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Product Development

Maker Stories

Inside the Designers’ Studio
with UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team

September 16, 2016

 

UncommonGoods Product Development Team

UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team: Carolyn Topp (Director of New Business & Product Development), Elisha Janas (PD Assistant & Graphic Designer), Emily Reside (Senior Product Designer), Tiffany Jyang (Senior Product Developer), and Morgan Tanner (Senior Production Manager), photo by Emily Dryden

Each month, we have the privilege of bringing you a look inside an artist or designer’s creative space. Sometimes we hop on a train and head someplace nearby in Brooklyn, sometimes we hit the road to see friends a little farther from New York City, and every now and then a jet-setting contributor will helps us feel a little closer to a studio that seems worlds away. These adventures are always entertaining and inspiring, and they give us chances to get to know the people who make the goods we sell a little bit better. 

While planning some upcoming Studio Tours and reminiscing about the many great experiences I’ve personally had seeing where our products are made and meeting the people behind them, something occurred to me: We make products. Right here at UncommonGoods, a team of product designers, developers, and managers is at work coming up with brand new uncommon creations. 

I realized that despite all of the studios I’ve personally visited, the folders of photos from other folks’ tours I’ve sorted through, and the blog posts I’ve edited, I still haven’t given our readers a look at the place where we develop our very own designs. But that’s about to change. Welcome to this behind-the-scenes look at our Brooklyn office, where you’ll see works in progress, inspiration and advice from our Product Development team, and even a quote from The Boss (Springsteen, that is; not Dave Bolotsky.)

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Design

Shirt Tales: Personal Shirt and Message Pillow Stories

August 1, 2016

Most of us have an old shirt in the back of a drawer that we just can’t bear to get rid of. Maybe it doesn’t fit quite right anymore, or maybe it just doesn’t work with your current wardrobe, but throwing it out or even donating it just doesn’t feel like an option. Maybe that shirt is from an unforgettable concert or a big game. Maybe it’s from a special day, like that tuxedo shirt from your wedding that means a lot, but will probably never be worn again. Or maybe it’s a shirt that was passed on to you by someone special. Just because you don’t wear it anymore doesn’t mean you can’t show it off. Turn it into a Personal Shirt and Message Pillow to give your old shirt a new use.

A few folks on our team had t-shirts with sentimental value, and now they have brand new pillows stuffed with memories (and synthetic, goose-friendly down).

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Design

A Serving Solution
as Amazing as Chocolate

June 13, 2016

Few treats are quite as inviting as rich, decadent chocolates. That familiar, sweet scent. The lure of its velvety texture. The promise of a few moments of the unique pleasure the mouthwatering morsels will bring.

What could possibly make this bite-sized treat even more appetizing? A presentation that gets chocolate out of the box and on full display. The A-Maze-ing Chocolate Server does just that, and offers a clever solution when it comes to stashing those leftover wrappers.

“We wanted to create a presentation worthy of chocolate, because chocolate is amazing,” said UncommonGoods’ Senior Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang, who worked on creating the design for our Uncommon Collection.

The initial idea for the piece was, in part, based on the success of other Uncommon Collection items that offer unique serving solutions. Products like the Pistachio Pedestal, Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter, and Cheese & Crackers Serving Board  are all unique presentation options that each tackle an entertaining challenge–discarding nutshells, dealing with pesky unpopped kernels, and keeping enough cheese and crackers on deck to keep snackers satisfied. With these designs in mind, the Product Development team thought about other ways to improve the presentation of foods frequently served at dinner parties and cocktail hours.

A-maze-ing Chocolate Server | UncommonGoods

“Sometimes there’s an excess something that you don’t want to carry around at a party or stick in your pocket,” Tiffany explained. “In [the case of chocolates] it’s the wrapper. This [server] is an all-in-one solution.”

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Maker Stories

It’s a Date: Collaborating to Create an Uncommon Calendar

May 30, 2016

One of the joys of working at UncommonGoods is collaborating with talented and skillful artists to create original creative designs. Our Product Development team recently teamed up with longtime UncommonGoods artists Kathleen Plate and Margaret Taylor to invent a new and exclusive work of functional art: our new “It’s a Date” Wine Bottle Glass Calendar; a sculptural glass and wood calendar made from recycled materials.It's a Date - Wine Bottle Glass Calendar | UncommonGoods

“Kathleen had the idea to create a glass calendar that would be a piece of art,” says Assistant Production Manager Rebekah Krikke. “She originally saw it as wall art, but we thought it would be good to design it so that it could go on the wall or on a desk, shelf, or table. We worked through the design with her using insights that we have from other products to create something that we thought our customers would like–a beautiful and fun interactive art object-meets-home décor item.”

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Maker Resources

4 Tips for Responsible Materials and Supplier Sourcing

May 10, 2016

How to Take the Leap from Maker To Business Owner

As the Senior Production Manager here at UncommonGoods, my job is to oversee the connection of design ideas with manufacturing resources to create new products.

Thomas Edison claimed that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. From my experience, product development warrants a formula of its own. To carry an idea through to a finished product you should start with a spark of inspiration, then add in equal parts diligence and thoughtfulness, especially when it comes to sourcing.

I’ve pulled together the following considerations for responsible material and supplier sourcing inspired by my experience partnering with our makers on new product development. I hope these thoughts will help other small business owners navigate the rough waters of sourcing.

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Maker Resources

5 Things You Need to Know Before Selling Your Designs Online

May 4, 2016

As a creator of original designs or handmade products you’ve tackled the most important part of your business, what to sell. Now you find yourself taking on new questions that may be harder to answer. You’re starting to ask, “Where can I sell my handmade items?” and inevitably “How do I sell my designs online?” We’re happy to answer your first question and encourage you to check out our submission page, but before you click that link, take some time to think about whether your product is ready for retail.

