One of the biggest challenges with launching a project on Kickstarter is knowing when to go live with your idea. Ideas change. When you launch your kickstarter campaign you are necessarily only part way through your project. How far should you lock your ideas down before you go live?
Things will change
We all know that ideas evolve. They change over time. The essence of an idea can be preserved, but the detail changes.
In my case a few things changed between launching the Constraints Kickstarter campaign and shipping the final decks. I tweaked the finish of the cards a little. I made the notebooks a little larger, and added a few pages.
One change was a little more significant though. I changed how the box looked and worked. This has actually gone down really well, with some tremendously positive reaction, but a few folk were confused by the change.
I’d like to discuss how I envisaged the box originally, why I made these changes, and talk a little about why I think it’s important that kickstarter provides a place where tweaks are an accepted part of the process.
Not just a tuckbox
So my initial concept for the ‘smartbox’ was to be a step up from a regular ‘tuckbox’. A tuckbox is what you get a regular deck of poker cards in. It’s pretty flimsy, gets bashed quickly, and you wouldn’t want it sitting on your desk.
Functionally I think it’s important that the cards do sit on your desk, so you remember they exist every now and then. Just remembering they exist will remind you of why they exist, and so remind you to think about how you work.
Then I had the idea that you could set a card on the box somehow – to have a way to hold the card that’s in play. I mocked this up like this:
I tested a bunch of other ideas involving flaps, magnets, two-part lids, plastic boxes, even cool rubber bands with #LEVELUP embossed in them… There wasn’t a box in the house that I didn’t attack with a craft knife and tape at some point to test the potential to display a card.
The mockup shown in the kickstarter was my favoured design. It was simple and looked cool with the card held at a jaunty angle.
The problem with this design was the slot / notch in the lid that held the card. Manufacturing this while keeping a nice robust finish proved to be really hard.
I was keen to stick with a cardboard / paper construction. The paper over cardboard approach works well for solid shapes, but proved to be a real challenge when we tested it with the slot.
To cover the inside of the slot was very difficult, and caused finish problems on the outside surface. Leaving the slot uncovered just looked untidy and … wrong.
So this was really annoying. I went back to the craft knife, cardboard, tape, etc… and worked on some new options. They all failed the simplicity test until I started playing with the dimensions of the box.
By setting the box on its side, and by turning the printing upside down, I could use the box itself as the stand without it looking daft.
This would still be an entirely custom box, because the dimensions were non standard, and the orientation of the box was unusual, but the actual manufacture would be relatively straightforward.
I showed a prototype to a few people, who all thought it was neat and appropriate, so I went with it.
A nice side effect of all this work on the box was that I managed to avoid making the tuck box at all. It turned out to be just a little more expensive to ship all the cards in the final design smartbox than to produce a tuckbox version and a smartbox version.
This gave the basic deck backers a wee bonus, which I really like.
So my job in delivering the kickstarter was to create the best box I could that satisfied the ‘better than a tuckbox’ and ‘display the card’ requirements. This was more important than delivering exactly what was shown.
The concept I presented in the kickstarter mock ups wasn’t as effective or as robust as the one I shipped, but it was a little more direct and somewhat jauntier in the way it worked. It’s no surprise that a few folk asked “where is my smartbox?”.
That folk were confused bothers me, and I wonder if it could have been avoided.
So would I do anything differently?
Yes, I think I would. Three main things which I think apply to any kickstarter project that has to make a tweak to a design in this way:
Firstly I would have changed the Kickstarter description in the first place. Perhaps I could have said more about the reasons behind decisions and been less specific in discussing detailed aspects of the box that I didn’t need to. I’m pretty sure no one would have thought ‘this is a great idea but the box doesn’t sound like it’s finalised’.
Secondly, I would have blogged about the challenges as I encountered them. I would have canvassed opinion more widely among the backers – found out who really cared about which features of the smartbox – and sought more feedback generally. Validating the ideas as I went along, just being more open about the process would, I think, have benefited both myself and the backers.
It’s worth noting that I do fear that this kind of regular ‘over-sharing’ can annoy people though, some of the projects I’ve backed have posted almost daily updates. Fun at first, but you get a bit overwhelmed in time.
Lastly I’d have added something to the packages to explain the change. I was so excited to get shipping that it didn’t strike me until I’d actually shipped that folk might need to be told how to display the card.
Ensuring that folk aren’t confused is a really big deal, I should have seen that.
Finally I’d like to really thank everyone who has taken time to give feedback on the various aspects of the project. It’s been great to hear when packages arrive, what you make of the different elements, and how you are using them.
Kickstarter backers are really making a difference by supporting projects like this.
Projects that otherwise would be unlikely to get off the ground.
I really hope that Kickstarter can keep the ‘projects’ feel for as long as possible before it inevitably turns into ‘Amazon for pre-orders’ where even the kind of minor tweaks I had to make would be frowned upon.