking experience under his belt, working with wax initially went a bit against the grain for Joe: “I knew very little in traditional candle making, so I did quite a bit of research and tons of prototyping.” To melt the wax for the candles, Gibson jury-rigged some slow-cookers, which he still uses to this day. The wax is poured into two-piece silicon molds and cooled.

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This process is called ‘gravity casting’ – “the concept is rather straightforward, and surprisingly, we’ve been able to manufacture quite a lot of candles here in our shop.”

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It’s likely that Portland, Oregon will continue to kindle the flame of Gibson’s creativity for some time. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2004 to attend Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he graduated with a double major in Wood and Metals: “My plan was to move back to San Diego once I finished with school, but after a year of being here I knew the Pacific Northwest was the place for me. The creative energy and natural beauty were just too strong, and after five years of school, I jumped right into being a full-time maker.”

Joe in shop - photo from Christine

“Portland in general is a great place for creative folks to do their ‘thing.’ It nurtures craft in every aspect. We pride ourselves on craft brew to craft bikes and even the craft of sea salt!”

Maybe you don’t live in an area with easy access to grounds for tents and trails, or maybe you’re just trying to stave off the compulsion to get a fire going and roast marshmallows on your living room floor; either way, Gibson’s candle serves as a beacon of the great outdoors, the Pacific, Northwest, and the creative community of Portland no matter where you light the wick.

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Maker Stories

Meet the Extraordinary Designers of the Extraordinaires® Design Studio

June 12, 2015

Groundbreaking designer Paul Rand once exclaimed, “Everything is design. Everything!”

While Rand’s declaration of design universality is sweeping and inspiring, it can also be confounding; its broad appropriation of, well, everything can stifle further conversation. If everything is design, then what’s the nature of everything? What’s so important about design? Where do you begin?

Irish designers Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor suggest a place to begin, offering a way for curious non-designers to explore the process, challenges, and rewards of design through The Extraordinaires® Design Studio, an inviting activity kit that challenges young minds to think outside the box. Whereas Rand staked his claim to the totality of human endeavor, Murphy and O’Connor’s approach assumes nothing, first asking the most basic questions: “what is a designer?” and “why does the world need designers?”

Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor

Designers Rory O’Connor (left)  and Anita Murphy (right) with their Extraordinaires Design Studio Kit

Through the guided play of their studio game and the introduction of some extraordinary “clients” (the Extraordinaires themselves, including a teenage vampire, a fairy detective, and a gentle giant), Anita and Rory invite hands-on exploration of these fundamental questions, raise many more, and encourage young designers to ask their own in a spirit of playful inquiry and empathetic discovery.

We had the pleasure of discussing the inspiration and aspirations behind the Extraordinaires with Anita and Rory in a recent conversation:

How does the Extraordinaires Studio experience differ from that of being a professional designer in the real world? What’s been simplified or enhanced here?
Many professional designers comment on how effectively we’ve captured the design process in the Extraordinaires Design Studio. We’ve presented design as a simple 3-step process, while in reality it’s a looping process, involving constant iteration for a professional designer. A key element that’s been enhanced is the Extraordinaires themselves. In the real world, a designer solves design challenges for ordinary people. In the Extraordinaires Studio, you’re tasked with helping characters with extraordinary needs—like a giant or superhero, robot or ninja—and who wouldn’t want to design a remote control for a ninja?

Expansion Pack and Case

The Design Studio features an extensive array of bizarre characters – Extraordinaires – each of whom present a unique design challenge

Assuming the goal of the Studio isn’t necessarily to produce the professional designers of tomorrow, what are the main skills fostered or lessons learned?
Empathy is a key skill fostered in the Studio. You must design for the needs of the Extraordinaire. This involves thinking about what others want, and not just what you like…thinking about the end-user. It offers a structured approach to creative thinking and problem solving, reinforces that there is often more than one answer to any challenge, and that the key is to ask lots of questions. While we would love to inspire a new generation of designers, our real goal is simply to encourage people to look at their world in a new way, to ask questions and consider how they might make it better for themselves and for others.

Do you see this primarily as a competitive game, and if so, what does that teach about the competitive nature of design? What can this experience teach about the value of constructive critique?
The Studio is more collaborative than competitive. The only person you are competing against is yourself as you try to make each new design better than your last. When playing in a group, discussion tends to become more collaborative as players use “yes… and” feedback to add to each other’s design. In the Awards ceremony, we designed the cards so that any feedback is focused on the features of the design and not on the player.

