Recently we ran a two-part series looking at what makes a successful Kickstarter campaign. One of our interviews was with crowdfunding wizard Alex Daly, the mind behind the success of Pentagram designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth’s Graphic Standards Manual campaign, and the driving force behind their current viral launch: a reissue of the 1970s NASA Graphic Standards Manual, which has garnered a lot of attention, reaching staggering heights last week when NASA released a free PDF of the manual, presumably a reaction to all of Reed and Smyth’s press.
NASA’s response has inevitably spurred conversation about whether the free PDF or the glossy, hardback, and hi-res $79 edition up for grabs on Kickstarter is better. Whatever anyone believes, the number of backers for Reed and Smyth’s project hasn’t showed any sign of dying down (it’s already 480% funded… with less than two weeks to go)–and the entire scenario seems to be a classic case of no press is bad press.
The Pentagram designers remain unfazed by NASA’s response. “We find it beneficial for everyone involved,” they say, adding, “Our reissue will hopefully fill the gap between an online overview and an archival record—with its color specifications, an easy reading experience, and hand-drawn diagrams.” The beauty of their physical manual is self-evident, yet what we want to know is why are these campaigns so immensely successful?
The manual created for NASA by New York studio Danne & Blackburn is a striking example of modernist design used at large, and it’s a book that seems to appeal to design enthusiasts who treasure the classic NASA “worm” logo as well as those interested in the exciting history of space travel. Reed and Smyth discovered that publishing historical—yet perhaps unknown or lost—design books can capture the imagination beyond the design community when they Kickstarted a reissue of Vignelli’s 1970 NYC Transit Authority Manual, a project that sparked the interest of NYC residents and train enthusiasts. As Reed says, “We quickly learned that the audience was much broader than that of our profession.” The wide appeal of their projects draws crowds, and the combination of a good idea and a perhaps unknowingly hungry audience are ingredients that campaign manager Daly, the aforementioned “crowdsorceress,” requires when selecting her projects.
Daly, the silent pillar behind it all who runs her own crowdfunding management company called Vann Alexandra, has a specific selection criterion, as she clearly delineates:
- Does the project have a built-in audience? Is there a large audience out there already obsessed with this idea?
- Is the project is communicated well? Does the campaign page have a powerful video, strong written material, and beautiful images that attract people to it?
- Are the project’s rewards actually coveted? Will people not only like this idea, but put money towards it, too?
Once a project fulfills her criteria, Daly’s off, telling her clients: “Focus on your project, and let us run your campaign.” She insists organizing a Kickstarter properly is a full-time job–an important approach, seeing as most squeeze campaigning in after work and on weekends. The push is continuous and focused, and Daly plows on even after a campaign has been fulfilled. “You keep working until every reward gets into every backer’s hand. Delivering the rewards on time and being transparent with backers is very important–it shows your credibility as a business and loyalty to your early adopters.” This kind of professionalism and commitment rockets a campaign to great heights, propelling a project to the frontier of crowdfunding possibilities. With over a week left to go and Daly on the case, the NASA Manual campaign is sure to go to the moon and back.