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Inspiration

Gift Guides

Your Graduation Gift Questions Answered

April 18, 2014

Graduation is a special time in one’s life, so I’m excited to answer a few questions finding the perfect gifts for students who are about to accomplish this important achievement.

What would you do paperweight

I’ve gained quite a bit of experience dealing with creatively designed gifts over the years—from my time as a strategy consultant overseeing a global internet retail research study (that’s when I met UncommonGoods founder Dave Bolotsky), to working in Customer Service (and reporting on company operations) for a holiday season at UncommonGoods in 2002, to joining the team full time (as opposed to consulting) as the head of Merchandising in 2006.

Somewhat out of necessity for creatively designed products that didn’t exist elsewhere, we began creating our own products in-house. As someone with a naturally questioning mind, an imagination for possibilities, a product instinct, and understanding of the creative design attributes that define an uncommon good, my responsibilities changed in the fall of 2011 when I become the Director of New Business and Product Development.

Many of the goods we develop here, as well as many of the items from the talented artists and designers we work with, make great gifts for graduation. Here’s my personal take on grad gifting and some suggestions for special gifts your grads are sure to love.

DIY Embroidery Cards | UncommonGoods

How is choosing a graduation gift different than picking out a gift for another occasion?
Unlike any other occasion, graduation, whether it is high school, college or a graduate degree, is a one-time event in any individual’s life—it is a specific accomplishment and also a milestone marking the end of one stage in a life and the beginning of the next.

What are some personal graduation gifts you’ve given in the past? What made them special?
I try to give gifts that have some meaning to the person—it may be something with an inspirational message, or a personal connection to the individual–and something I hope the person will want to keep.

My “go-to” item is often an inspirational paperweight—some of the ones that I’ve given more than once have been in our assortment for many years, like the What Would You Attempt Paperweight and the Be the Change Paperweight.

When my oldest nephew, a die-hard Yankee fan, graduated from college, he received a pair of Authentic Stadium Seat Cufflinks.

Yankee Stadium Seat Cufflinks | UncommonGoods

For the daughter of a close friend who graduated from high school I chose the Growth Necklace by Mary Steratore. It got a rave review!

Growth NecklaceNecklace Review



What could I give to my graduate’s good friends/classmates who are also graduating that is meaningful, but won’t break the bank? (From our Facebook friend Lora Frye Ross)

My suggestion is the 5: Life Playbook. Because it is a book, you have the option to inscribe a personal note on the inside. This is something that can be given for either high school or college graduation, with thought-provoking quotations and real-life examples that are both a spark and a road map for the next chapter.

5: Life Playbook
5: Life Playbook

Do you have a favorite new product (or products) that you think would make a great grad gift? What do you choose and why is it a great gift?
The Road to Success Paperweight is my favorite new paperweight we created–the combination of the road imagery as part of the design is inspiring and understanding of what life is about.

The Home Plate Paperweight is another great choice, for the same reasons, for someone who is also a baseball fan.

Paperweights | UncommonGoods

The most recent grad gift I’ve given was actually one of our newer products. I gave the She Believed She Could Bangle to the daughter of one of my best friends, who I’ve known all her life when she graduated from college. I felt that a bangle bracelet with this empowering quote was truly a keepsake for her.

She Believed She Could Bangle | UncommonGoods

For more inspiring goods to congratulate grads, visit our entire Graduation Gifts Collection.

Design

8 Quotes that Keep Makers Motivated

January 10, 2014

Everyone has those days when pulling the covers up a little higher and staying in bed a bit longer seems like the best possible decision. Some people are also prone to getting cozy on the couch with visions of video streaming in their heads these days. We all have moments when we lack motivation, but sometimes getting out of that lull, or avoiding it from the start, isn’t so hard. Keeping a meaningful quote in mind can bring inspiration, help you stay motivated, and make all the difference in the world when you’re feeling down.

Many of our artists and designers have sayings that hold special places in their hearts, so each time we go behind the scenes for a studio tour we ask for the featured artist to share the words that keep them primed to create. Here are a few of our favorites from 2013.

 Samuel Beckett Quote

Kasia Wisniewski & Nicholas Foley have an industrial sized laser cutter in their apartment. They use it to create their beautiful art, and they used it to share their favorite Samuel Beckett quote with us. They also shared their own words of wisdom on our studio tour: “You should always be aiming to ‘fail better’ on the next go-round.”

Susan Jeffers Quote

Illustrator Adrienne Vita took her quote from the title of a self help book by Susan Jeffers, but uses it to stay motivated when it comes to trying new things.