Design Kit Testing

Amateur designers collaborating on their fantastic designs 

Although it coordinates with the Extraordinaires website, the Studio seems to emulate the look of a tablet or laptop, but using low-tech, analog media. Did you consider making the entire product a digital interface? What was behind the decision to make it paper and hand drawing based?
We did consider an entirely digital platform for the Extraordinaires. When we first came up with the idea, however, we made the decision to keep it as a physical toy, thereby making it more accessible to children, in a way that digital wasn’t. Many designers still swear by pen and paper for capturing ideas. There’s something powerful about the eye/hand/brain interaction that occurs when doodling on paper. Many design lecturers have also expressed their gratitude that we kept it analog. They share their frustration with too few students taking the time to capture their ideas on paper before turning to their computer. In the future, we will enhance the play experience with certain digital elements, ultimately creating a hybrid digital/analog experience. We do intend to keep the pen and paper for the foreseeable future, however!

Have you considered ways to allow players to realize their designs or inventions in three-dimensional prototypes – like connecting to 3D printing tools?
We think there’s nothing more satisfying that seeing an idea made real, in 3 dimensions. The whole ‘maker movement’ excites us greatly. We’re already exploring options on how we can support players wanting to realize their ideas in 3 dimensions.
Our background is in 3D animation, so we know only too well what a huge leap it is to take an idea on paper to a 3D model ready to print. We think a more realistic approach is to build prototypes using found materials like cardboard, construction toys, or modeling clay. This way, you can test your design and refine it before digitally modeling it and printing out parts. We say, “before you make it, design it.”

 

Deluxe Design Studio Kit | UncommonGoodsDeluxe Design Studio Kit 

How does the Studio encourage players with design abilities but limited drawing skills or other ways to represent their ideas?
Design is not about being a great artist; good design is about great ideas and solutions. We encourage people to find their own way to communicate their ideas; this may be by drawing and sketching, but it could also be a written document, physical model, or video presentation. We factored this in when we created The Extraordinaires app. It allows you to record a presentation orally to accompany your design.

Can you comment on the spirit of innovation in contemporary Ireland? Did that spirit inspire any aspects of the Studio?
There’s an incredible amount happening here design-wise. In fact, 2015 is the Year of Design in Ireland! There is a large program of events planned to explore how design can really help people. This resonates strongly with us.

Being from Ireland, which is really just a small island on the edge of Europe, we have always been grounded in our Celtic heritage of craft and storytelling, while looking externally to Europe, North America, and Asia for additional inspiration. It’s exciting for us to hear from schools in Singapore, gamers in Poland, or families in the US who play with and love our products.

Any particularly good user feedback you’d like to share?
We really value the feedback we receive from customers and fans. We’ve been told that the Studio takes children’s creativity seriously. We’ve received praise for the way it appeals to both boys and girls. In fact, some of our biggest fans are female. Others appreciate the flexibility it offers, allowing a child to play on their own away from screens or as a family in a group. Many parents have expressed their surprise at just how much they enjoyed the experience of designing for the Extraordinaires.

Our favorite feedback is that the Studio drops you into a real design experience. It breaks down the design process and combines drawing, creative thinking and fun.

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The UncommonGoods team had a lot of fun designing with the kit – now Mr. Pirate can finally open his restaurant

Ready to meet the Extraordinaires and help them with some of their extraordinary design needs? Their box full of playful design challenges and fantastic fun is just a few clicks away, and no design degrees or drafting skills are required.

See the Collection |Design Studio Kits | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Molly McGrath

March 27, 2015

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Molly McGrath is a laser-cutting artist who marries her architecture training with her love for geometric shapes and bright hues. Molly’s statement art pieces are known for intricacy and precision, yet words like “lively” and ”fun” still come to mind when you see them. I visited Molly’s lovely studio in the heart of The Mission in San Francisco and it wasn’t a surprise that her open space mimicked her artwork’s aesthetic – flashing lots of playfulness with even more color. Her studio held lots of character, from her personable knick-knacks to her hand painted geometric doors, I simply couldn’t focus on just one thing. Natural light flooded in, her laser cut designs peeked out from drawers and vignettes, and her desktops were scattered with signs of production. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a real life Pinterest board titled “Interior Eye Candy.” It was clear that Molly built a home away from home – a space that was truly hers to the very core.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Creatives often try their best to limit distractions in order to stay focused on their craft. Yet it was procrastination for Molly that ignited the initial spark for her small business. As Molly told me, “I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day, while procrastinating, I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. That was the beginning!” Read about Molly’s friends Larry and Lola, what quote keeps her inspired, and her current obsession to perfect her craft!

