Category Archives: Unbranded, Unupholstered

A brand new way to Influence design

If you’ve visited our site in the last few days you may have noticed a few small changes. Who are we kidding? There are some major changes. We already discussed how the Submission process got an upgrade in this post a few weeks back. Now we want to discuss the next biggest improvement to the site: the Selection process.

Your voice is louder

This upgrade brings with it a whole new approach to identifying the most unique, most interesting, and most promising designs. It is now entirely driven by you, the community. We receive a lot of great submissions of all types and styles and as always, we’ve wanted to rely on our community to identify the most interesting. Now we’ve created the tools to help you do that.

We’ve revamped existing features to encourage you to provide feedback of all types to designers, positive or constructive. The voting structure has been changed from a simple vote-or-not system to one that relies on scores. This allows you to give varying levels of support to designs rather than simply placing a stamp of approval. The designer will never be alerted of specific votes but the data will be shared with them in aggregate. Additionally, you can now give feedback in a quicker fashion by QuickScoring designs on the “Browse & Score Designs” page or easily navigate between detail pages using the PREV and NEXT buttons on the sides of the screen.


Look, better navigation and scoring on the details page!

The second form of feedback that contributes to Selection is the updated comment system. In reality, comments work as they did before, except for the ability to quickly comment after scoring a design while on the details page. The real improvement, though, is that now each community member will have an opportunity to answer questions posed by the designer. In the Submission post we mentioned that we decided to require feedback questions so that designers could help kick off the conversation and ask for specific input. Now you can address those questions and provide the requisite positive and/or constructive feedback to improve and drive designs.

The third main driver of design Selection is the viral component. When community members share a design on their own social networks, they are showing support in a major way. They are endorsing that design and helping to build recognition for that designer.

Track the Selection progress

Unlike before, everyone will be able to see how the scores, comments, and shares have helped a design with the new Progress Bar. The Progress Bar is straight forward and simply indicates how much positive feedback the design has received and more importantly, how close it is to advancing from Selection to Refinement. Each feedback component has a different impact on the Progress Bar, but the more support, the better!


This design has some ways to go

The Progress Bar will update regularly so you can watch as a design moves closer and closer to 100% of the required feedback. Check your favorite designs regularly and help bring more and more support if you would like to see it refined, produced, and sold.

Build your Influence

Your feedback doesn’t just add value to the designer. You now have the ability to build your own Influence within the community by designing, commenting, scoring, and being an active community member. What does that get you? Lots! Exclusive offers and opportunities will be made available to the top community Influencers so get involved and start building your Influence.

If you have any questions or comments about the new Selection process, the Progress Bar, Influence or anything, send us an email at Don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know what you think!

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Learning from you

As we talked about in this previous post, we’re looking to make some major revamps to the Unbranded Designs website. We’re extremely excited for the developments and our team is doing an incredible job of getting us there. Hopefully you feel the same as we unroll the new features very, very soon.

This week we had our first round of user testing on the new web features. With the help of our new intern Harrison, we met with 10 designers to show off our new stuff and believe me, the feedback was eye-opening. It is truly incredible how people can understand or interact with a page so differently. Whether making assumptions, navigating in a particular way, or noticing items on the screen, users see things differently.  Fortunately we’ve already been able to pull a few major themes from these interviews to refine our new website.

Look at the things we’ve already cleaned up:

  1. Process explanations
  2. Website features
  3. Page headers
  4. Graphics and colors

Out of just 10 interviews we’ve learned 1) that our initial work was pretty far off and 2) we could easily fix it!

What’s the moral of the story here? Whatever you’re working on, don’t wait until you have the final, polished, perfect design to get your user or customer’s feedback. Put it out there, see what people say, and keep moving! You can’t possibly predict what people will think or say. You’ll save yourself time and energy and you’ll have much more confidence in your final product.

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Unbranded Designs goes to its first NEOCON


Last week in Chicago was NEOCON, which to anyone working in the Merchandise Mart, is the 3 days of the year when you have to take the stairs to your office. For the other 40-50K people that descend upon the Mart, it’s the premier contract furniture show. Companies and individuals from all over the country – and world – visit Chicago for between 1 day and 1 week to showcase new products, see what others have launched, network, and party. Officially, NEOCON goes from Monday-Wednesday but the parties begin as early as the previous Saturday and by Wednesday some of the floors resemble bare wastelands (though wastelands with lovely booths and wonderful products).

This year we had our first presence at NEOCON in the form of a 10×10 booth on the 8th floor. It was quite the experience for a number of reasons but we’ve yet to determine if it’s an experience we’ll relive next year. Here are some of observations from showing at our first NEOCON:

Neocon2 Neocon3

10×10 is not very big but we used it all

Underwhelming traffic: We have no basis for determining whether the traffic was light or not but we heard from several people on the 8th floor and elsewhere that traffic was lighter than it had been in the past. This is completely anecdotal and not at all confirmed by any official numbers.

