Last time, we looked at how to set up the structure of your project. In this section of the crowdfunding series, we're going to look at how to tell your story.
If you want to you know why Kickstarter has been so successful, look no further than how they help people tell their stories. Kickstarter has created a step-by-step guide that helps organize story elements that is so easy to use, that it takes most of the guesswork out of how to talk about your project. You make a video, upload some images and text, and boom: instant crowdfunding project.
Understanding the purpose and placement of the individual elements of their format will help you fine tune your story and stand out from the crowd.
I like to think that Kickstarter's storytelling format shares a lot in common with the way you would layout a book. You have a cover, content, and footnotes. For crowdfunding, that book format translates to this:
Cover = Project image, Title, and Short Blurb
(The 0:05 second pitch)
Content = Video
(The 5:00 minute pitch)
Footnotes = Copy and Images
(The 10:00 minute question and answer session)
The Cover: Project Image, Title and Short Blurb
Everyone likes to say they don't judge a book by its cover, but as designers, we know better. First impressions are critical. A lot of snap judgements will be made about your project by its Project Image, Title and Short Blurb, but the goal should be the same no matter what your project is: Get people to click.
Your Project Image is the first thing your potential backers will see when finding your project. Like a good app icon, it has to visually summarize the point of your project and get people excited to learn more.
Your Project Image is seen in two modes: Project mode and Search mode. The goal in both modes is to make people interested enough that they want to click your Project Image to get more information about your project. In Project Mode, your Project Image will be seen as the image that covers up your video, waiting for someone to push play. In Search mode it will be a much smaller image amongst a sea of other projects. Your Project Image has to work in both modes, but focus on getting the Search mode right. If your Project Image reads well in the smaller format, it will work even better in a larger format.
Like naming anything, giving your project a title is a totally subjective act. What works for one person, will not work for another. That being said, the more successful projects tend to have titles that are short and memorable.
Your Short Blurb is the elevator pitch for your project. They're only viewable in Search mode and are limited to small amounts of text. This is a good constraint to have because the best blurbs (and best elevator pitches for that matter) explain why someone would want to back your project in just one sentence.
Lets use an example from an actual Kickstarter project: Frank Chimero's The Shape of Design.
Frank Chimero launched a project last year to write a book about design, called The Shape of Design, which also became the title of his project. It's a good title. Simple and memorable.
This is one of the best Project Images I have seen. If the analogy of using your Project Image as a cover is applicable, Frank takes this to it's logical conclusion and uses the cover of his book as the Project Image. One second is all it takes to let you know that this project is about making a book. If you still can't figure out this is a book, he explicitly says so, by writing out "A new book from Frank Chimero."
Like any good graphic designer, Frank lets his negative space breathe and take on more importance. He uses a nice bright robin's egg blue as his background. It compliments the grays and oranges in his book cover and helps make the Project Image pop at smaller sizes. It also takes on branding characteristics. Anytime you see that blue background on Kickstarter or various blogs, it will remind you of The Shape of Design.
Frank's Short Blurb is also nice: "The Shape of Design is a short, accessible book about the creative process & the intersection of storytelling, craft & improvisation." One sentence. To the point. Nice.
The Content: Video
Video is quickly becoming a must-have for every new product launch. For crowdfunding, it's essential. A good video can explain in three minutes what would normally take twenty. I'll put it to you this way, if I were running a university design program, I would require students to take a video storytelling class. It's that important.
Using video can be daunting, especially if it's not something you do all the time, but you don't have to be an Adam Lisagor to put together a decent story. (If you don't know who Adam Lisagor is, stop reading this right now and watch a few of his amazing product explanation videos. His video for the Jawbone Jambox is embedded below. Watch it. I'll wait.)
For my own Kickstarter video, all I used to get started was an outline of the story I wanted to tell, a couple of friends, a prototype Stylus Cap, a Canon point and shoot camera and iMovie. Probably the most basic tools available.
