Constraints Cards

So I just pushed Constraints Cards live on Kickstarter. This is my first kickstarter project, and it’s been great fun pulling it together. Head over and back it!

I thought I’d share a little of what I learned over the past 6 months pulling this together while it’s fresh in my mind.

1 – It’s been inherently good fun

I loved doing this.

I had a minor obsession towards the end of last year with figuring out how I think about problems. During one of the talks at Build 2012 I had an idea and quickly jotted out a few thoughts. Over the next week or so the idea formed more fully, I ordered some blank playing cards, and started prototyping.

Like most web folk I always have a handful of side projects on the go, some live, some die. I think this one was different because it involved atoms – not just bits.

I enjoyed the process of bringing Constraints to life. Designing layouts for a physical card, getting test decks printed, explaining how they work to folk, using them while I hack, it was all good hands on stuff.

As things got really busy at work, or as an event or other committment took priority the cards would be on pause for a week or two at a time, but it was always great fun to get back to them.


Without the existence of kickstarter I don’t think I’d have progressed these at all. The financial risk of committing to a decent print run would be prohibitive. I’ve backed a number of projects on Kickstarter and generally been really happy with the results.

Working through creating a project in Kickstarter is a great way to help fully formulate your ideas. In some ways I wish I’d hit that ‘start your project’ button sooner.

2 – Video is impossible

The most challenging part of the kickstarter side of this project was the video. The one that went live at kickstarter was my eighth or ninth attempt. Not that you can tell, it’s still very much an “iPhone and iMovie” affair. Earlier versions were more ambitious. Ambitious but rubbish.

I don’t have a particularly ‘high energy’ voice, which I found really hard to get to grips with when doing the voice part. For some reason, although I give presentations all the time, I found the act of recording really difficult. I’m guessing this isn’t an uncommon experience.

Music was a huge time drain for me. I’m no muso, and I spent an age on the open music sites looking for a simple backing track. Eventually I just had to accept that I’m terrible at picking music. Having accepted this I chose no music. If I do another kickstarter project I’m getting in a music director! Seriously.

I’d have had this project live easily two months earlier if I had skipped the video. But I saw it as a big part of the whole kickstarter “thing”, and would have seen that as a bit of a fail. So – there’s a video, it’s not a great video, but it’s an honest video and it’s not as bad as the other seven or eight were.

3 – Finding the time is surprisingly easy

Between work, dad stuff, Refresh and other events, my week fills up pretty quick, but I’ve managed to get Constraints to this stage without taking away too much ‘quality’ time at weekends. The work has been mainly in the evening, or on the train, or getting feedback during lunch with guinea pigs. I should mention I hardly watch tv. Maybe a couple of hours a month.

A lot of that time has been obsessive tweaking of relatively minor issues. A lot of it was spent making bad videos, and re-recording voiceovers thinking I’ll magically start sounding less Eddie the Eagle and more Eddie Mair.

a pile of cards

4 – Physical stuff is really nice

Working in digital, and largely playing in digital since leaving Uni, I’ve never really produced a physical ‘thing’ like this. Playing with arduino and paper mache and cardboard ‘maker’ stuff with the boys is one thing, actually creating a new ‘thing’ is something else.

This was never about money – I worked hard on the quotes / shipping / other sums to make sure the kickstarter pretty much breaks even at the funded minimum.

This was about taking an idea from a sketch in my notebook through to something a reasonable number of people might use. It was also about avoiding too much compromise, and learning new things outside my usual comfort zone.

A web app could deliver the constraints principles efficiently without the need for a deck of cards and all the work that entails, but I genuinely believe the physical presence of the card, the act of shuffling and selecting a card, and of placing it in the stand all play into the point of the exercise. It all switches up your brain, makes it “do” something, hopefully freeing it somewhat from the regularity of the day.

Also, I just like shuffling cards. They feel nice.

5 – Feedback is invaluable

I owe thanks to a number of people, but in particular to Kevin, Ian, and Sean for taking the time to let me bounce the idea off them over the past few months – it’s really helped.

6 – Start smaller?

One last thought. I might have rather that I’d have tackled a smaller project before this one to try out the kickstarter approach. I likely would have, if I’d planned this more thoroughly.

The problem with that logic though, is that you have to run where your interest takes you. Would I have been willing to put everything into a smaller ‘B’ project? I don’t know.

If the kickstarter gets funded I get to make my thing. If it doesn’t then I get a blast of self doubt and failure.

Win – win!

You can see how the kickstarter campign is going over on the Constraints Cards page, you can follow constraints on twitter at @constraintscard.

As ever, if you have any questions you can find me on @stevenmilne and

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