 

Designing the Milkyway Scarf

Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza working on their Cat’s Paw Nebula Lightweight Wool Scarf

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Maker Stories

A Lovingly Designed Box for Your Heart’s Desire

January 13, 2016

For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

Sometimes, all it takes is a kind compliment, sentimental thought, or flirtatious quip to ignite the spark and rekindle your romance.

Designed to let you relive the thrill of passing a clandestine declaration of your true feelings to your childhood crush, the For Your Heart’s Desire Message Box was designed to inspire amorous note passing between partners, whether you’re newly entwined or a couple of lovebirds in your golden years.

This veritable work of heart was designed by maker Tamara Hensick and brought to life by UncommonGoods’ Product Development team and a small group of metalworkers in Rhode Island.

Tamara Hensick | UncommonGoods

Tamara is a sculptor whose muses are manifold, and range from ideas and idioms to funny notions, stories, and fairytales. Her collection of cast pewter, sterling silver, bronze, and white bronze pieces include nature, figure, animal, and object motifs.

“’To have, to hold, to keep, to inspire.’ This phrase pops to mind,” says Tamara of her inspiration to create this particularly heartfelt vessel.

“It is always the idea, saying, phrase, or notion that creates the form. Words drive the pieces but occasionally a symbol alone is enough.” In the case of this lovingly designed objet d’art, word, symbol, and sentiment coalesce to form a piece that implores its owners to open their hearts.

After discovering Tamara’s limited edition, cast-bronze sculpture, our Product Development team became smitten with the concept and the artistry of the original piece. “We liked the rough-hewn look of it and the expression she had chosen (“for your heart’s desire”), paired with the function of being able to drop things into the heart,” says our Senior Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang.

For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

“Although it was originally designed as a bank, we thought it was less about money and more about being able to connect with your heart’s desire, hence re-imagining it as a space to make it easier to share little thoughts and moments with your partner. It’s very much about connecting and sharing in a simple way.”

In order to bring Tamara’s concept to a larger audience, the Product Development team reworked her original sculpture and collaborated with a Rhode Island metalworking shop to manufacture the design in lead-free pewter.

Heart Molds, For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

Although this charming piece can provide the impetus to keep your relationship communication flowing, it’s open to interpretation, and from exchanging thank you’s to leaving petite paeans to your one and only, it’s destined to become whatever your heart desires.

“Over the years people have relayed touching stories about a piece they’ve given or received,” says Tamara. “One woman purchased hearts for each of her children to fill with love notes and words of wisdom as they grow up. When they are off on their own, they will each have a heart filled with their mother’s love.”

Design

The People Feeder: A Charming New Way to Serve Snacks in Style

November 24, 2015

People Feeder | UncommonGoods

The People Feeder

Colorful feeders dot the landscape below as you soar above; you swoop down for a quick bite. A passing bird, you need just perch and eat, with gravity doing the work as you nibble to your heart’s content. The snacking freedom birds enjoy with bird feeders inspired us when we first considered Francine Zajac’s design, intended to facilitate a similar fly-by snacking with her glass and ceramic concept.

Francine is a potter of over 30 years, and had been producing her own feeder snacker with a ceramic base and repurposed mason jar. The design was simple but effective, employing gravity to direct candy down through the mason jar, the ceramic chimney, and out through the arched opening, filling the dish with just enough to enjoy a handful while ensuring an even flow after each sampling.

People Feeder - Zajac original design | UncommonGoodsWe sought to re-imagine Francine’s design by incorporating sleek and clean lines and components, and providing enough capacity for even the most ravenous snackers. In doing so we needed to identify the attributes important in making the original design functional and effective. As Production Manager, I was tasked with working as a liaison between our design team and our manufacturer of the item, to ensure that our design was both appealing and executable.

With such a unique item, both in form and function, much thought went into balancing the impact and function of the item with how it is made and the capabilities and limitations of ceramic, a medium that can be notoriously tricky to predict after it goes into a kiln.

We started the design process from the top down with the glass cylinder. Its selection was important, as we needed something lightweight that showcased the snack. The separate glass cylinder also allows for a simple and straightforward way to fill and clean the feeder. From there, we considered how the base would be shaped and how it would function in conjunction with the glass piece.

People Feeder base | UncommonGoods
The base would employ a ceramic chimney similar to Francine’s but provide a deep shelf to adequately hold and maintain the clear cylinder. The base of our Feeder also took into consideration the need to manage the amount of snacks fed at any given point, so as not to drain the cylinder and flood the saucer. We originally conceived the bottom saucer as having a vertical, 90 degree angle lip to keep the snacks from flowing over the edge when entering the saucer. However in testing the sloped edge saucer, we found that it wasn’t necessary. The snacks did not flow over, yet were easier to grasp at then they would be with a vertical lip.

Our first prototype worked fairly well. We found the capacity ideal and the gravity fed the M&Ms we tested nicely, providing just enough of a handful at a time. But things were complicated when we tried other snacks. Peanut M&Ms, for example, were easily crowded at the exit point of the chimney, bottlenecking to the point that none were able to escape. A wider opening was the clear solution, but not too wide that a smaller candy would completely pour out.

People Feeder prototype bases | UncommonGoods

Our revision worked very well, allowing for candies both large and small to successfully pass through while collecting in the dish. With a design successfully worked out, our final step was selecting the right color. We chose a warm, white glaze that would fit well in most decors, as well as a bold red, reminiscent of a similar, nostalgic dispenser of candies: the gumball machine.

Fill and enjoy!

People Feeder | UncommonGoods

See the Collection | UncommonGoods

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