Atlas 1 | UncommonGoods

Atlas 1 by Molly McGrath.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is definitely my laboratory. I have painted a wall with a sharpie, color blocked my doors, and constantly rearrange and review my collection of objects, textiles, furniture, and books for inspiration.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods
Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
My laser cutters (Larry and Lola) are definitely my most essential tools. Everything that comes out of my studio has been cut by one of them! I’m also completely reliant on AutoCad and the Adobe Creative suite to generate my designs.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Since there are just two of us here, there isn’t a lot of downtime. We run a pretty efficient shop. Daily trips to the post office accompanied by a coffee break are probably the closest thing to down time we have at our studio!

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
The most difficult part of my work has been figuring out how to grow and being strategic of the direction of the business.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day while procrastinating I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. At that time in 2006, there was not a lot of laser cut jewelry, and people really responded to it. That was the beginning!

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoodsMolly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
The same advice as I offer myself now – hire more people to help with production to allow for more time for product development.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
My goals are simple – to continue to evolve as a designer, and to grow as a business.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Usually when I get a new design opportunity that I couldn’t have foreseen. For example, I am working on a collaboration with Chronicle Books, which I have celebrated quite a bit!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Jerry Garcia

This quote is from a song called “Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. I listened to this song incessantly starting around age of 16, a time when everything is exciting and the possibilities of life are endless. I love the sentiment, and it also is a great approach to design.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am always on the hunt for a new material to use with the laser cutters. My current obsession is ceramics, so I am trying to learn everything I can about that medium at the moment.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods
Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel, reading Vogue, hiking, and going to museums.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Often! My employee Qiana has been an amazing collaborative partner, as have many of my wholesale accounts. I also love doing custom work. It often results in a completely different approach!

 

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

 

Molly Mcgrath | See the Collection

Design

Uncommon Design School: Less is More

February 13, 2015

Love it or loathe it, we all know minimalism when we see it. A neutral palette comes to mind. Forms tend to be aggressively geometric. International Style buildings…Scandinavian furniture…deconstructed timepieces like our On the Other Hand Clock. Some find minimalist designs thrilling in their integrity. Others find them stark—even threatening. Whatever your reaction, one handy phrase comes to mind: less is more.

On The Other Hand Clock | UncommonGoods

On the Other Hand Clock

A conceptual cousin to ‘form follows function,’ this cool but cheekily contradictory aphorism is a close contender for the top modernist mantra—a quotable bit of wisdom that may still be echoing through the lecture halls of many a school of architecture and design. But, like Louis Sullivan’s alliterative catch phrase, less is more deserves an investigation of its history.

The phrase is most closely associated with the designer who embraced the association: architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For Mies, it was an apt slogan for his pursuit of design purity. The intentional contradiction helps make it memorable, but essentially it means “the less complicated the design, the better.” The less of less is more is apparent in the work of Mies and other midcentury modern designers, but the more means ‘better,’ with a note of pseudo-spiritual zeal.

Barcelona Pavilion | Wikipedia

The Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wikipedia

Much as Mies’ cigar-puffing visage comes to mind when you hear the phrase, he had to admit that he didn’t coin it. He credits his modernist mentor, Peter Behrens. The young Mies, working in Behrens’ studio, recalls that he showed his boss some design options for a factory façade, to which the elder architect replied “less is more.” This set the tone for Behrens’ elegantly minimal approach to industrial design, and Mies took up the banner for other types of buildings as well.

But wait—there’s more (or is it less?) to this story. The phrase crops up before Behrens was born, in a poetic context: Robert Browning’s poem Andrea Del Sarto (called “The Faultless Painter”) of 1855.

Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
 (I know his name, no matter)—so much less!
 Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.

Browning employs the phrase in an imagined diatribe by a B-list Renaissance painter who works in the shadow of the likes of “Michel Agnolo” (Michelangelo). Hardly the heroic, modern origins you might expect.

Bike Print | UncommonGoodsThe Bicycle Encyclopedic Print

Whether or not Behrens and Mies were aware of Browning’s poem, the phrase got a modern makeover that puts a positive spin on minimalist aspirations. Not to be outdone, maverick architect Frank Lloyd Wright quipped “less is more, only when more is no good.” Apparently, Wright wanted to indicate that he was hip to mid-century trends, yet wanted to keep his options open.