Posts Tagged ‘product development’

UPG Picks – Jay

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

The Green Lantern Corps Mug is my favorite mug ever.

I’m not a Green Lantern fan. But I don’t have to be to appreciate true beauty. The execution of this product is pretty much perfect. It does everything we want it to do and it does it well.

When we started talking about making things with DC Comics, we brainstormed some ideas for heat-sensitive transforming mugs. We had to do the obvious ones: Clark Kent turning into Superman, Batman answering the Bat-signal. But we wondered about delving further, and thought it would be fun to do something with the Green Lantern. The Green Lantern flies through space, on an important mission. Add hot water, and the Green Lantern Corps appears behind him to back him up!

We quickly settled on this image from the cover of “Tales of the Green Lantern” Volume 1, issue 3. It has it all – a heroic full-body image of Hal Jordan, and the whole array of the GL Corps lines up behind him.


The heat-sensitive technology on these mugs is a little finicky. Only dark colors can “disappear” effectively, and sometimes the images revealed underneath can have a ghosting effect on them, so they don’t appear very sharp.

The Green Lantern Corps cover image avoids all these problems. It looks just great. Not only is it great comic book art, the colors transfer really well to the mug.

Watching the Corps appear behind Hal Jordan is immensely satisfying. I defy you to not feel the thrill of adventure as the image changes and the army of heroes flies onwards. And it works every time.


How We Choose a Personality

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Every week we receive multiple requests from UPG customers about making a Little Thinker or Magnetic Personality of their favorite historical figure/scientist/philosopher/writer/artist/college professor.

We’d love to make them all. We are thrilled to honor people we admire with a product and we’re sure there are many of you out there who would cherish a Charles Babbage doll or a Jane Addams finger puppet.

The problem is that we have to make these things in large quantities. And that means large sales.

We can’t make products featuring some people due to rights issues. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Amelia Earhart aren’t available, for example. Living personalities are problematic because we need their permission provided they’re not a U.S. public official.

And the sad truth is that people we admire don’t always sell well. Or they sell well for a while, but once everyone who wants an Oscar Wilde doll or an Emma Goldman finger puppet buys one, the demand is fulfilled.

We Unemployed Philosophers have a voracious interest in philosophy, art, history, science and literature, and we have a huge list of people we want to make. We can only make so many though, and producing a line of only obscure philosophers is unfortunately not the best business model (as much as we’d like to do just that).

We tell people that if we can get 200+ requests for a Little Thinker or 400+ requests for a finger puppet, that will warrant enough interest for us to do a run. So keep writing and calling with your requests! Provided the rights are available, and the personality you want fits into our line (no evil dictators please), we’ll add her to the list.

Introducing the Color Wheel Watch

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Normally we focus on products dealing with philosophy, literature, art, science, or history. But every once in a while we make a product that strikes out in a new direction. One of our newer products, the Color Wheel Watch, is from this category. It kind of fits in with what we do, but mostly, we just really liked the idea and wanted to make it.

The idea for this watch came from our art director Amanda Spielman. She was trying to come up with a new watch concept when she came across a color wheel on her desk.

04915-1093-front3ww-lAmanda thought about how people don’t use color wheels that much anymore but how designers over 30 would probably have spent some time with one. And a color wheel is, well, wheel-shaped, which makes it a good candidate for a watch.

Besides just using this image as the basis for a watch, Amanda thought it would be great if the watch could actually be a working color wheel. The challenge then became about how to adapt the wheel to be a watch and also do what the color wheel does. Color wheels generally have cut out windows and black arrows and text on a white background. When you slide the outside disc around, different colors are revealed through the windows.


Amanda deconstructed the color wheel a little in order to transform it into a watch face. She kept the triangle shapes for hands, and curved the arrows to go around the watch face. She also reduced the amount of information and made the color more prominent.

We think our Color Wheel watch is a thing of simple colorful beauty. And it’s educational too!

Happy Birthday to the Crossword Puzzle!

Friday, December 20th, 2013

On hundred years ago today the first crossword puzzle appeared in the New York World. This seems like the best time to announce our new Crossword Puzzle Mug, which will be available in February, 2014.