Amey Quote

Tattoo artist turned UncommonGoods Design Challenge winner Matthew Amey’s favorite quote is made up of three little words with big meaning. “My efforts flow through these three simple statements,” he said. “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…”

Paulo Coehlo
“The most amazing part about my job is creating every single day and doing what I love,” said jewelry artist Emilie Shapiro when we stopped by her studio in Queens. We’re glad she’s found her treasure!

Thomas Edison

Etta Kostick creates beautiful stained glass pieces, using a technique her father taught her, from her home studio in Chicago. She sent us this Thomas Edison quote, and told us how it helped her get her make art a career: “It was terrifying to take that initial leap and go full time with my business but this quote was a reminder of how I should approach life and work.”

Friedrich Nietzsche Quote

Graphic designer, woodworker, and design challenge winner Jeff Knight shared this bit of inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche among the boards and blades in his Fargo, ND wood shop.

Tolkien Quote

Janelle Haskin won our Winter Accessories Design Challenge armed with yarn and crochet hooks. She also had this Tolkien quote to keep her going.

Meghan Ellie Smith Quote

Painter Meghan Ellie Smith uses watercolor to create bold scenes. She also used those pretty pigments to write out her favorite quote. Though nontraditional, Meghan finds meaning in this message. She told us, “One time I was in the car with my mom and I asked her, ‘How many birds are there in the world?’ She responded, ‘Seven. It’s all mirrors.’ Both hilarious, and amazing. It’s way more fun to let your imagination bend reality and see the world however you want.”

What quote keeps you motivated?

Design

Inspiration for Innovators: A New Collection of Patent Art

November 12, 2013

Creativity is one of our greatest joys and highest values at UncommonGoods. It makes us so happy when we come across or develop an imaginative, original design, artwork, or product that will bring something special into our customers’ lives. We’re in awe of the creative geniuses throughout history whose ideas, experiments, innovations and inventions have transformed life altogether.

Actress Susan Cabot as a chemist inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp WomanActress Susan Cabot as a chemist/inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp Woman

Learning about how great inventors and product designers have pursued their ideas from dream to reality, persisting through the grueling effort of iterative failures and breakthroughs, is incredibly inspiring. Our Product Development team wanted to create a new wall art collection that would link the often quiet presence of innovation in our daily lives to the grand and sometimes dramatic history of invention.

Thomas Edison with lightbulbThomas Edison looking stern while holding a light bulb

Thinking about history led them to the National Archives online collection. Then they had their light bulb moment. What’s a more universally-recognized symbol of inspiration than… the incandescent light bulb itself? What more prolific inventor has there been than Thomas Edison, with his 1,093 patents? And how cool is it that the National Archives collection includes some great-looking documents that were central to Edison’s most transformative inventions? (Answers: None, None, and Very.)

Continue Reading…

The Uncommon Life

Our 8 Favorite Motivational Quotes

June 21, 2013

Each month we get the opportunity to learn a little bit more about one of our artists by stepping inside their studio to see where and how they work. These visits are always inspiring, and we’re always amazed at how every artist and designer who opens their door to us also opens our minds with a wealth of wisdom.

One of the questions we always ask when we stop by a studio is “what quote keeps you motivated?” The quotes always make us smile, and get us going…and they also got us thinking. Since our artists have graciously shared their favorite quotes with us, we decided to share ours with you.

As Senior Merchandising Manager and Head Buyer, Erin is all about finding products that really stand out. She’s not afraid to show her true colors, either, and shared her favorite quote found on etsy.

Gaby’s blog posts often feature awesome advice from our design community, and she’s always happy to share what she’s loving from around the web, so it’s no surprise that she found this Woody Allen quote on Design Love Fest.

Kira, on the other hand, dug up a quote from her own history instead of her browser history. This Marketing Analyst hasn’t changed much over the years. (Though her hair color has.)

Kim, who coordinates our quality control team, was so inspired by these words of wisdom from Walt Disney that she got a permanent reminder to follow her dream.

Quality assurance specialist Seneca also shared an aphorism from someone with a big imagination. She keeps this Michael Jackson quote by her desk.


Sometimes keeping that reminder to follow your dreams, think before you act, or preserver near is all it takes to get though a tough time. So, I decided to write down my favorite quote. (I grew up in Minnesota, so the symbolism of a long, cold winter really hits a nerve.)


