5 Essential Product Design and Manufacturing Tips — for Artists

Interested in extending your practice beyond the gallery and sharing your thoughts in a practical context? Here, Kickstarter’s Arts and Design and Technology teams offer advice on how to do it.

Kickstarter
Kickstarter Magazine

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This piece is part of Designed by Artists, an initiative to celebrate artists building community-centered products on Kickstarter.

A text-based dating app for the LBTQIA+ community.
A portable camera lucida for students, artists, and architects.
A solar-powered phone charger that provides access to sustainable energy.

These projects all have one thing in common: they were created by artists who stepped outside their traditional practices to develop a practical product for public use. If you’re interested in doing something like this yourself, you’re in good company — and we’re here to help.

As you may have guessed, launching and fulfilling a Design or Technology project on Kickstarter is a bit different than an Arts project (and vice versa). Here, we’ll help you navigate the process of planning your first product launch, and offer some ideas for how to incorporate your product into your artistic practice.

Prototypes for Little Sun Charge, a portable solar phone charger designed by artist Olafur Eliasson

1. Create a prototype

On Kickstarter, all projects for physical products must have prototypes — a rendering alone won’t cut it. Your prototype can be something as simple as a hand-made functional mock-up that demonstrates your product’s core features, or it can show off results from the first run you’ve tested with your factory partners. Building a trial run of 10 or so prototypes will also help you estimate your production costs and build relationships with manufacturers.

Some great prototyping companies include Fictiv, Protolabs, and Shapeways for prototype parts and enclosures, or Seeed for electronics. Or, start sourcing parts yourself with Newark or Digi-Key.

Kelly Rakowski’s timeline for PERSONALS

2. Research and map out a manufacturing plan

Making a small batch of prototypes is completely different from making 1,000 of that thing. A well-researched manufacturing plan will help you set a realistic funding goal and estimate your delivery timeline more accurately.

When you want to go from prototype to high-volume factory production, you may need help coordinating and connecting the dots. Read up on our manufacturing articles at Kickstarter’s Hardware Studio, and plan out your own approach.

For more details on prototyping and creating manufacturing plans, watch these videos featuring advice from Kickstarter creators below:

BFAMFAPhD’s Making and Being project in action

3. Showcase your product in your video and rewards

Regardless of what type of project you’re launching, your Kickstarter project video is your chance to tell the story of your project, and to introduce who you are as a creator. For Design and Technology projects, it’s also a place to show your product in action.

Here are a few tips our Design and Technology team recommends for project videos that feature projects:

  • Keep your video to three minutes or less, focusing on your product and vision.
  • Demonstrate your product’s core features. If possible, offer a deeper dive on functionality.
  • Introduce your team and your production process.

And don’t forget: your product should be one of your primary Kickstarter rewards. Consider making less-expensive, limited-quantity reward tiers for early backers, and think about experiential rewards — like studio visits, potlucks, and receptions — for higher-priced tiers.

A sketch from Pope.L’s Flint Water project

4. Highlight your practice on your project page

Positioning your project and creator story within the context of your own practice is essential in getting support from your community. Here are some ways we suggest incorporating your practice into your project page:

  • Show off your prototype and work in progress as you would in a studio visit, with sketches, mockups, and iterations. Pope.L’s Flint Water project is a great example of how to do this.
  • Show a few of your past completed works, even if they’re not related to your product, to help readers understand the larger world you’re creating with your work. (Tip: you can also offer past works as rewards for your project!)
  • Include shortened versions of your bio and artist statement in your campaign text. This will help backers who are new to your work get a sense of where you’ve shown before and what you’re all about.
Illustration by Molly Fairhurst for The Creative Independent

5. Promote your project to your network

Lining up backers who can pledge when you launch helps to build early momentum for your project. Here are some tips from our Arts team on how to plan ahead:

  • If you have a newsletter, use it to announce your project. You’ll likely want to send two to three newsletters while your campaign is live to ensure your audience knows what’s happening and how long they have to pledge. (See our newsletter template here.)
  • Send personal emails. 60–80% of your backers will be people in your community (think: friends, family, coworkers, collectors, curators, and past collaborators). Sending 15–20 or more of these emails per week is great at converting clicks to pledges. (See our personal email template here.)
  • Share on social media. Self-promotion is tricky for most people, but especially artists. If the thought of promoting your own project makes you queasy, we recommend reading The Creative Independent’s guide to meaningful self-promotion for creative people, which offers helpful tactics.

For more advice on how to run a Kickstarter project, visit our Creator Handbook and Hardware Studio, a resource to help creators plan for manufacturing.

Are you an artist interested in producing your first product? Learn more about our Designed by Artists initiative here, then send a quick paragraph about yourself and your project to dba@kickstarter.com.

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Kickstarter
Kickstarter Magazine

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