The mug comes with a puzzle on the box, and a pencil for writing on the easy-to-wash-off mug. Plus a special website will have new puzzles every month!



UPG Product Mash-up

Friday, September 27th, 2013

One of our most popular mugs is the Shakespeare Insult Mug, which features some of the greatest insults from Shakespeare’s writings.


And here’s one of our personal favorites – the Presidential Slogan Mug, featuring great campaign slogans from across U.S. History.


So, it only makes sense: what about a Presidential Insult Mug? It could list famous insults by and against U.S. presidents.

Such as:

“A slur upon the moral government of the world” (John Quincy Adams on Thomas Jefferson)

“Nothing more than a well meaning baboon” (General McCellan on Abraham Lincoln)

“If they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them” (presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on the Republican party)

“Garfield has shown that he is not possessed of the backbone of an angleworm.” (U. S. Grant on James Garfield)

What are your UPG product mash-up ideas? Send us an email or post a comment below!

And Now for Something Completely Different

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

We are thrilled to announce that this summer we will be releasing a collection of Monty Python products. We’re huge fans and it’s been a delight for our designers to work with the Python imagery. We also think that UPG and Monty Python are a natural fit.

We’re making a watch, sticky notes, mints, a wallet, and a mug. We’ll post here once they’re available.

Behind the Scenes: The Creation of a Little Thinker

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

The creation of any new UPG product is a long and detailed process. We take this work seriously, and we take our time to get it right.

Sometimes though things get very strange before they get good. As in our Bob Marley finger puppet below.

Our Bob Marley Magnetic Personality went through some hard times before he got good. The one on the left was our first sample. His hair is entirely wrong. Oh, and he's also white!

Our Bob Marley Magnetic Personality went through some hard times. The hair is entirely wrong in sample #1. Oh, and he’s also white! And sample #3 substituted gay pride colors for rastafarian colors. We eventually got it right.

We thought it might be interesting for you to see the journey a product takes from conception to completion. So here’s the story of the creation of the Kurt Vonnegut Little Thinker.

The first stage of adding a new personality to a current line is deciding who to make. There are a lot of factors involved, but the most important are if the personality fits in our line, and if the personality might sell. We have to order new Little Thinkers in high quantities, so we can’t be too obscure. To those of you who would like us to make a Jacques Lacan or Gottfried Leibniz or Ludwig Wittgenstein Little Thinker, we would love to do that, but until our Nietzsche and Socrates Little Thinkers and our Derrida finger puppets become bestsellers, we aren’t able to make that commitment. (Although there is a Descartes puppet in the works…)

And there are rights issues to consider for personalities who are still alive or who died within the last 100 years or so. Martin Luther King or Alfred Hitchcock or Gloria Steinem aren’t going to be possible. It does vary depending on where the person died though; some states and countries protect rights of publicity after death, and some don’t.

And finally, simply, what person would aesthetically make a good Little Thinker? The personality should have some very strong physical attributes; signature facial hair, a certain kind of glasses, a signature outfit, etc. There’s only so much control we can put into face design, the nose is always going to be round, and the features have to be clearly recognizable so that you can tell who the person is supposed to be. Our attempts at a JFK puppet can show you how easy it is for our plush to resemble no one in particular.

Our JFK Magnetic Personality prototype didn't really look like anybody in particular.

Our JFK Magnetic Personality prototype didn’t really look like anybody.

And don’t get us started on how hard it was to design a Hillary Clinton prototype during the 2008 primaries. She pretty much looked like JFK above.

So how did we come up with Vonnegut?

Vonnegut had been on our short list for a long time. We’re fans and he’s an important American 20th century thinker, arguably an heir to Mark Twain, who we already make as a puppet and card. Vonnegut died in New York State, which clears up rights issues, but it wasn’t until we were put in touch with the executor of Vonnegut’s estate and received his blessing that we decided to go ahead with the project.

OK, so now we have a Little Thinker to make. What’s next?

Our current go-to designer for Little Thinkers and Magnetic Personalities is Yael Levy.

Yael begins with research. She finds source images of the personality that captures his or her essence and that lend well to plush design. So Yael began the Vonnegut design process by examining a wide range of images of Vonnegut.