Our Founder and CEO, Dave, shared this quote that roughly translates to “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” The saying originated in WWII and became the motto of Army General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, but it was also something Dave’s mom used to say while he was growing up. The words had such an impact, that they inspired him to develop one of our products, the “Illegitimi Non Carborundum” Paperweight.

Tabletop Buyer Candace’s quote is an appropriate way to end our roundup. This message from Hello Jack Design is a reminder that when you’re having a rough day, it’s okay to fight back.

What quote do you turn to when you need a little motivation?

Design

Valentine’s Day Quotes

February 7, 2013

Love has a beautiful way of creeping up on us each February. Whether your first love is a significant other, a pet, a parent or your art, here are some quotes to keep the passion ignited!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio: Tiffany Threadgould of TerraCycle

October 12, 2012

This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.

We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!

What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.

How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”

How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!

Design

Justina Blakeney’s 5 Favorite Baby Pinterest Boards

July 30, 2012

Hello fellow uncommoners! I’m Justina, a designer, curator and blogger and soon-to-be mom! (my due date is this week — ahhh!) I am also hopelessly addicted to Pinterest. I have over 50 boards that I use to collect ideas and inspirations for every aspect of my life. My Little Boomba board was instrumental in helping me to come up with ideas of how to decorate my nursery, what items to add to my baby shower registry, must have eco-friendly toys and clothes…and a ton of other wacky and awesome ideas. With over 1,000,000 followers on Pinterest, some of my pins were loved and some created quite a stir–but ALL of my pins got me excited to start this new chapter of my life as a mom.

I am thrilled to be here today to share The Goods with you: some of my favorite baby-centric Pinterest boards by some of the most stylish ladies around. These are mommas that have inspired me throughout my pregnancy and helped me get ready for this huge leap into motherhood. Get ready to start repinning!

Designer and Design blogger Joy Cho is a friend who has helped me a lot throughout my pregnancy–so open and positive, she’s been awesome. Her nine-month old Ruby also has some killer hand-me-downs. Her baby board is a fave, especially for the clothing.

Janet Sherman who has a kids clothing line, has a few really great boards for kids and babies–and I just dig her style. It’s playful and carefree.

My friend Sofia Alberti, who just had her second baby has my go-to board for boho baby finds, especially for decor. It’s a magical little place.


Hanae Ono’s Kids Wear board is another favorite.

Deborah Beau has several sweet kid’s boards, one of the most inspiring, in my opinion, is her Crafty and Creative and Colourful boards– with over 1000 really sweet craft ideas for kids.

Check out Justina’s favorite baby gifts from UncommonGoods!

 

main image by Annie McElwain. featured image by Bonnie Tsang. courtesty of Justina Blakeney.

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Aaron Ruff

July 3, 2012

Situated above a Brooklyn art gallery, in a space shared by artists of varying mediums, Aaron Ruff’s single room looked more like a museum at first glance than a jewelry studio. The creator of Digby & Iona and his four-legged friend, Nuki, took me in for the morning to chat about the creation of his new collection, how the price of commodities has impacted his business and how history plays a role in keeping him inspired.

What are your most essential tools?
The hammer and the foredom.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m a big collector, so the entire space is inspiration. I’m constantly rearranging and dragging in new stuff, so the space is constantly evolving.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s embarrassing to say, but just the basics of running a legit business were the hardest skills to master. Terms like W9 or EIN still make my head spin a little.

Does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Does Pinterest count as downtime? We think so!

What advice would you offer yourself 5 years ago?
Invest in silver! This is my main material and it has gone crazy in the last 5 years. Then it was $13 an ounce and earlier this year it was almost $40. I definitely miss the days when I could cast absurdly huge pieces in silver without blinking and eye. It’s changed the way I design quite a bit, I don’t want to have to raise my prices significantly so I have to be a lot more conscious about designing lighter pieces.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I’m terrible at meeting the deadlines I set for myself, so I generally set yearly goals and hope all goes to plan.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I’m my own toughest critic, so celebration requires a pretty massive win.

What quote keeps you motivated?
I use historical quotes in my work quite a lot, most recently, ‘Don’t give up the ship’ which is a quote from Lee Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 (also the name of the collection). It’s pretty self-explanatory; it’s my version of the ‘hang in there’ kitten poster.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel as much as possible.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I generally collaborate with illustrators; my drawing skills are terrible, so I really enjoy turning 2d into 3d and vice versa.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’ve just come out with an engagement band collection, so I’ve had a recent crash course on diamonds and precious gems.

Aaron will be a judge in our Jewelry Design Challenge. Call for entries ends July 12th.

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