The traffic decrease is not equally felt by everyone though, especially if you visited the showrooms on 3, 10, and 11. It’s almost unbearable walking these floors during the midday hours as you’re avoiding thousands of people in every direction. It’s still worth walking them since they house the major furnishing companies.

The rest of the exhibitors did not share that experience. Our traffic on 8 was up-and-down throughout the three days and extremely light on Wednesday. No matter when though, it was a very tiny fraction of the traffic visiting to the 3 floors mentioned above. For most NEOCON-goers, the 8th floor is the after-thought that you quickly stroll after you’ve had your fill with 3, 10, and 11. It becomes difficult to draw attention which is why each booth must stand out, be different, and catch people’s eyes.

Was this the right setting for us? If there was one definitive thing about us, it was that we were different from any other exhibitor. No one else was displaying the array of products nor were they presenting an innovative company concept as we were. In addition, our booth design was quite different than others and anchored by the R2 Coffee Table to catch eyes.

The products we showed may not have fit the basic contract mold (how many desk chair options does one need) but we still met individuals who work in hospitality, residential settings, and unique office spaces that could provide value.

Will we be there next year? Yes. In one form or another Unbranded Designs will be at NEOCON 2014. Though we won’t be able to measure the success of 2013 for some time (in orders, contracts, or new designers) it was important for us to be present. Outside of the sales connections we’ve made, we introduced ourselves industry, networked with manufacturers, dealers, and potential partners. As long as NEOCON exists, representatives from all parts and regions of the industry will descend upon Chicago and we’ll be there to greet them. See you next year!

P.S. I have a newfound respect for people that work tradeshows, conferences, and fairs. I discovered a new level of exhaustion that hundred hour work weeks and sports training camps could never compete with.

Furnishing the team: John Harris and Tiffany Shyu

We recently (and finally!) published the About page on our website to share our back story and team members. It was never a top priority for us to publish this page since we created this company to focus on designers and their brands, not ours. Well, it seems that we published it a few weeks too early because today we’re excited to introduce 2 new members of the Unbranded Designs family.

John Harris, Director of Business Development

John has spent the better part of the last 20 years in and around the furniture industry. After owning and running his own showroom in the Merchandise Mart for the past 10 years, he decided it was time for a new challenge. He comes to us to take on the major challenge of disrupting the furniture industry with a unique, innovative business model. John’s industry expertise will be instrumental in developing sales channels and partnerships and will also help the team make important decisions. Most of John’s weekends are spent juggling carpool and spectator duties with his wife as they shuttle their two aspiring sports stars between the soccer field, the basketball court, or the baseball diamond. John’s perfect day would start with 12 inches of fresh powder in Vail, CO and end listening to great music in a small venue.

Tiffany Shyu, Marketing and Social Media Intern

Tiffany is a student at the University of Chicago, majoring in Economics. She is passionate about social media and startup culture and has experience working with multiple early stage companies. Her marketing and tech focus will help us reach more customers and attract more community members. Following graduation this June and beginning July 2013, she will be working full-time at LinkedIn Corporation. Outside of class and work, Tiffany loves cooking and going to concerts.

We’re thrilled to welcome both of these great individuals to our team and excited for them to help shape the future of our company! Welcome John and Tiffany!

Home Sweet Home.

One of the prizes we won from the Lean Startup Competition is six months of office space.  We are excited to be working at the digital startup center 1871, located on the 12th Floor of the Merchandise Mart.  As described on their website:

1871 is a co-working center for digital startups. Located in the famed Merchandise Mart, the 50,000-square-foot facility provides Chicago startups with affordable workspace and access to mentors, programming, educational resources, potential investors and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.

1871 is a fantastic resource and we encourage any digital start-ups to check them out!

Not only is 1871 a great community for new companies, the office space is amazing!  Below are a few pictures of some of our favorite furniture pieces in the office.  The space was designed by Gensler, an architecture, planning, design, and consulting firm.

Wrap around sectional.  Who needs 90 degree angles?

There are two of these giant tables, made out of old bowling lanes!


The iconic Womb chair from Knoll.

Cool and comfy.

We LOVE this fun pink color!

The Emeco Navy Chair, which we have featured on the blog a few times!

Which pieces do you guys like the best?

And the winner is…


Unbranded Designs was named the winner of the 2012 Lean Startup Challenge!

The challenge consisted of a 14 week process in which participants applied the Lean Startup principles to their ideas.  Finalists were chosen not based on “good ideas”, but by which companies were able to use and learn the most from the Lean method.

Since we entered the challenge in June, we have certainly evolved.  We have taken away many valuable lessons – and we are not done learning.  We are excited to continue to develop, grow, and build the Unbranded Designs community.

Last but not least, a big congratulations to all of the participants and the other three finalists – Unwined,   Care Content, and Cardoona.

Now let’s sell some furniture.

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