The next stage is then a first sketch.


Let’s let Yael take over from here.

Yael: Lucky for me Vonnegut’s facial features are quite unique, his eyes hold most of his character and then the mustache and curly hair help too (although they may also create some confusion.. i.e. Geraldo Rivera). Also, Vonnegut seems to be smoking in almost every photo of him on the internet,  and props are always fun, so we gave him a cigarette. 

Then, after a few weeks of anticipation a sample comes, and it looks like this-


So for this first sample we had two main comments- Kurt needed a knit sweater (we couldn’t find images of him anywhere in a plaid fleece) and the hair needed to be more wild, but otherwise he was looking pretty good. The cigarette was too big though, and a smaller one wouldn’t really be possible so we decided to remove it. We made some corrections on top of the photo and sent it to the factory.


Then we got these sweater options, still way off mark.


So finally, we swapped Vonnegut’s sweater with the one our Albert Einstein Little Thinker wears and took a photo. That read loud and clear.


Our manufacturer ultimately found a material that was a slightly different color so we now have two different blue sweaters in out little thinkers wardrobe. And that’s a good thing. Just in case Vonnegut and Einstein meet one day, it would be embarrassing if they were wearing the same sweater.


The final result- a cuddly fuzzy Kurt Vonnegut.

Product Design Mishaps

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Here at the Philosophers Guild, we’re always in some stage of product development.  There are always new puppets, dolls, cards, sticky notes, mints, watches, and other products in the works.

After a product is designed, we receive a sample from the factory, and sometimes have to go through several samples to get the product just right.

Sometimes the sample is perfect from the start, especially for an existing product line.  Our manufacturers are great, and our designers have become adept at communicating with them well to bring our sketches to three-dimensional life.

But every once in a while, the disconnect between what we have designed and what we get is so great that we’re not quite sure how to fix it without starting over.

The image below, recently received from our factory, is such an example.  Who do you think this might be?

That’s right, it’s a prototype of a Bob Marley finger puppet.  Notice the dreadlocks, the dark skin, the guitar.  Oh, wait, he doesn’t have any of those things, does he?  Back to the drawing board.

Do You Have a UPG Product Idea?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

We’d love to hear it… but we can’t.

It’s sad but true. “Do a Miss Piggy puppet” is not an idea. Even if it were an idea, it would be Jim Henson’s idea and now Disney’s idea.

Anyway, even if we have the rights to make a puppet, we’ll only make one that will sell quite a few. Yes, you believe Joseph A. Pattin’s air-pump was a triumph (frankly, we believe that, too), and he should be made into a puppet and 100,000 Pattin fans should buy them every year, but unless it seems very likely this will happen, we are more likely not to make the Pattin puppet. We’ll make the Dr. H. Geissler (of Bonn) puppet because his pump was superior to Pattin’s. Kidding. We’d make the Traill puppet. Don’t pretend you’ve never admired his apparatus.

Election Time

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

We at the Unemployed Philosophers Guild try to keep current with our political products.  However, we need at least a few months’ lead time to develop and manufacture each item.  At times like these, when it’s high primary season, it’s hard to know who exactly we should be lampooning.  If we had enough time back in the fall, we could have produced fruit-flavored 9-9-9% pure Herman Caindys, but, alas, that ship has sailed.

As for today’s primary in Iowa, we are one step closer to finding out who the Republicans will run against Obama this year. (Should we make Newt Gingrich stockings, guaranteed to run again and again? Mitt Romney two-layered campaign t-shirts? Just make a product for anyone whose appearance on the ballot in November is even remotely possible? N.B. our John Edwards card from 2008 is still for sale and they’re not going fast!)

Given our deadline this week for the launch of our wholesale catalog, we’re introducing two new cards available this February: Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Gingrich was much higher in the polls when we designed that card, now he may be on the way out.  But we’re rooting for him… because we’ve already manufactured the cards.

Mitt is in it for the long run and has gained a lot of ground recently, but if Gingrich can stick in a bit longer, we stand to sell some cards.

So if any of you out there live in Iowa or New Hampshire, please cast your vote for Newt! It’s easier to do if the card coming out next month is the only thing you know about him.