Crowdfunding product design videos should be brief, no more than 5 minutes (My video ran for 5:42. If I were to do it again, I would edit it out a good chunk of that.)
Videos on Kickstarter generally stick to the following format:
1. Introduce yourself.
Let people know who you are. Make a personal connection, but try to keep it short. 10-30 seconds.
Ex) "Hi Kickstarter. My name is Don. I'm a designer based in Chicago."
2. Introduce your idea.
Let people know what your idea is. Try to keep this short. 15 seconds or so. A good goal is to explain your idea in one sentence. Two sentences at most. (The rule of thumb I use is if I can't explain an idea is in one sentence or less, then it's probably not a good idea.)
Ex.) "Stylus Caps turn the pens and markers you love into touchscreen styluses that work on your iPad."
3. Show the ways someone might use your idea.
These are examples of your idea working in everyday situations. If you need help, think of the top 5 occasions you might need your idea. If you don't have a top 5, stick to a top 3, or top 1. Don't make up something dumb that people will just roll their eyes at (It slices, dices, and ties your shoes!), just focus on the meaningful things that they will care about (It slices and dices.)
4. Explain why this idea matters to you and why you are looking for funding.
Put your heart on the line. Obviously you wouldn't be doing this unless you cared about it. (Right?) Tell people that. Be human.
5. Say thank you.
Let's take a look at Urbio's Vertical Garden project.
Urbio follows the above format to the T. All of their points are made quickly, they show everything that can be done with their product, ask for your help, say thanks and then get the heck out of there. No point in dragging the thing out. It's a great execution.
It's not the most stunning production value you've ever seen, but that's totally fine, if not encouraged. You're not trying to be Wes Anderson, you're trying to make your project a reality.
The Footnotes: Images and Copy
Located below your video on your main project page is your Project Description. Your Project Description contains images and copy that you can use to help fill in the gaps of your story. Anything that you feel can't be adequately described by your video, should go here.
Images will have a higher priority than copy. Not only will they help round out your story, they will help out people that don't have time to watch your video.
It's kind of like when you used to browse books in a bookstore (remember those?). If you saw a cover that interested you, you would pick it up and start skimming through the book. You might not have time to read a whole chapter, but you would look at the pictures in the center of the book to help you decide if it's worth reading or not. Works the same way for images in Kickstarter.
Another important reason to use images is that blogs will use them when they write about you. If they find your Kickstarter page, they will take a couple images for their blog posts.
Fewer people will have time to read your copy, but its still necessary to answer lingering questions that might come up. (Ex. dimensions, materials, interesting parts of your story there wasn't time for in the video, etc.)
The recently completed HiddenRadio & Bluetooth Speaker by John Van Den Nieuwenhuizen and Vitor Santa Maria used both images and copy really well.
They use each image as a bullet point, or a reason why you would want to back their project. 30h+ Battery Life. Speaker Phone. Cost of the product. By combining the key facts people would want to know about the project with images, it assures those points get across.
Their copy is broken up into digestible chunks. No more than 3-4 sentences at a time, placed in-between images. Those chunks of text explain in further detail what bluetooth is, the amount of their own time they have already invested in the project, what they will do with the money, and some press clippings. If all you end up doing is quickly scrolling to the top and bottom of their project page, you will have seen everything that they want you to know about the HiddenRadio.
You have your idea. You know how its going to be made and what take to get it made. You have set up your crowdfunding structure and story.
You look ready. You look confident. It's time to light this candle. Let's launch this thing.
This was the easy part. The real work is still to come.
Next time: Communicating with Backers.
About Don Lehman
Don Lehman is an designer based in Chicago. In 2011, he founded More/Real and developed it's first product, Stylus Caps, which turn pens and markers into touchscreen styluses that work with the iPad. Stylus Caps launched on Kickstarter, reached 488% of its funding goal in just 30 days, and are now in production. Don has a BFA in Industrial Design from the Rochester Institute of Technology.